Friday, June 22, 2012

contenders? hell yes they are!

Monday June 20th, 2011: 31-42, 8 ½.
Sunday June 20th, 2010: 29-41, 11 ½.
Saturday June 20th, 2009: 29-38, 7 ½.
Friday June 20th, 2008: 31-43, 10.
Wednesday June 20th, 2007: 29-44, 14.
Tuesday June 20th, 2006: 20-49, 26 ½.
Monday June 20th, 2005: 25-44, 22.
Sunday June 20th, 2004: 26-40, 11.

Those are the Royals record and games back the last eight years on June 20th.  The last time the Royals were over .500 on that date, was 2003, when they were 37-33 and sat a game out of first (thanks to the Albie Lopez Game debacle).

Today, the Royals sit at 31-36, below .500 … but a mere 4 ½ games out of first, which has been trading hands the last few days between the White Sox and Indians (the Tigers also sit between the Royals and the top).

So how can a team that lost 12 in a row to open its season, sits in fourth place, and has lost 2 of every 3 home games, be 4 ½ games out of first as the All Star break sits a mere two weeks away?

Damned if I know.

How can a team with no starting pitching – a team whose ace is Luke Hochever, a team who has seen 3 of its 5 starters (Paulino, Chen, Sanchez) spend significant lengths of time on the DL, and whose second best projected starter, Jonathan Sanchez, has been appropriately (and accurately) described as a “flaming pile of crap” by 810’s Steven St. John, how in the hell is a team with arguably the worst starting rotation of our lifetime sitting essentially one series sweep out of a playoff berth?

Damned if I know.

How can a team whose best player is barely hitting his weight, has had a horrendous sophomore season, has failed to deliver in the clutch virtually every chance he’s had – how can a team with Eric Hosmer being un-Hosmer-esque, be sitting this close to a pennant race?

Pardon me, did I say “sitting this close”?  Well, that’s a mistake.

Because Royals fans, it might have taken a long-winding road to get here, it might have involved more frustration than I feel playing at a $5 table on a Friday night at Ameristar … but the Boyz n Blue are truly, officially, in a pennant race.

And despite every flaw this team has, I think they’re here to stay.

For the first time in a decade, I might not have to bribe someone to go to a Sunday game with me in mid-August.  Let that one sink in – for the first time since 2003, when “The Voice of Reason” and I were going every night for the first pennant race in a decade, people might actually want to voluntarily come out and watch these guys play.  (Cue my checking account saying “thank you Jesus!” at the potential respite).

Here are four reasons why I think this might still turn out to be “Our Time”, come late September …

1. The Royals have a winning record on the road.  Not just a winning record – they’re kicking ass and taking names.  20-16 might not seem amazing to you … until you realize that the Mets, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Giants, all “contenders”, have losing records on the road, and the Royals road record is equal to or better than the Orioles, Angels, and Tigers, as well as first-place residing Cleveland, Cincinnati, and the LA Dodgers.

Only two teams in baseball have a losing record overall, yet a winning one on the road – the Royals and Phillies.  Nobody doubts Philly can make up the 8 games they currently trail by, not with that pitching staff, and Ryan Howard coming back in the next couple weeks. 

Yet people doubt the Royals.

I’d argue that after playing nearly half their road games (36 of 81 … and that’ll reach 46 of 81 two weeks from now thanks to the All Star Game being staged here), the Royals absolutely are a legitimate threat to win anywhere they play, against any opponent.
I realize the Royals are well below .500 at home currently … but I argue that’s a fluke.  If you ignore the 12 game losing streak (and I realize that’s not possible) but if you do?  The Royals would be two games over .500 at home.  The 0-10 homestand to open the season is skewing the record.  I don’t expect a lot to change over the next few weeks – the Royals only have six home games left before the All Star break, and they’re against the defending World Champion Cardinals and AL East contender Tampa Bay – but I’d be stunned if by the end of July, after hosting Minnesota, Chicago, and Cleveland, if the home record isn’t closer to .500 than it is now.

2. We’re done with the Yankees.  No, really – we’re finished playing the Yankees until at least October.  In fact, you can argue we face only one difficult road trip left – at Tampa and Boston at the end of August, and at the rate the Red Sox are collapsing, that roadie might be halved for its difficulty.

I mention this, because go back to point one – the Royals are four games over .500 on the road, against the toughest part of the road schedule.

Over the next 6 weeks, the Royals face two teams on the road who sport a winning record – the Blue Jays (barely .500), and the Angels (who we already took 2 of 3 from to open the season).  We also face Detroit, who sits exactly at .500 this morning.  The other roadies?  Three at Minnesota, four at Seattle.

Oh, and in addition to being done with the Yankees?  We’re done traveling to Arlington as well to face the best team in the league in the Rangers, your two time defending AL champions … although we still have seven at home against them.

In fact …

3. The schedule lays out perfectly to get right back into this race.  Well hell, we’re already in said race, but here’s the layout after this upcoming weekend’s grudge series against the Cardinals:

* 3 vs the Rays, which is the toughest series we face for the next six weeks.
* 3 at the Twins, who currently sport the worst record in the American League.
* 4 at the Blue Jays, who barely sit at .500 and are in last in the AL East.
* 3 at the Tigers, a potentially huge swing series headed into the All Star Break.
* Said All Star break.
* 3 vs the White Sox, a potentially huge swing series headed out of the All Star Break.
* 4 vs the Mariners, the only AL team giving the Twins a “run for their money”.  And
* 3 vs the Twins, who again, currently sport the worst record in the American League.

