Billy Butler still holds the key for Royals’ success

07/29/2014 11:03 PM

07/30/2014 12:59 AM

With as relevant a trade deadline as the Royals have encountered in eons looming Thursday at 3 p.m., general manager Dayton Moore on Tuesday managed a brief break. He perched himself near the end of his team’s dugout at Kauffman Stadium and surveyed the field.

Moore and his staff were and are probing every possibility within their small-market constraints to augment this perplexing team, which sits almost equally on the cusp of contention and the verge of fading after a punchless 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night.

So when you see Moore out, you immediately only wonder what’s been happening inside. And when he checks on his phone as you chat, you really, really wonder what even that was all about:

Don’t forget to pick up something on the way home, or … we’ve got a deal?

Naturally, Moore is in no position to divulge the dynamics at play as he scans and searches and scrounges for upgrades at a price he can afford.

More brawn clearly could bolster these power-deficient Royals, whose 61 home runs match Roger Maris’ untainted individual record but is the most feeble team mark in Major League Baseball this season.

But it could be that manager Ned Yost said this all best the other day.

“There aren’t a lot of bats out there,” he said. “Believe me, Dayton is working day and night looking at all the options, but there aren’t a lot of options out there.”

At least evidently not within the framework the Royals are willing or able to work.

So it could be that they have made the “blockbuster” trade they’re going to be able to make, the one Monday that sent third baseman Danny Valencia to Toronto for catcher Erik Kratz and pitcher Liam Hendriks.

Trouble is, on Tuesday the only person who called that a blockbuster deal was Kratz … and he was joking.

So it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that the Royals can orchestrate anything approximating a major change.

And that means they figure to go into August and September with the team they have if not the one they might hope to be.

That doesn’t bode anything better than the water-treading (53-52) thus far this season.

With an asterisk.

Because both the team they have and the team they want to have feature a key common denominator that’s essentially been dormant.

That factor, of course, is Billy Butler, who averaged 19.8 home runs and 91 RBIs over the last five seasons but whose numbers have shriveled to a shadow of that with five and 41 this season.

Yes, he’s had some bad results, Butler said over the weekend, and some bad at-bats.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie about that,” he said, later adding, “Every guy in here is human, and they go through struggles.

“Hopefully, I come out stronger in the end, better than I was before.”

There seem to have been a lot of reasons attached to his funk, including what’s been an observable issue of pitch selection to the less tangible suggestion that his bat speed had suddenly dropped precipitously.

(Noting his pinch home run on Friday had come on a pitch in the mid-90s, Butler scoffed at that notion.)

But even if it’s undeniable his numbers have steadily receded from their peak in 2012, it’s also a mistake to assume Butler abruptly is done at 28.

Whether they prove to be catalysts of blips, those two game-winning home runs and five RBIs as he went six for nine last weekend against Cleveland were potent reminders of the impact he can make.

Yes, that was as many RBIs in three games as he’d had in the previous 31, and he’s still mired in fourth on the team in that category and fifth in home runs.

And it falls on plenty of other shoulders, particularly Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, to produce to potential so the Royals can have a generational breakthrough to the playoffs.

But nobody has to find a way to provide that boost now more than Butler, whose line-out to second with Jarrod Dyson on first ended the game on Tuesday.

Butler doesn’t need to miraculously become better than ever.

He simply needs to resemble the hitter he’s been nearly all his career.

“If I can drive a few more balls, get some big hits here and there,” he said, “it could push us over the top.”

Short of any pivotal reinforcements, it’s going to take all of that and more for the Royals ultimately to be transformed from a team of mere hope to one of fulfillment.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow on Twitter.com/vgregorian

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