The schedule maker was kind to the Royals when he handed them their first extended road trip of 2014. Three games in Minnesota, followed by three games in Houston. Then, the club returns home for another three games against the same Twins.
A quick glance at the early season standings reveals the Twins and the Astros are already fulfilling their American League destiny. They are both in last place in their respective divisions.
Nine consecutive games against the weakest teams in the American League. Thank you sir, may we have another?
The Twins are actually scoring runs. Their 5.6 runs per game average is second best in the AL. Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Colabello and Jason Kubel each have an OPS north of .900 in the small sample of the early season. They have just five home runs as a team, but they are a doubles machine, hitting 18 two-baggers.
While the offense is doing work, their pitching is offensive. Allowing 6.6 runs per game, they are the worst in the league. The Royals are slated to face Kyle Gibson on Friday, Ricky Nolasco on Saturday and Kevin Correia on Sunday. Gibson is climbing back following Tommy John surgery and despite solid stuff, is still battling command issues. He walked four in five innings in his first start of the season. If the Royals can stay patient...
That's actually slowly becoming less of a joke. When Salvador Perez has eight walks in eight games, strange things are happening.
What we have here is a key early season stretch. I'm not doing the sports-talk radio thing where I'm calling the second game of the season a "key" game. As if the Royals lose a single game the season is over. I'm saying this group of games is important. They, collectively, are key. The Twins and the Astros are teams the Royals should be beating. They play nine times; they need six wins. At a minimum. Now if they only win four or five, I'm not going to come around these parts writing about how the season is over. But it will be disappointing. Contending teams beat the Twins and they beat the Astros. It's baseball and anything can happen, but if the Royals don't capitalize on a weak portion of their schedule, they will have to make up the ground against tougher opposition. That won't be fun.
It's April, but as we've said before, these games count as much as the ones in September. Actually, these April games are the ones that can help position this team for a meaningful September. Stumble against the weaker teams, and we could find ourselves playing out the string once again.