You can absolutely jump from 4 ½ back in fourth place, to knocking on the door of (gasp) leading a division, against that schedule.

To be honest?  Despite the starting pitching issues, despite Hosmer’s struggles, despite our manager sometimes being out-thought, out-smarted, and out-coached by the corpse of Bernie*?  I’d be shocked if the Royals didn’t make a move over the next four weeks towards the top of the division.

(*: if you don’t get Bernie as a corpse, I quit with the pop culture references.  It’s a movie.  “Weekend at Bernie’s”.  For God’s sake, watch it, it’s hysterical, if “propping up a dead dude as a living human being” can be hysterical (which it can be when done properly, like in this movie).)

But the biggest reason why I don’t think this season is over …

4. The Royals haven’t made a move yet.

Yeah, we’ve made a few roster transactions because of injury and/or need for a sixth starter in six days … but let’s be honest: there’s room for improvement on this roster.

And whatever you may think of the Glass family’s ownership of this team (and God knows I have my reservations), you have to give them this: the only season this team has been in it at the trading deadline?  They pushed every chip on the table into the middle, and went for it.

Yes, the moves didn’t work … but they made perfect sense.  We needed a reliable closer – they gave Mr. Baird permission to trade for Brewers’ closer Curtis Leskanic.  We needed a starter – they gave Mr. Baird permission to trade for Brian Anderson (man, I miss hearing “Dr. Feelgood” to start a game.  Weirdly inspiring.)

And even to the bitter end, when the Royals were collapsing, they made the trade I felt would put the Royals over the top, trading for Rondell White to boost the offense, knowing full well that White (a) was an impending free agent, (b) would never resign here, but most of all (c) we traded for him after the deadline to make the postseason roster.

The Glasses traded viable prospects and cash for a guy that could only help in September.

That’s pushing all in.

If the Royals are where I expect them to be at the All Star Break (within 2 of first place … whatever crappy team holds that distinction), why wouldn’t they go for it?

They’re loaded with prospects, the likes of which can yield you a Wandy Rodriguez, a Dan Harden, or (dream big, Royals fans) a Cole Hamels*.  Or, if the Brewers fall out of it, a rental of a certain Donald Zachary Greinke?

(*: I much prefer Hamels to Greinke.  Greinke is really good, don’t get me wrong … but Hamels has delivered at the biggest stage the game has to offer, one of only three pitchers in MLB history to win two postseason MVP awards (for the LCS and the World Series).  The others?  Livan Hernandez in the rigged 1997 postseason (ok, fine, Game 5 was rigged, my God, Eric Gregg’s strike zone was bigger than Eric Gregg, and considering he weighed 400 pounds, that’s saying something) … and the untouchable Orel Hershiser in 1988 (who only set a MLB record that year by not allowing a run for 63 straight innings).  That’s the company Cole Hamels keeps.  I think the Royals could use him.)

Speaking of prospects, we need some hitting help?  Well, Wil Myers is sitting in Omaha, about a month away (give or take a month) from arriving to help.  (I am absolutely convinced the Royals kept him down to get him in the Futures game.  Which I’m fine with, if only because it’s the one day of All Star Weekend I’d pay damned good money to see.  But now that he’s made the roster, let’s end the charade and call him up, ok?)  Pitching help?  Jake Odorizzi is on the horizon (another Futures Game player).

And the only way Eric Hosmer is going to struggle this much the rest of the way, is if he completely replicates the last true star this franchise had’s sophomore season, and winds up battling alligators at the outfield warning track in Florida.  And twelve years after those scary gators attacked him, I think Carlos Beltran has wound up ok, don’t you?

Folks, this team is in it.  Whether they’re in it to win it or not, is debatable … but despite losing 12 straight, despite their best player batting worse against live pitching than me in a pitching machine cage, despite our best starting pitcher being worse than “Deadbeat Ex-Roommate” pitching a softball contest*, despite it all, this team is one series away from first place.

(*: of all the things about “Deadbeat Ex-Roommate” that piss me off, this one takes the cake.  That guy was (is?) a TURRIBLE pitcher.  Christ, even I could record three outs before yielding eight runs (I only gave up six during my one inning of infamy, thank you very much).  Yet this guy kept insisting on pitching.  Dude, let it go.  You suck at pitching.  I swear, 95% of the fights on Stubbs were related to this guy bombing out on the mound … and considering he owes the other two of us living there thousands of dollars, that ought to tell you how sh*tty of a pitcher this guy was (is).)

First place is in sight for the first time in a decade.  The schedule looks favorable for making a run.  And our most hated rival is in town this weekend to kick-start the run to an improbable playoff berth.  I’m ready!*  If I had the money, I’d be there all three days.  I’m hoping to make one.  But if not?  Well, we’ve got a television pool side in Raytown, and you can hear the firewords from each celebratory home run from the deck …

(* wow, does this sound like the 2006 Chiefs or what?!?!  Right down to the hated divisional rival being the game(s) that put you over the top?  (The lesson?  As always: fuck the denver broncos.)  An improbable injury-gutted team somehow lucking into the last spot in the playoffs?  I'd take that.  I'd HAPPILY take that …)

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