These Royals are one of the hardest-to-figure teams in recent baseball history. They have been baseballs best team over three weeks, and the sports worst team over four. They are built on pitching and defense, supposedly the antidote to wild swings of fortune, and yet theyve won nine in a row and lost eight consecutive games in the same season.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
On the most recent home stand, they won three of four against the first-place Red Sox and then lost a series to the last-place Marlins scoring two runs in the two losses.
But, with the team opening a seven-game home stand, its time to pick sides about what to expect and demand from the Royals with roughly a quarter of the season left.
Some of you are playoffs-or-bust.
But reason and a look through baseball history can see progress in 84 or more wins while giving the current leadership one more year through James Shields club control to either make the playoffs or move on.
The Royals are 64-59, a pace for about 84 wins, which would be the teams highest total since 1993 (they last won more than 84 games was 1989). The Royals entered Monday 8 1/2 games behind Detroit for first place in the AL Central, and six games out of the second and final wild-card spot. Baseball Prospectus gave the Royals a 4.1 percent chance at the playoffs entering Mondays games; ESPN was comparatively generous at 14.4 percent.
This is the very fringe of a playoff race, and with 39 games left the Royals would finish 89-73 if they matched their best stretch of the season and 78-84 if they matched their worst.
Even the low end of that spectrum would be the teams best record since The Great Fluke Of 2003, but as it currently stands the Royals are winning enough for at least one more year for general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost, but not enough for them to avoid justified pressure.
The disjointed nature of this teams performance through 123 games has made sound judgments difficult and emotional ones plentiful. The Royals lost 19 of 23 games in May, and more recently won 17 of 21. No team has been that bad and good in the same season in eight years. Every game is a meltdown or a parade among many, and there have been stretches of each long enough for whatever point you want to make.
Generally, the following is true about the Royals: they have excellent defense, good pitching, and a lineup with a few promising hitters but too many holes.
They are good enough for bursts of playoff-caliber baseball (22-21 against teams that currently hold postseason spots) and flawed enough for the kinds of stretches that playoff-caliber teams typically avoid (runs of 1-6, 1-12, 0-4, 0-5 and, currently, 2-5).
Some of this can be attributed to a young team finding its way, but with a club-record payroll, an imported ace who pitched in five playoff series and a window that starts to close after next season the Royals are in no position to be playing the were-just-young card.
The truth is the Royals atrocious TV contract is only getting worse every year, and with how the sport is currently structured, the only way for the Royals to ever win is with a young team.
Yost, in particular, has talked too much about the Royals young players needing time to develop. He comes from an honest place with this, attempting to defend his most important players from criticism but it too often comes across as making excuses, not holding players accountable, or, worst of all, a direct conflict to public statements about phase two and needing to win more games.
This will be the seventh full season Moore has been in charge of the Royals. That includes failures like Trey Hillman as manager, Jose Guillen as a $36 million right fielder, and Christian Colon as a high draft pick over Chris Sale. It also includes successes like convincing owner David Glass to invest more money, remaking a decrepit farm system, and signing every worthy homegrown player to a long-term and club-friendly contract.
The failures are significant, but there is no doubt the Royals are in better shape now than when Moore was hired. The successes are nice, but it doesnt mean much without results at the big-league level.
The Royals are on pace for a nice step. Winning 85 games would put them exactly on pace with what Terry Ryan did in Minnesota starting in the 1990s. The Twins lost big in Ryans first six seasons, went 85-77 (missing the playoffs) in year seven, and then won the AL Central three years in a row.
There are positive signs to take from this Royals team. Coincidence or not, they are 43-30 since George Brett and Pedro Grifol took over as hitting coaches (Brett, of course, stepped down last month). Thats a better record than every team in baseball except the Dodgers, Braves, Tigers and Rays. A major chunk of this current leaderships fate is tied into whether Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are middle-of-the-order type players, and the most recent indications are promising (Moustakas calf injury not withstanding).
The reality is that Moore has had enough time that some fans have made up their minds about him, and want to move on.
But there are enough good signs that if the team continues its current path toward 84 or more wins, the season should be viewed as a success and Moore will deservedly get another year to deliver what would be the Royals first postseason since 1985.