The next three weeks will probably go a long way toward deciding how the 2013 season will turn out for the Kansas City Royals. The dog days of summer indeed! The Royals will play their next 20 games against teams with records over .500. Every team in this upcoming stretch is in either first or second place in their division, excluding the New York Yankees, who are in fourth despite a 43-39 record.
During this brutal run of games, Kansas City will visit New York and Cleveland, and they host Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland. The only saving grace of this stretch is that 13 of these 20 games will be played at Kauffman Stadium.
With the Royals finally demoting Chris Getz and designating Jeff Francoeur for assignment, the front office seems willing to admit they have a chance. A number of things have to go right, like the pitching staff must continue to perform well. And several hitters are going to have to improve significantly. And the Royals are going to have to play at least .500 ball over the next 20 games.
First, the pitching. The Royals staff has performed very well but there has been a degree of luck involved. They lead the league in ERA (3.57), fewest Runs Allowed (304), and fewest Earned Runs Allowed (277). They are in the middle of the pack in WHIP (8th, 1.30), and Batting Average Against (8th, .253). They rank 12 in Strikeouts and 6 in fewest Walks Allowed.
The key element of luck lies in the fact the Royals also lead the league in Left On Base %, which is at 77.4, significantly higher (1.8 %) higher than the second place team in this category, the Boston Red Sox. This means the Royals pitchers have been able to strand a higher percentage of base runners than any other staff in the American League. There is a good chance this regresses in the second half, and the ERA will rise.
Second of all, the hitting. Of late, there has been more power on display by our boys in blue, albeit inconsistent. The Royals are not going to be a big home run team with these players but several are certainly capable of hitting for more power than was displayed in the first half. Hopefully, the second half, and more immediate, the next 20 games, will bring more power, not only in the form of home runs, but doubles, as well. Only the Chicago White Sox have hit fewer extra base hits the Royals, and they have 26 more home runs.
The Royals are counting on Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain to bat better over the last three months of the season than they did the first three months. Better, with more power. They are also counting on David Lough/Jarrod Dyson and Johnny Giavotella to produce more than Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz/Elliot Johnson did. They should have been counting on that all season instead of waiting until now to figure out that Lough and Gio can’t hardly be worse.
Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, the Royals must play well and win ball games over the next 20-game stretch. If they want to be one of the big boys, then they have to beat the big boys.
Just how important is this stretch? If the Royals go 9-11, that is pretty decent considering the competition, right? What if the Indians and the Tigers go 11-9 in the same stretch? Kansas City will be 5 games under .500 and 6.5 games out of first, and 20 more opportunities to catch up will be gone. What if the Royals play worse, or the other two teams play better? Then the Royals are even farther back than in the first scenario.
The Royals must win games in this stretch and they must win more than they lose. If they truly believe they can contend this season, these next 20 match-ups could make or break their chances. If Kansas City lays a big, fat egg, chances are Ervin Santana will be gone by the end of the month. If they Royals can win 11, 12, 13 games, then maybe the Royals are buying in an effort to make that final push.
The Royals have scrapped their way back into the race in June. At the end of May, it looked for the world like just another typical summer in Kansas City, one with no meaningful baseball. The Royals bounced back and the Tigers slipped a little, allowing the Indians, Royals, and even the Twins, to stay withing reach. To their credit, and thanks to their pitching, the Royals are only 4.5 games back. The way things been going in the AL Central, that can be made up in just a few weeks.
Or the Royals could be buried by, say, July 26th. If they don’t play well and win games over the next 20-game stretch.
For there to be meaningful baseball in Kansas City in August and September, maybe even October, there must first be meaningful games in July. These next 20 contests will be meaningful – one way or another.