If you'd told me before the season a Royals fan from South Korea would be as popular as the Royals themselves in mid-August, then I would have safely assumed the Royals' season had gone exactly as I'd expected. Not well.
But as I stood in section 429 and looked across Kauffman Stadium on Monday night to see SungWoo Lee hoisting a royal blue "W" while the Crown Vision flashed the Royals' sole possession of first place in the American League Central, I was floored. This season has not gone as I expected. To this point, anyway.
As I wrote on Monday, the last 19 game could simply be a tremendous, yet small, sample size and the next 45 games could be a heartbreaking, yet more brutally honest, larger sample size. As euphoric as it was to feel what must be what others refer to as "hope," the Royals still find themselves in a slippery position. Their best chance at making the playoffs (and by far their best chance to make a run in the playoffs) is to win the Central outright. However, if you stack up the Tigers against a field of the Mariners, Blue Jays, Yankees and, I suppose, the Indians for the final Wild Card spot, it would seem the Royals' have better odds of holding off the field than the Tigers.
Many Royals followers have written about the team's remaining schedule. Their upcoming nine-game road trip certainly appears advantageous. But how many wins is it going to take? The Royals have 64 wins entering Tuesday. The Tigers won the Central with 93 wins last year. To match that mark, the Royals would have to go 29-16. Combine a 29-16 run with their current 16-3 run and that means they'll have played .703 baseball the final 2/5 of the season. Even 90 wins would require a 26-19 flourish from here on out.
Of course, maybe it won't even take 90 wins to claim the Central this year. Maybe the Royals could play one game over .500 their final 45 games. That'd put them at 87-75. Even if that doesn't top the Tigers, maybe it's enough to outlast the likes of the Mariners, Blue Jays, Yankees and so on. The best part about that, though, is an 87-75 season would be a one-game improvement from 2013. If the Royals play just one game under .500 the rest of the way, they'll tie last year's record. A mere 21-24 record from this point and suddenly their odds of being on the outside, looking in come playoff time start to balloon.
I guess my sobering point here is it will take a truly magical finish, not only for the Royals to make the playoffs, but for Dayton Moore's process to produce any improvement from Year 1 with James Shields to Year 2. And without some semblance of an improvement in the win column, the process isn't going to yield so much as a play-in game appearance at the expense of Wil Myers and Co.
Nevertheless, last night was an unforgettable experience and regardless of what I've written, I'm hoping against hope the Royals can hold on. On that note, here are some random thoughts from my Monday at the K:
1. If the Royals want to make the playoffs, Eric Hosmer should not play again this season. In 409 at bats this year, he's posted a .312 OBP and .377 SLG. Even against right-handers he's slashing .319/.382 with a whopping 5 of his 6 home runs off righties. That's pathetic "production" from a player the Royals have curiously deemed bulletproof.
Earlier this season I was optimistic Hosmer could salvage a decent season. Adding a hand injury to the mix does not help matters. His defense isn't that good. Butler's defense isn't that bad. It's first base anyway. There's a reason the Royals are winning without him.
2. Dayton Moore is blinded by his devotion to his 1st round picks. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow, Christian Colon, and I'll cut off there. What do these players have in common? All five were drafted by Dayton Moore. All five were first round picks. All five have either reached the Major Leagues and performed poorly or they're development in the minors stalled significantly. Yet, aside from Montgomery who was actually a compensatory pick taken 36th overall, they are all still with the Royals and, when healthy, Moustakas, Hosmer and Crow all play prominent roles on the team.
Moustakas, Hosmer and Crow all made their MLB debuts in 2011. Moustakas's career WAR is 4.6 nearly four seasons later. Hosmer's is 1.8 (seriously, do not play him the rest of the season). And Crow's is 0.7. By comparison, Alex Gordon's WAR this season alone is 5.3 and Wade Davis's WAR this season alone is 2.1.
The fact four of those five players have reached the bigs (and Montgomery probably will with the Rays) is an accomplishment. But it's also fair to say Moore has not hit on any of them in a significant way. What's worse, what are the odds any of them make drastic improvements at this point in their careers? Yet Moore can't find it in him to commit to a platoon with Moustakas or move Hosmer down in the order or stop using Crow in higher leverage situations.
The only blessing here is, thanks in part to the players' agents involved, none of them have been signed to lucrative extensions. Yet. But it's still disturbing Moore has designated these players as "his guys" while snubbing his greatest success story, Jarrod Dyson, and trading away another in Myers.
Also makes you wonder why Luke Hochevar has stuck around so long if Moore wasn't behind that pick, as well...
3. I used to respect Soren Petro's opinion. Then again, I hadn't really heard much from him since he was a guest speaker in one of my journalism classes at KU. I just don't listen to sports talk radio. But I couldn't help myself after the game Monday night.
Petro seriously argued that the Royals' free-swinging approach would be better suited for the playoff format where opponents are starting one of their top pitchers every single night and using their best remaining pitchers whenever necessary out of the bullpen.
His argument? The Royals would benefit from facing top tier pitchers because they pump pitches in the strike zone more regularly, thus the Royals would have fewer bad pitches to offer at, thus having better pitches to hit, thus getting more hits. I'll let you pick that one apart in your head for a second.
So the hidden argument by Petro is that the Royals have only struggled against bad pitchers this year and have only struggled against them because they lack the same command as elite pitchers. The thought that the Royals have performed or will perform better against good pitchers than bad pitchers is absolutely insane. And I guess it never occurred to Petro that elite pitchers might scout the Royals, notice their tendency to swing at anything, and therefore use their pinpoint accuracy to work away from the middle of the plate.
That's why I don't listen to sports talk radio.
4. I'm not too worked up about the Josh Willingham trade. Jason Adam is a pitcher I'd been hearing about for years. I would've liked to have seen him in Kansas City. I'm sure the Twins will max out his pitching potential. But at the same time, if deployed against lefties as a DH-only, Willingham could and should provide value down the stretch. But playing him in the field under any circumstances would be a mistake.
And it could be worse, I'm almost positive Dayton Moore offered at least Jason Adam to the Phillies for Marlon Byrd but Ruben Amaro Jr. was too foolish to take it. Willingham won't clog up payroll after this season whereas Byrd would have. They're both equally bad defenders and they both bat from the right side. Byrd might be a slightly better hitter, but not enough to make a significant difference in a 45-game span and certainly not enough to justify that contract.
5. SungWoo must stay in Kansas City the next two months. The only acceptable exception is if he's on a road trip with the Royals.
Fire Dayton Moore