With the sweep of the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City finds itself 12 games under .500. Twelve games. You can hear it coming, can't you? In fact, it probably has been tweeted, posted and uttered the old fashioned way in both sincere and snarky terms: if only the Royals had not had that 12 game losing streak back in April. If only. Twelve games.
The problem is you don't get to take those twelve games out of the equation. They were frighteningly real. Most teams have not endured a 12 game losing skid this season, but they all have had trouble at one time or another. The Yankees lost six of seven in May and the Tigers would surely like to take back a string of seven losses in eight games back in April. They'd be in great shape if that had never happened instead of finding themselves on the outside looking in right now.
A lot of things, bad things, happen during the course of a 162 game season. As Royals' fans, we have seen a million of them happen to our team more than once.
This year's Royals team has played itself back into dangerous territory. At 12 games under .500 and playing well against decent teams who are still playing hard, it will be easy for the fanbase, the press and, of course, those bastard bloggers, to say 'well, if X hadn't happened, we'd be at .500'. Hey, if people want to do that and start to get excited about 2013, more power to them. I'm pretty sure there is a column in my mind that will come out in a few months full of optimism for next season. I am a sucker for optimism.
The concern should be what we as fans think, but what does Dayton Moore and David Glass believe. There are a list of comments I can already hear that could serve as excuses for why money was not spent and moves made to make this team better.
We did play half a season without Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain. Okay, losing Perez was a huge blow to this team. That Humberto Quintero got the bulk of the playing team in his absence and was released a week after Salvador came back is indication enough of how gaping the hole was when Perez was hurt this spring. The Cain injury was frustrating as we watched Melky Cabrera juice himself into an All-Star. Hopefully, both will be healthy and productive for the bulk of 2013 and that will make the Royals a better team. Except...
Injuries always happen. It seems as though the Royals get more than their share (which is, has been and will be a column for another day), but even teams with supposed 'good' injury histories suffer them. If the Royals believe they are going to play 2013 with their starting nine intact for 150 of those games, they are fooling themselves. They may not lose two regulars for half a season each, but they might well have four guys hit the disabled list for 15 or 20 days and another one for a month and a half. Maybe they get lucky and stay remarkably healthy, but sometimes I win a lot of money at craps, too. That doesn't mean I use my house payment money to play the game.
Imagine the bullpen if Joakim Soria had not been hurt? It probably would have been even better, although Soria's effectiveness was no sure thing. Maybe a couple of those Broxton blown saves don't happen and maybe a few other games are won based on the fact that the Royals could line up Crow, Herrera, Holland and Soria from the sixth inning on. While Soria may never return to top form, he might well be back (under a new, incentive laden contract) in 2013. Of course, these are relievers we're talking about, it's likely that one of the young arms become wildly ineffective or injured. History tells us that the Royals will be lucky if it is just one that it happens to.
What if Duffy and Paulino had not gone under the knife? Yeah, what if? Because starting pitchers never get hurt. The Royals, of all teams, should expect and plan for losing at least two starting pitchers for extended periods of time pretty much every season. That is honestly not being bitter or cynical, that is really just how it goes with pitching arms. It certainly seems like Kansas City should be better at keeping pitchers healthy, but injuries to the rotation happen to pretty much everyone. Considering what the Royals broke camp with for a rotation, they have actually done a decent job of patching thinks up. Luis Mendoza has been capable, Jeremy Guthrie has been quite good and Will Smith hasn't been completely awful. My guess is Dayton Moore has gotten about as much as he could hope for out of his rotation this year.
Eric Hosmer will be better, so will Mike Moustakas. God, I hope so. If you knew on April 1st that Hosmer would be hitting .241/.312/.370, Moustakas would be at .251/.306/.442 and Francoeur would flail to the tune of .234/.286/.360, my guess is you would be delighted to know the Royals were only 12 games under. I don't see much upside in Frenchy (of course, it's hard to get much worse!) and that is why we have Wil Myers. You would think Hosmer and Moustakas would be better and, in the case of Hosmer, a lot better in 2013. Still, you almost have to expect some regression as well. Will Alcides Escobar hit .301 in 2013? Maybe, maybe not. What if Perez's expanded strike zone gets exploited as the league gets more information on him? What if Lorenzo Cain's long swing is just plain too long?
In the end, there are plenty of 'but if this hadn't happen' and plenty more 'if this happens in 2013' to justify that the Royals are just a little more waiting away from being contenders. The problem is there are always ifs and buts in baseball. Some money from Mr. Glass and some well thought out moves by Mr. Moore can go a long ways towards evening out the ifs and buts. The Royals need a little of both from those two gentlemen THIS off-season.