I'll be honest, this isn't what I expected. To be fair, Aprils of Royals' past have given me little reason to.
Two weeks into the season, the Royals stand at 7-5 in first place in the American League Central. Before anyone begins to run a 2013 pennant up their flag pole, I have a couple questions: 1. Did your home have a flag pole when you moved into it or did you install it yourself? 2. How much are Royals 2013 AL Central Champion pennants going for right now?
I would also like to point out every other division leader has a better record than the Royals, save for the Cardinals. Yet, as negative as I want to be about the Royals, there are obviously some positives to recognize.
When I last wrote, the Royals had one last game in Philadelphia before making their six-game home debut. I fully expected Cole Hamels to shut down the Royals lineup, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a hard-to-watch Twins team steal a game or two at Kauffman Stadium, and anticipated the Blue Jays to assert their dominance to close out a disappointing week and send the Royals into a downward spiral. I was wrong on every account.
Despite the bullpen's worst efforts, the Royals took the series with the Phillies and swept the Twins. Even though the Blue Jays did take two of three, the Royals were competitive for most of the series. Through 12 games, the Royals have done, in large part, what they were supposed to do. Another win in Chicago would have been nice, but winning five of their last seven is a pleasant surprise to say the least.
And the Royals have been competitive despite the fact Alex Gordon (.373/.396/.510) and Billy Butler (.257/.435/.457), as usual, are the only bats in the lineup pulling their own weight. Chris Getz (.306/.306/.472) has been serviceable. Lorenzo Cain (.282/.341/.333) has the OBP but no pop as of yet. Same for Eric Hosmer (.276/.400/.310). Meanwhile, Sal Perez (.280/.294/.360) and Al Escobar (.250/.288/.396) have scuffled. Mike Moustakas (.158/.238/.211) appears lost. And Frenchy (.238/.273/.381) has done pretty much what everyone knew he would do.
Yes, Dayton Moore can pat himself on the back tonight because the Royals' success thus far has been a result of the pitching staff he assembled. They've kept the team in virtually every game. The starters have gone deep into games. Other than J.C. Gutierrez and Greg Holland, the bullpen has been lights out.
And perhaps the most significant positive from the homestand was the Royals' victory on Sunday despite Ned Yost's attempts to blow it (Sacrifice bunting in the 7th with Jarrod Dyson on second base? Complete waste of an out.). In past years, the Royals would have lost that game, then fallen apart on their upcoming eight-game road trip.
The second part of the equation can still happen. With two games at the Braves (11-1), three at the Red Sox (7-4) and three at the Tigers (6-5), this upcoming eight-game stretch will make the Royals' first 12 games seem like Spring Training.
If Hosmer and Moustakas don't wake up soon, the time may come to seriously question whether either player is cut out for the big leagues. They are the duo the Royals need to drive the offense. Not Perez and Escobar. Their value is in their defense. Their offense is a bonus. Bottomline, the Royals can only subsist on 3- and 4-run outputs for so long.
As for Moore's mound crew, I can't help but feel like the floodgates are about to open. Ervin Santana has the lowest ERA among the starters, but the most home runs allowed. Shields has the highest batting average against in the rotation and his performance against the Phillies without having to face a DH, was not becoming of an "ace." Jeremy Guthrie has performed as expected. Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza will remain liabilities as long as they're in the rotation, but are nevertheless better options than Luke Hochevar.
Finally, as I've said before, the main impact a manager can have on a club is with his late-inning decisions — most notably calls to the bullpen. If Yost continues to trust Holland to close games, the Royals might be this year's version of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers who led baseball with 29 blown saves and missed the playoffs by five games. I think we all can agree Kelvin Herrera is the best arm in the bullpen right now. Use him. When he becomes ineffective, give Aaron Crow a turn. After him, why not Tim Collins?
I believe the first team that discards the shackles of the term "closer" and simply bases its relief hierarchy on match ups will be this era's version of the Moneyball A's. Any pitcher is capable of recording the 27th out of a game in the right situation. The Royals won't be that team as long as Yost is manager.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's cool the Royals are leading the division halfway through April. But realistically, they're basically in first place because the Tigers are allowing them to be.
Fire Dayton Moore