We’ve now arrived at the All-Star Break, widely regarded as the halfway point to the season even though we actually passed the real one last month. We all came into this season with our own expectations for the season and an idea of what a successful season would look like for this team. Now we’ve got four days off to relax and reevaluate where we stand.
There’s lots of good things that have happened for this team, but there are also reasons to be concerned. Expectations have probably changed. My question for you, Royals Review reader, is this: In your opinion, what constitutes a successful season for the Royals? I’ve laid out some options below.
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Scenario 1: The Royals finish .500
Anything less than a .500 finish must certainly be considered a failure, and a finish of merely .500 baseball or a few games over would also be a disappointment. Some improvement was expected on last year’s 86-76 record, and the Royals have a slightly better record than they did at this point last year. An 87-75 finish- or, at least, a .500 season- is about the minimum requirement for this season to be seen as a short-term success.
Why it will happen: Again, the Royals have a better record going into the All-Star Break this year, and the only real intimidating part of the second-half schedule is the first two weeks of August (10 games against Oakland and San Francisco with a three-game break against the D-backs). The Royals already have an impressive road record, and they only face two teams above .500 on the road for the rest of the season- Oakland and Detroit. It will be tough to replicate last year’s second-half success, but the schedule sets up nicely for it.
Why it won’t happen: The Royals’ road record might be nice, but they’re underperforming at home. There are some tough series coming up at home and unless they can improve their play at the K, the Royals might see themselves slip back below .500 somewhere in the middle of August. Additionally, as has been noted a handful of times and generally ignored by the more optimistic of us, the Royals have been outperforming their individual and team projections so far this year. We’d all like to think that Hosmer and Butler are big second-half performers, but just because that’s happened over the last few seasons doesn’t mean that it will happen again. Butler, for one, hasn’t inspired confidence that he will be able to turn it around.
Scenario 2: The Royals make the playoffs
A perfectly reasonable request to make at the beginning of the season, as well as even less than a month ago. A modest four-game improvement over last year’s record would bring the Royals to 90 games, which either makes the playoffs or is one or two games out- nothing to scoff at. The Royals have continued to provide hope over the first half of the season that the playoffs may come to Kansas City in the near future. Remember June 18th? What a great day to be a Royals fan. Then the Royals got swept at home by the Mariners and revealed themselves to be a streaky, inconsistent team. Streaky, inconsistent teams can sometimes make the playoffs, but it’s not as comfortable as the alternative.
Why it will happen: To make the playoffs, the Royals will need to catch either the Tigers in the Central or the Mariners in the Wild Card race. It took less than a month for the Royals to fall well behind the Tigers in the AL Central, so theoretically, if the Royals have a good month and the Tigers have a bad month after the All-Star break, the roles could reverse. That’s not going to happen, though, and the Tigers have a cakewalk of a schedule for the last few weeks of the regular season. The Mariners, however, have a brutal second-half schedule, facing teams like the Angels, A’s, and Jays multiple times, with series against the Braves, O’s, Tigers, and Nats sprinkled in. The Royals have a very legitimate chance to catch the Mariners, if they can avoid shooting themselves in the foot.
Why it won’t happen: The Tigers will walk away with the AL Central, leaving the Royals to fight it out for a Wild Card berth. The Angels will easily get the first Wild Card, leaving a ton of teams to compete for that second Wild Card spot. And even if the Mariners sink, the Blue Jays are right behind them, as are the Yankees. The Indians are as much a beneficiary of the weak teams at the bottom of the Central as we are. The Royals might be able to catch the M’s, but they won’t be able to outrun everybody. Ultimately, that one decision that GMDM does or doesn’t make at the trade deadline is going to come back to haunt him, and the streak plods on to 30 years.
Scenario 3: The Royals win the World Series
Oh, so you’re one of those people. "Anything less than a championship is a failed season," you say. "Every year, 29 teams fail." You probably have more important teams to support and things to do than read a fanpost from a college journalism student on a Royals fan website, but I’ll humor you anyway, in case that turns out to be exactly what you’re doing.
Why it will happen: It could happen, hypothetically, I guess. If the Royals happen to be that team that gets hot in September and October. Stranger things have happened (well, no, I’ll actually have to check that). The Royals have proved they can beat good teams when they’re clicking. 3 of 4 from Detroit in June, and 3 of 4 from St. Louis and 2 of 3 from the Yanks before that. A series win against the Angels two weeks ago, and what should’ve been a series win against the Dodgers in the preceding set. On the other hand, they’ve shown they can lose to good teams just as easily (see: this weekend).
Why it won’t happen: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha I don’t even know why I included this scenario. It’s not going to happen. Better luck next year.
