The Royals are scheduled to play seven different teams in May and — as of this writing — three lead their divisions and four have winning records; it’s not going to be an easy month.
▪ Detroit Tigers (at home, May 1-3; at Detroit May 8-10): Ask around — and I did — and you might hear that reporters and fans tend to focus on the wrong games; when you play a team as good as Detroit you should try not to get swept and be happy if you play .500 ball. The games you have to win are against the teams that aren’t so hot. But when you play Detroit, don’t let Miguel Cabrera beat you. If the game’s on the line, walk him and take your chances with Victor Martinez.
▪ Cleveland Indians (at home, May 5-7): This is one of those not so hot — at least right now — teams. The Royals can’t let the Twins beat them two out of three in their first series or fail to sweep the Indians when they had a chance. In their last game in Cleveland, the Royals were up 4-3 going into the bottom of the sixth and lost. Those are the kind of games that come back to haunt you — not losing to good teams with excellent pitchers.
▪ Texas Rangers (at Texas, May 11-14): This is another big series for the Royals because they have a chance to go three out of four or sweep a series against a team that’s scuffling. The Rangers are near the bottom in team batting average and they’re also not hitting a lot of home runs. As I write this, the Rangers are also dead last in slugging percentage. They’re also 21st in team ERA. In a tough month, these are games you need to win.
▪ New York Yankees (at home, May 15-17; at New York, May 25-27): The Bronx Bombers are near the top when it comes to home runs, and when the Royals play in New York, watch for pitches inside to lefties or away from righties; that right-field porch isn’t very far away. The Yankees’ left-handed hitters will get up on top of the plate and try to pull everything. Pitchers will have more success if they can keep the ball in the middle of the field or toward the left-center gap — almost 400 feet from home.
I can’t remember who said it, but the best answer I’ve ever heard to the “who would you like to be” question was a guy who said he’d like to be Mickey Mantle in the 1950s in New York City on a Saturday night. You might be stunned to find out big-league ballplayers like to go out at night, but it’s been known to happen and there’s no better city for going out than New York.
The Royals play the Cardinals at home on a Sunday, fly to the Big Apple that night and play a 12:05 day game Monday. And a Monday day game means Monday night is free. If some of the Boys in Blue look like they’re dragging on Monday afternoon or Tuesday night, you might know why.
▪ Cincinnati Reds (at home, May 19-20): The Reds are in the middle of the pack when it comes to team ERA, but still have more quality starts than the Royals. If that trend continues, the Cincinnati starters might go deeper in the game, but the Royals’ bullpen could spell the difference. One of the reasons the Royals don’t have so many quality starts is the excellence of their bullpen; Ned Yost doesn’t hesitate to go to them in the middle innings with the game on the line.
▪ St. Louis Cardinals (at home, May 22-24): The Cards are one of the top teams in team batting average but near the bottom in home runs — and those stats shouldn’t change much when St. Louis plays in Kauffman Stadium. A hard place to hit home runs, but a spacious park that allows a lot of base hits to fall. Much like Cabrera and Detroit, don’t let Matt Holliday beat you; when it matters, work around him.
▪ Chicago Cubs (at Chicago, May 29-31): OK, so that means National League rules and pitchers hit. So the Royals are going to have to figure out what they want to do with DH Kendrys Morales. He’s currently hitting over .300 — but so is Eric Hosmer. If you want Morales in the lineup, first base is probably where he’d play and then Hosmer might go to right field. If Morales is not in the lineup, he would be a nice bat off the bench. And finally, check the flags: if the wind is blowing in, Wrigley can be a pitcher’s park; if the wind is blowing out, it might be a slugfest.