Looking forward and backward at the Royals season

07/16/2014 1:52 PM

07/16/2014 3:11 PM

The Royals aren’t good enough to have Kansas City buzzing (yet), and they’re not bad enough to be a failure (yet). They have their best record at the All-Star break in more than a decade, though that says more about how bad they’ve stunk the last decade than anything else. Here, then, in handy graphic form is how we got here and where we’re likely to go:

First-half MVP

Nobody seems to be noticing, and the voting bloc is too caught up in traditional stats for it to matter, but left fielder Alex Gordon is building a case to be among the top three in the league MVP race. The Angels’ Mike Trout will probably win, but nobody else in the AL has Gordon’s diverse skillset of offense, defense and baserunning.

Second-half MVP

The Royals need it to be first baseman Eric Hosmer. The offense is the weak link, obviously, and if a growing chorus of scouts is right about designated hitter Billy Butler’s bat speed sleeping with the fishes, then Hosmer is the guy to strengthen the middle of the lineup. He did it the second half of last year.

Royal who won’t match his first half

If you look at some of the advanced metrics, Jason Vargas has nearly matched his career year by the All-Star break. He’s also on the disabled list after an appendectomy.

Royal who will be better in the second half

Third baseman Mike Moustakas was too much of the story for the Royals early, and the club did him no favors waiting as long as it did to give him a break in Omaha. But since his return, he has six homers with a .426 slugging percentage. Manipulate the end points and he’s slugging .489 with 16 RBIs in his last 27 games.

Biggest surprise of the first half

The Torii Hunter comparisons around outfielder Lorenzo Cain have always sounded like dreamland stuff, both because of inexperience and an inability to stay healthy. But he’s been the team’s most consistent hitter, and one of baseball’s best outfielders.

Biggest disappointment of the first half

Club officials and rival scouts have always viewed Butler as not just the Royals’ most reliable hitter, but one of the most reliable in baseball. He’s fallen off at a remarkable rate. He was the game’s best DH in 2012, in the league’s top 10 in on-base percentage last year, and quite possibly baseball’s least valuable player this year.

Biggest second-half worry that nobody is talking about

Pitchers Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been enormous boosts, but both are headed toward unknown workloads in the second half. Duffy threw 94 innings last year, has never thrown more than 126 in a professional season, and is tracking toward 160. Ventura threw a career-high 149 last year, is tracking toward 180 this year, and has had elbow discomfort.

Biggest second-half boost you might not be thinking about

Thirty-eight of their 68 remaining games are against teams with losing records, and of the games against teams at .500 or above, 16 are against the Indians and Tigers, giving the Royals some control.

Change that should be made but won’t

Cain has been the team’s most consistent hitter, and actually did some of his best work in two weeks as the leadoff hitter while outfielder Nori Aoki was hurt. Lineup construction is vastly overrated, but it makes no sense to limit the plate appearances of one of your best hitters (Cain) while maximizing those of one of your worst hitters (Aoki). But that’s what the Royals will do.

Change that should be made sooner than next month, which is when it will be made

Speaking of Aoki, the struggles of Moustakas and Butler have overshadowed that Aoki has been a plain disaster so far. All of his offensive numbers (except strikeouts) are way down from his days with the Brewers, and he’s been horrible in right field. Jarrod Dyson is an upgrade in every way, most importantly defensively, and should be playing more.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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