Let’s put this in the right context: Lorenzo Cain is not the reason the Royals’ starting rotation entered Friday with a 2.65 ERA in the month of August. He is not the reason the bullpen had not allowed a run since Aug. 10. He is not the reason that a defense has played at a high level for much of this month — well, not the whole reason anyway.
This is all true, of course. But as the Royals have surged back into playoff contention with a torrid August, a few trend lines have emerged. Among them: The club’s fate appeared to shift course when Cain returned from the disabled list in late July.
The numbers: From June 29 to July 28, the Royals went 9-16 while Cain was on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. Since his return, they entered Friday having won 17 of 26, climbing back into the playoff race.
Inside the Royals’ clubhouse, there is at least one believer in the Cain Theory.
“It was a big hole in our lineup when he got hurt,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That’s when we struggled the most, when he was out of the lineup. It was evident that we were missing his production. Because he’s been pretty good all year long.”
Some of the effect, of course, is purely tangible. Cain entered Friday batting .306 with a .333 on-base percentage in August. But Yost believes Cain’s presence has a deeper impact on the offense, serving to lengthen out the lineup and offer a professional hitter in the middle of the order. A cursory look at the numbers supports the idea.
A season ago, Cain was the Royals’ most valuable player, according to wins above replacement, a statistic that attempts to combine the total value of a player. Cain finished with 7.2 WAR, according to Baseball Reference, and finished third in the AL MVP balloting.
Cain hasn’t played to that level in 2016, in part because of the hamstring setback. But for the last month, the Royals have also benefited from Cain’s base running and defense in right field.
“He does everything well,” Yost said.
On Friday afternoon, in the hours before the Royals opened a series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Cain listened to the theory and laughed.
“I wouldn’t put it all on me,” he said. “It’s good to think that way, but at the same time, we’ve been playing great baseball as a team. I just go out there and contribute the best way I can — get on base for these guys, drive in runs, kind of do it all. But as of late, we’ve been playing great baseball. I can’t point to one thing. We’ve just been clicking.”
For now, Cain will continue to log regular time in right field as a means to keeping his legs fresh and healthy. At some point, Yost says, Cain will likely return to center field. But the tactic has worked thus far, with Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson providing more than adequate defense in center.
“It’s definitely a lot less running,” Cain said. “So it definitely helps out. Center is always something I’ve loved playing. Deep down, that’s definitely where I want to be. But at the same time, for me to stay on the field, if I got to play right field, then I’ll do that.”
Davis slated for second rehab appearance
Royals closer Wade Davis will make a rehab appearance for Class AAA Omaha on Saturday, his second outing since beginning a rehab assignment in Surprise, Ariz., earlier this week. The plan, according to Yost, calls for Davis to throw an inning on Saturday and another on Monday before a possible return on Sept. 1. If everything goes perfect, Davis could return by Tuesday or Wednesday. But the Royals will remain cautious with his progress.
“I don’t really anticipate him being (back) before September 1, but he could be,” Yost said. “It just depends on how his next two outings go.”
Davis is recovering from a recurrence of a forearm strain, suffered earlier this season. He went on the disabled list in late July.
Perez gets a day off
Royals catcher Salvador Perez received a day off Friday, just one day after taking a foul tip off his mask in a 5-2 victory over the Miami Marlins.
Perez missed the ninth inning on Thursday, but Yost said the rest was planned earlier this week, in part because the club was expecting to arrive in Boston on early Friday morning after a long charter flight from Miami. The team did not arrive at its hotel in Boston until after 4:30 a.m., Yost said.
“He’s fine,” Yost said of Perez. “We had planned this off day for two days, knowing that we’d get in at 3:30 a.m. or 4.”