What's going on with the Royals?
The Royals are on fire! This is a team that once seemed lost after long losing stretches in May (12 of 13) and again right before the All-Star break (five in a row). Now it is found, though. Kansas City has won nine straight games and now sits just 4.5 games out of the American League Wild Card.
So are these Royals for real? Well, they would be if the young stars of the offense would play up to their potential, but in spite of a recent surge, Eric Hosmer is still only hitting .286/.332/.430. This a team doesn't have one regular with an OPS over .800, and Marlon Byrd is still on the Mets!
Okay, so maybe general manager Dayton Moore did the right thing by not making a desperate trade for a player who could collapse at any moment, but the Royals still don't seem to have enough talent to warrant contender status. The pitching tandem of James Shields and Ervin Santana at the top of the rotation has been splendid, but behind that is a mess that made the return of Bruce Chen to the rotation sound like a terrific idea.
Who are these guys?
David Lough is a 27-year-old, left-handed rookie who can play all three outfield positions and is hitting surprisingly well this season. Never a very highly touted prospect, Lough spent three full seasons in Triple-A before finally making his debut with a cup of coffee in 2012. This season -- since the departure of Jeff Francoeur -- he's been a key fixture in Kansas City's lineup with a .300/.317/.443 battling line, and he's even gotten some at-bats against lefties recently. Lough has never walked a ton, but his defensive versatility makes him an asset as long as he can keep the batting average up.
Justin Maxwell is proof that the Royals don't think that Lough is a full-time solution in the outfield. Maxwell was acquired at the trade deadline from the Astros and could be a platoon partner with Lough going forward. With Houston this season, Maxwell had a dreadful 32.4 percent strikeout rate (this has been a problem throughout his career), but he still posted a 2.0 fWAR because of his great defense and .231 isolated power. At 29 years old, it's getting hard to imagine that Maxwell will ever improve his strikeout rate enough to be a full-time player for a good team, but with his athleticism in the field and ability to hit lefties, he's still quite useful. Against the southpaws this season, his strikeout rate is "only" 18.4 percent and he's batting .311/.367/.489.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Wade Davis vs. Dillon Gee
There are a few things wrong with the trade that sent Davis and James Shields to Kansas City in exchange for Wil Myers and some other players. The first is that Myers has a chance to be better than all of the good-but-not-great young bats that make up Kansas City's current lineup. The second is that Shields' contract expires after this season, which is another season in which the Royals probably won't make the playoffs. The third is that Davis is just awful. Last season, he was a very good relief pitcher for Tampa Bay. This season he's started 20 games and has a 1.75 WHIP. Okay, so Davis does have a BABIP of .375 that will go down, and his strand rate is way below his career norms. That means he's going to get better performance in the future, but it's hard to see him being so much better than the guy who had an ERA above 4.00 and a strikeout-to-walk rate below two as a starter for the Rays in 2010 and 2011.
Saturday: Bruce Chen vs. Carlos Torres
In a way, Chen is unstoppable. He's been around forever and has bounced from team to team like a vagabond. Somehow, he always finds a way to make himself useful. He's pitched for four of the five National League East franchises, and one of them is the Expos. He was the Mets' starting pitcher in the Mike Piazza post-September 11 game. Later in his career, Chen began to find some stability. He spent three years with the Orioles from 2004 to 2006. After a year with the Ranges, he's been with Kansas City for the past five seasons. Chen has never been an outstanding pitcher, but he's always been left-handed, he's always been healthy, and he's always been willing to do whatever his team needed him to do. Last season, at age 35, Chen started a career-high 34 games and posted a career-best 1.9 fWAR. What did he get for his trouble? A demotion to the bullpen! And yet here he is again, making his fourth start for the Royals this season. In his previous three, he's allowed just three runs in 18 innings. What a dude.
Sunday: Ervin Santana vs. Jeremy Hefner
Santana has been an enigmatic pitcher throughout his career, but now he's having a career year at age 30, and all is well with the righty. He's always had really good stuff and been able to throw a lot of innings, and that's led to some pretty successful seasons during his Angels career. However, high amounts of home runs and walks allowed have led to some pretty bad campaigns as well. Last season, Santana gave up an insane 39 home runs and the Angels decided to trade him and the one year remaining on his contract to the Royals on Halloween. That has worked out pretty well for Kansas City. Santana still gives up a lot of dingers (17 so far in 2013), but his walks per nine is below two for the first time since 2008, and his slider is as effective as ever.
What about some GIFs?
No MLB highlight reel was complete yesterday without this amazing catch by Lorenzo Cain. Poor Trevor Plouffe was left without anything to show for it.
With a career MLB OPS of .684, Mike Moustakas is not the man yet, but he doesn't turn 25 until September. He just cranked out two home runs in a win over the Twins on Tuesday night, the first of which was against old friend Mike Pelfrey.