Oof. Well, last night's result, a 4-3 victory over what's left of the Texas Rangers, was fun. But the Cleveland series went about as expected and then some. Watching all three games of that series, it was hard to come away from it with any other lasting impression other than the starting pitchers and Alex Gordon trying to bodily drag the rest of the roster into the postseason. It's slightly worse than it looks now, too, because the standings don't count the third game of the series yet. Cleveland has almost certainly got a win versus KC in hand at this point, barring a singles-train comeback when that game resumes.
Without counting that game, the Royals have a half-game lead on Detroit, and four-point-five over the Cleveland team that they struggled so much with. The Royals and Tigers still have six games against each other, so counting the Team From Cleveland Whose Nickname Shall Not Be Mentioned out would be foolish at this stage. If the Royals-Cleveland People series had gone the other direction, we'd be having a different discussion. It didn't, and now all three teams have less than a month to make their cases for the postseason. Did I mention that Detroit currently sits in the second wild card spot, 1.5 games ahead of Seattle? Good grief, this is going to be fun.
Just in time for the RISP/clutchy regression, here's your Position Player Ups and Downs for the last two weeks:
Cain just keeps chugging along, with his best season to date having him at 3.5 fWAR so far. His batting line hasn't changed in what seems like months, though it's still a legit concern for the stretch run that his BABIP is sailing so high. It just wouldn't be surprised, for all the good things that Cain has done this year, if his hitting plummeted down the stretch at a time where the Royals need every hit. And that's not non-clutchiness, it's just that old scary math.
Regardless, barring an injury in this last month, we should give Cain credit for eating his wheaties this year; assuming he gets an average of four plate appearances a game, he should pass his old PA mark by the halfway point of this month. As with any other profession, if you're good at it, a good attendance record is a mark in your favor.
Maybe Cain can share some of his wheaties with Aoki, because the RF has continued to struggle in terms of hitting anything but singles this year. Aoki's IsoP is .067 on the year, and it's actually sort of A) a testament to his plate approach and B) almost incomprehensible that a player with so little threat of punishing pitchers is still maintaining a .330 OBP from a .263 BA. We've focused plenty on what Aoki can't do, because he has been a disappointment this year, but let it be said for the guy that he appears to be one of the few players on the roster who tries to work a damn count every-so-often.
Another hitter whose triple slash is essentially unchanged from two weeks ago. It just feels like a star-crossed year for Infante, whose shoulder began acting up at the same time that I would've expected the BABIP fairy to stop screwing things up for him. You never want to give a player undue credit when he isn't performing, but I wouldn't be surprised if Infante's injury had been bothering him for more than the past two weeks. Then again, the shelf life of non-star middle infielders isn't that long. Long story short, Infante's had a crappy year but not one that I believe the Royals or he deserves a tremendous amount of flack for. It might be a boost for KC if he gets right in the last month.
We know Salvy's played through injury as well. We know that .269/.302/.424 with good defense is still a well above average performance from a catcher. We also know that Perez's performances have been more ugly than not of late. In a season where the Royals have been fortunate to get good PAs with RISP, Perez and Infante might well wonder why the good luck mat has been tugged from their feet; both players have suffered from nagging injuries, and both are more than 20 points below their career BABIPs despite no real changes to their batted ball data.
Alex Gordon is the Kansas City Royals, man. Apologies to the pitching staff and all, but the dude seriously just wouldn't let this team fall out of first place in the last two weeks. The Royals entered the 9th inning trailing 1-0 to the latest edition of a pretty awful Minnesota Twins team, having not looked like they were capable of buying a run. Gordon deposited a two-run, walkoff dinger to right field, sending the crowd into raptures. The Royals entered the 9th inning trailing the Cleveland Indians 2-1 three days ago, and again it was Gordon who went deep to tie the game.
He can't do it all himself, but damn if there aren't moments where it seems like he can. If you think he's somehow "not clutch," please show yourself to the door and go look for your credibility. I'll wait.
Kratz has been preditably forgettable since his miracle game where he homered twice in relief of Salvy. It's fair to point out, however, that he is not, in any way, Brett Hayes.
Letting Mike Moustakas hit in key situations, or really any situation, has got to be questioned at this point. Yes, he had his mini hot streak for the season, but he's still at .206/.267/.375. In the counterpoint to the closing sentences of Cain's comment, if you're this bad at your job, you probably get less points for showing up every day.
You know the story at this stage, really. The increasingly empty batting average rises and falls, and that's basically Escobar's sum total of value at the plate (aside for a double every fifth or sixth game). If Escobar doesn't hit more than one home run for the duration of the season, he'll set a new career-low for dingers in full-time PAs. Fittingly, this is still his best year as a pro. Alcides gonna Alcides.
What can we actually say about Butler that hasn't already been said? He's hit better in the second half, and still hasn't really looked like himself at the plate. When pressed into service in the field, he's been predictably bad. Short of a blistering last month, this is about as vanilla a season as could be expect from a DH.
Dyson's weaknesses have been on display when he's been up with men on lately, but he's really just still doing what Jarrod Dyson does. Once you take into account his very good defense and the fact that he's the other powerless Royal OF who actually tries to work counts, he's about as good as a player as you can get from this skillset. If the Royals want to maximize their chances, he'll continue to see more playing time. The Gordon-Cain-Dyson OF is not one that surrenders a lot of cheap hits.
Hitting .267/.377/.489 since being rescued from his Twins' malaise. Willingham's back is acting up, which isn't a good sign for a guy whose value is tied to his take n' rake plate appearances. Get well soon, Josh -- the mere concept of a .489 SLG is mind-boggling in this town.
Rotating Cast of Characters That Don't Get Their Own Paragraphs (Yet): Christian Colon (missing u!), Johnny Giavotella, Jayson Nix, Francisco Pena, Lane Adams, Carlos Peguero, Eric Hosmer (only played in one game since his return).
The Royals continue their quest to pick up games against a team 31 games under .500 (!). Whether or not that's doable is anyone's guess. Jeremy Guthrie goes tonight.