The Royals went 10-8 during their first big stretch of the year. I felt like this was a stretch where they could really make up some ground both in the division and on the .500 mark. While the Royals did make up a little ground in both areas, I can't help but feel like a chance to really make a push was squandered in the first half of this stretch. Hopefully the Royals can hang around until the ASG and make a run during that second critical stretch in July.
The first series in this six series stretch started out really well. Felipe Paulino made it clear he's the team ace by going out and shutting the A's out on a Friday night. That was the beginning of a winning series for the Royals which looked to be setting them up for a really strong run.
Then the Royals squandered some opportunities against the Twins, winning only one game and threatening to let the Twins chase them down for the fourth spot in the Central. A 3-3 homestand wasn't what I was hoping for, but it wasn't exactly a disaster, either.
What happened in Pittsburgh, though, that was a disaster. Ideally, the Royals would have bounced back from a subpar series with the Twins by taking 2 of 3 in Pittsburgh against a struggling offense. Instead, the Royals offense took the weekend off and the Boys in Blue limped back to KC after an embarrassing sweep. At this point, sitting at 3-6 I figured the stretch and maybe even the season were slipping away. After all, the Royals had fallen back to 10 games under .500, and were heading to a matchup with Greinke. I could almost see the Royals turning this into a 6 or 7 game losing streak that would put them firmly in the AL Central basement.
I was ready to circle the Pittsburgh series as the moment when the season turned for the worst after the Royals had fought back from an early 12 game losing streak. It looked like they had come this far just to squander all of that work.
Then a funny thing happened. Luis Mendoza matched Greinke almost pitch for pitch. Alex Gordon hung leadoff dong. And then it got weird. The next night Escobar turned an apparent loss into an extra inning win with a 2 out, 2 run triple in the 9th. The night after that the Brewers forgot what speed do in the 9th and Jarrod Dyson quickly reminded them, scoring from third on a wild relay play. Suddenly the Royals had swept the Brewers, were back to 6-6 and showing some energy heading to St. Louis.
An even wilder relay play, including two bad throws and one great one gave the Royals a win in game one in St. Louis. Game 2 had Bruce Chen getting chased early and the Royals more or less left for dead in the second inning. Except the Royals added a run here, a run there, and then a three run seventh to take the lead 7-6. The Royals ended up losing, but reminded me not to turn the channel too quickly. And Sunday. Ah, Sunday. William. Raymond. Butler. Dong. Hung. Game tying jack with 2 outs (on an 0-2 count) in the 9th. Royals win in 15. Never give up. Series win.
The Royals showed up in Houston and Jonathan Sanchez continued to demonstrate that this isn't 2010. He struggled through his start, although it was only 4-2 when he left. Louis Coleman got blown up for 5 runs to give the Astros a blowout win. At least it seemed that way as the game headed to the 9th. Then it got weird. All of a sudden the Royals had 5 runs in, the bases loaded, a closer chased, 2 outs and Mike Moustakas in the batters box. A trip to the short porch in right would have made me go crazy. Only a foul pop to first resulted, but I really thought for a second that the Royals could win that game. Good Luke showed up on Tuesday night. Actually, really good Luke showed up on Tuesday and shut the 'Stros out, then Bruce Chen led a 1 run game to give the Royals another series win.
Overall, I'd have to give the Royals a C+ on this stretch. There was an opportunity to pick up ground that was squandered fairly early on, but they get points for not letting the sweep in Pittsburgh bury the season as so many recent Royals teams would have done. They got off the mat and got themselves back into the season with a 7-2 run to end the stretch 10-8.
Series by series grades:
vs. Oakland - B+. Took 2 of 3 from a weaker opponent at home, which is what good teams should do. The grade is helped by the two shutouts, but hurt by the shaky Hochevar performance in the middle game.
vs. Minnesota - D. Lost 2 of 3 at home to the worst team in the American League. That's inexcusable when trying to move to respectability. These are the types of performances that spark the "same old Royals" talk.
@ Pittsburgh - F. Got swept away. No offense all weekend. This was one of those series that had me having flashbacks to 2005 and 2006 and dreading the long losing streak that was coming.
vs. Milwaukee - A+. Home sweep. This grade gets the plus for turning around this stretch and, possibly, the season. If the Royals get back over .500 and into the division race (a race I still don't think they can win, but still) this is the series where things turned around. Two dramatic wins, plus a win over Greinke. HUGE.
@ St. Louis - B. 2 out of 3 on the road against the hated Cardinals. This would have been a B+ or an A- except that burning through the bullpen cost us a chance on Monday in Houston. That carryover drops the grade just a little.
@ Houston - A-. Winning the last 2 games of the road trip and the huge comeback on Monday night in an otherwise non competitive game bump this grade up a bit.