On the most recent episode of the RoyalsBlue.com Podcast, I used the word “average” to describe the 2016 Kansas City Royals. Modern sports fans have a hard time accepting "average". Be great and win it all, be terrible and build for the future, but heavens to Murgatroyd please don't end up in the middle. Take a poll of the Twitterverse (ya know, the most logical community of people …) and I imagine you’d be shocked at how many would rather tank a season for “rebuilding” purposes than finish at or near .500.
Which is exactly where our beloved Royals sit coming out of the All-Star break: 45-43. The team is seven games back in the AL Central behind the surging Cleveland Indians. It sits four and a half games back in the Wild Card, looking up at five teams who are arguably as good or better on paper.
However, fear not Royals fans. By my (sometimes quite questionable) math, there are still 74 games at the old ballpark before this is all said and done. Seven games is nowhere near an insurmountable lead, four and a half even less so.
Less than a week ago as we recorded that previously mentioned podcast, I was not altogether too excited about the Royals chances of putting together a quality second half to guide them to a third straight trip to October. But an All-Star game MVP performance from Eric Hosmer and a look at some numbers has changed my mind.
I believe the 2016 Royals are destined to be October bound. And here’s why …
With the possible exception of Eibner and Collins, these are all guys that #GMDM counted on when constructing the team for this 3-4 year window. They’ve all been on the DL at some point this season (or banged up for a stretch of games in the case of Salvy and Morales). Holland, Moose and Collins aren’t coming back this year. Vargas may be back around September. Otherwise, all the others in that list are back or should be shortly.
The First Half (Not So) MVPS
Alcides Escobar, Kendrys Morales, Alex Gordon, Omar Infante, and Rey Fuentes were all opening day starters. Their combined line for the season so far: .256/.311/.358 with 23 HR and 100 RBI. Take out Morales and the numbers for the other four fall to .256/.309/.333 with 8 HR and 53 RBI. That is really poor production from 56% and/or 44% of your opening day lineup.
The good news? Morales had arguably his best month as a professional in June. Omar Infante is now a Gwinnett Brave. Fuentes is back in the minors with Paulo Orlando (.317/.341/.409) taking over the (more or less) starting RF job. Esky is no longer leading off and actually had a pretty good June of his own.
Esky, Gordo and Morales really can’t do much worse than they did for stretches of the first half. The other 3 in the opening day lineup (Hosmer, Cain, Salvy (Moose excluded as he will not be back this year)) have all put together very good seasons at the plate. But none are having MVP caliber “carrying the team” type seasons either. Point there being is that we shouldn’t expect a “come back to earth” second half slide from any of them.
Even a mild return to form from those 4-5 players (or their replacements) and this offense should be significantly improved in the second half. Morales and Esky already seem well on that path.
Young Pups are Howling
Whit Merrifield took Kansas City by storm in his first month as a major league player. Cheslor Cuthbert has been solid both in the field and at the plate filling in everyday for Moose. Brett Eibner has a shimmy that drives all the women here in Kansas City crazy (and also a .932 OPS, albeit in very limited action so far).
This is perhaps hyperbolic, but it’s the first time in a while I remember relatively-unheard-of players come up from the minors and establish themselves quickly at the major league level for the Royals. There are probably numbers that prove or disprove that. Consider that your homework.
The rotation can’t get worse, can it?
The Royals starters are 13th in the AL in Wins Above Average by Position (-2.5). They are 24th in MLB in starters ERA (4.99). They are 29th in MLB in HR/9 (weird considering half our games are in a ballpark that you cannot hit home runs in … supposedly).
Volquez and Ventura have been inconsistent. Medlen has been hurt (and not that good when healthy). Young has been hurt … badly by opposing hitters. Vargas has not come back from Tommy John as hoped. Dillon Gee and Chien-Ming Wang have been nice bullpen pieces, but neither has been able to crack or keep a rotation spot.
Furthermore, there is no immediate help in the minors as the Omaha rotation has been spotty all year. The name Kyle Zimmer is quickly moving towards “Blackledge” level in these parts. There is an exciting crop of SP prospects performing well at AA Northwest Arkansas, but they are more-than-likely not going to be MLB ready in 2016.
However, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel. Danny Duffy has been downright dominant since his switch back to the rotation. Ian Kennedy has been the solid-not-spectacular pitcher as advertised. There should be some decent names available at the trade deadline that wouldn’t cause the Royals to mortgage what little high end farm they still have in the minors (though I still don’t see a big move in the cards).
Starting pitching is obviously still the biggest area of concern for the Royals as there are no immediate answers. Call it wishful thinking as I have no good statistical reason to believe they’ll be better in the second half (other than the addition-by-subtraction that is Chris Young not taking the hill every 5 days), but it is hard to envision them being *that* bad for the entire year.
We’ve been here before
Here’s what really moved my needle. At the 2016 All-Star game, our boys in blue once again dominated the national stage. In what is sure to become a soundbite we’ll hear for years to come, Eric Hosmer is caught on camera after homering in his first ever ASG at bat: "We’ve been on a big stage before! We’ve been here before. We’ve been on a stage before!"
And you know what? He’s right. The 2014 Kansas City Royals were 48-46 at the All-Star break. They would go 41-27 in the second half and ride that wave of momentum all the way to World Series. I can’t even begin to recall all the times the Royals have faced a deficit or adversity in a game only to flip the table in dramatic fashion (this one definitely comes to mind).
This team has been there. For all the reasons detailed above, they have underachieved as a team in the first half. More key injuries aside (knock on some wood right now. Do it!), I fully expect their "return to normal" to carry them to another postseason run.
The Kool-Aid tastes delicious. Won’t you have some?
The Kansas City Royals enter the All-Star break with a record of 45-43. Though they have been somewhat underwhelming, that keeps them right in line with Detroit and Chicago in the AL Central. Of course, the main problem with this is the fact that ... Read more
Check out the COUPONBOX Major League Baseball Stadium Index infographic map to enjoy the national pastime without striking out. This infographic is a perfect all in one resource when it comes to Major League Baseball stadiums. This guide covers all the stadiums from highest to ... Read more