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Records and trophies aren’t the only ways to measure success, of course. If you’re not one for the short-term game- perhaps GMDM has trained you to always think about the long-term, or maybe time moves much faster for you than it does for ordinary human beings- you might consider some of the following alternatives cause for a plaza parade at the end of the season.
Scenario 4: The Royals develop good pitching capable of solidifying the rotation for years to come
We don’t want to think about it, but we all know that in just over three months, James Shields will no longer Be Royal. That will leave us with a rotation where Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie make up the solid veteran presence (Bruce Chen will probably be there too, because he has performed a complicated ritual that ties his life force to Kansas City. If he leaves, both he and the city will die, forcing GMDM to keep him here for the good of the city). The Royals needed to develop a few other solid starters this year to fill the holes, since there’s almost no chance that we’ll lock down another Big Game James in free agency.
Why it will happen: Because it pretty much already has. Barring anything catastrophic- I’m knocking on wood so hard right now- Yordano Ventura looks like he’ll be a good fit in the front end of the rotation, and Danny Duffy appears to have developed into a solid starter as well. I would have loved to see Kyle Zimmer up in the majors this year, but that looks less and less like a possibility each day that he doesn’t throw a pitch. No matter- I’d rather have him delayed a year than completely derailed by rushing back too soon from an injury. Royals fans have to be pleased with how well Ventura and Duffy have performed this year. Give credit to the pitching coaches- not just for Ventura and Duffy, but also for doing the equivalent of raising Lazarus from the dead in back-to-back seasons in the forms of ex-dumpster fires Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis. This is a really solid pitching team even without James Shields.
Why it won’t happen: I don’t want to say the I-word, (or the dreaded T- and J- words) but it’s definitely something you worry about, especially with a flamethrower like Ventura. I also don’t believe that Ventura or Vargas fit the bill of a number-one starter just yet, so the Royals will still need to find someone in the offseason to replace Shields.
Scenario 5: The Royals develop or obtain hitting to balance out their team for playoff runs now and in the future
As great as the pitching has been for the Royals this year, the hitting has been the opposite. One could certainly argue that if the Royals develop or acquire some solid bats, this team will make waves down the road. Right now, though, that doesn’t seem at all likely. If you take the initials of all the players hitting below an arbitrary .280 who have started a game in the past week for the Royals (or just in general are underperforming expectations), you can spell out "HI, BIG HAM!" which, let’s be honest, has too many letters. But at least Jarrod Dyson has been hitting well.
Why it will happen: The Royals have become notorious second-half hitters, I guess. Eric Hosmer has been turning it on recently, and Billy Butler has hit as many home runs in the past week as he did in the first two months of the season. In Billy’s case, that’s not saying much, but with Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon being relatively consistent in the middle of the order, and Lorenzo Cain putting it together near the top, the offense has looked better recently. If GMDM could acquire another quality bat at the deadline, this offense might not be so offensive.
Why it won’t happen: Hosmer, Butler, and Moustakas all fared so poorly in the beginning of the season that not even recent hot streaks have carried them back to where their expectations were in spring training. We can’t trust Dayton Moore to bring in quality bats, because he’s already tried to, and it hasn’t gone well. Our offensive upgrade in right field typically looks like this:
And our recent acquisition which we think is supposed to be a power bat off the bench does has fared even worse. Maybe Scott Downs was a signing designed to give us more power in the forthcoming series against the D-Backs and Rockies? At least Omar Infante has been an upgrade over the black hole at second base in recent years, but the offense still has a long way to go before they reach basic AL competency.
Scenario 6: The Royals are sellers at the trade deadline, setting themselves up for another, larger window a couple years down the road
As much as we’d like to think the Royals will contend this year, the realist (pessimist?) realizes that there are too many flaws on this team to realistically have a real chance at making the playoffs. The World Series? Get real. If we sell at the trade deadline, he says, and acquire some top prospects that are just a year or two away from the majors, then we can put together a really good team in 2016 and 2017, when the Tigers are that much older and the AL Central is very much up for grabs. He’s pointing out that there are two birds in that bush over there, and we don’t even know if we have one in our hands.
Why it will happen: Selling at the deadline is usually the best thing to do to ensure long-term success down the road. Billy Butler, despite his struggles, would garner a good price. James Shields would bring in a boatload of prospects (look at what the Cubs got for Samardzija!). It wouldn’t be a popular decision since we’re still playing .500 ball, but we could be so much better down the road.
Why it won’t happen: We’re still playing .500 ball, we’re only a handful of games out of the playoffs, and we’re one good streak away from being right back in it. Dayton Moore wants to keep his job, and if he admits the current window is closed, the door might be closed on him. The Royals aren’t going to sell at the deadline unless they lose nearly every game between now and then, and that seems unlikely. Sorry,
pessimists realists, but we’re not going to give up on this season just yet.
Scenario 7: This season is already a failure. Just fire everybody.
You must be a great fan to be around.