There is no particular reason for Paulo Orlando to understand the meaning of 502. Even in a major-league clubhouse, where every bit of minutiae is cataloged and accounted for, where players spend hours breaking down their craft, the significance is somewhat esoteric. It is another three-digit benchmark in a sport where statistics and percentages are the coin of the realm. Why would Orlando, a 30-year-old outfielder, have time for the obscure?
But in this case, as the calendar pushes toward the dog days of August, it might behoove Orlando to get acquainted with 502 and what it could mean for his career. For however long the odds are that Orlando will vie for the American League batting title in September — and yes, his season batting average sat at .334 after an 11-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday — the production would be moot if he doesn’t record 502 plate appearances.
In the span of a 162-game baseball season, a player must log at least 502 plate appearances to qualify for a batting title. When divided out, the number comes out to approximately 3.1 plate appearances per game. For Orlando, who played sparingly in April, that makes the math fairly simple. He must average around 3.8 plate appearances during the Royals’ last 45 games.
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It may not matter, of course. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was batting .362 at the end of Sunday’saction, nearly lapping the competition in the American League. But if nothing else, consider this more evidence of the unpredictable nature of the Royals’ 2016 season. A season ago, Orlando was a 29-year-old rookie, finally breaking through after a decade in the minor leagues. On Sunday, he was igniting the Kansas City offense with a four-for-five day at Target Field, finishing a double shy of the cycle and lifting his batting average to a stout .334.
“It’s just amazing,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, sitting in his office after another series victory. “His consistency — it just seems like he gets two and three hits every night. You know, at the end of the spring training, you tell me in the middle of August [that] Paulo Orland would be doing what he’s doing. I mean, I’d have a hard time believing it.”
But hey, believe it. After hitting a sizzling .429 in May, Orlando continued his production by hitting .292 and .273 in June and July, respectively. In 13 games in August, he is batting a torrid .418 (23 for 55). At times, the reserved Orlando concedes he is still settling in at the major-league level.
“I’m still learning,” Orlando said. “It’s still early. They throw a lot of fastballs when you’re up there. I’m learning to look for first-pitch fastballs and just be ready for a good pitch.”
As Orlando and Lorenzo Cain (four hits) carried the load, the Royals (57-60) erupted for 11 runs — their most since June 18 — and completed their third straight series victory. They flew to Detroit on Sundayevening after conquering a road series of at least three games for the first time since June 10-12 in Chicago. Orlando was at the heart of the action all afternoon.
He led off the top of the first with a triple to right-center, roping a sinker from Twins starter Hector Santiago. He would eventually score on a sacrifice fly from Cain. He wielded more lumber in the fourth, clubbing a three-run homer into the upper deck in left field during a six-run blitz.
The Royals ravaged Santiago for seven runs in four innings. Orlando would add a walk in the sixth inning and a single in the seventh. In Royals history, just four players had hit for the cycle, with George Brett and Frank White doing it twice apiece. He came to the plate in the ninth with an opportunity for history. Inside the dugout, the anticipation grew. But Orlando could only rap another single to center field.
“We were pushing for that at-bat, so that he could get that opportunity,” Yost said. “And just another lousy single.”
The Royals’ offense, of course, was more than Orlandoon Sunday. And the Twins’ defense was something like a sampler plate of Swiss cheese, ensuring a blowout. In all Minnesota committed four errors and allowed four unearned runs. The debacle reached a head during an especially porous sixth inning.
But either way, the Royals were set up to hand the woeful Twins (47-71) another loss. Alex Gordon was 2 for 5 with a run scored. Alcides Escobar added to the offensive parade in the ninth, collecting his third hit of the day.
In all, Kansas City piled up enough offensive support for starter Edinson Volquez, who allowed four runs (two earned) in six innings. Chris Young came on in the seventh and finished out the game, earning his first career save under the “three innings to finish out a game equals a save” provision. And just like that, the Royals have built up a healthy dose of momentum entering the second leg of a six-game road trip. After finishing 7-19 during July, they have opened August with eight wins in 13 games.
“I feel better about where we’re at,” Yost said. “I think we’re pitching really, really well. The defense has been really good and solid. We’re starting to swing the bats better.”
And that brings us back to Orlando, who keeps producing despite the limited pedigree and low expectations. Nobody expected this from Orlando, which is why it might be silly to doubt him now. At this point, a batting title race with Altuve seems remote. But first, he just needs the plate appearances, and he should get plenty after moving to the leadoff spot last week.
For now, this much is true: Paulo Orlando is batting .334 on Aug. 15. And his manager will surely take that.
“After seeing it all summer long, it’s just phenomenal the year that he’s put together,” Yost said. “And it’s not fluky stuff. Every single day, he’s consistent.”