The first half of the season is over, and the Royals have enjoyed quite a first half. We decided to assemble our own All-Star writing staff to talk about those amazing Royals.
The Royals have a record of 52-34, the best record in the league. How confident are you that they will make the playoffs at this point?
Joshua Ward: The things that have been going right - overcoming injuries, spotty starting pitching - would have to start going wrong, which is equally as likely as things remaining status quo. Another big injury, say Wade Davis blowing out his elbow, or Kendrys Morales breaking his foot again, would be a problem, because as we have seen, the depth is not great on this team, outside of maybe the bullpen and fifth starters.
Still, the Royals have a 4.5 game lead on Minnesota and have played three fewer games than the Twins (and two fewer than Detroit, who they have a nine game lead on). The odds of them making the playoffs are pretty good, and given their injury troubles so far, you have to imagine that it stops at some point, right? Hopefully? So, I guess I am confident enough. The kind of confidence you put in a co-worker to finish a huge project on deadline. A lot of blind trust because they came through once before, but still, it is a pretty important project.
Matthew LaMar: On an arbitrary scale of "no chance", "unlikely", "even", "likely", and "shoo-in", I would say the Royals are likely to make the playoffs. They are not a shoo-in because baseball is a cruel game (hello, 2014 Oakland A's) and because they have just lost their best player for two months. However, Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland are so far back and each of those teams has their own litany of problems. Minnesota has been a surprise, but they have probably outperformed and are due for a little regression. If Minnesota is your biggest problem, you're pretty safe.
To put it another way: if the Royals only play .500 baseball for the rest of the season, a stark negative regression from their current clip of .605, they'll hit 90 wins. That should be plenty to win even this weak division.
Josh Duggan: They've got a big lead in the division, but with the rotation so suspect and Gordon out for two months, it's hard to feel too confident. 50% chance?
Kevin Ruprecht: I really didn't think I would say this at the beginning of the season, but I'm pretty darn confident. The Tigers are not what they used to be, and the Twins likely can't keep winning the whole season.
Max Rieper: I'd still heed the warning of the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers of a year ago. The Athletics were the best team in the American League and the Brewers were half a game back of having the best record in the National League going into the All-Star break. The A's would have a huge second-half collapse despite big additions of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzaija and would barely make final playoff spot, while the Brewers would end up winning just 82 games, missing the playoffs altogether. So the Royals haven't won anything this season yet.
That being said, those kind of collapses aren't exactly common, and the Royals have shown they are a pretty good team with an improved offense from last year. They have a healthy lead that will be tough for a Twins team to overcome due to their true talent level, and tough for the Tigers to overcome with their bullpen issues and loss of Miguel Cabrera. I'm not printing playoff tickets, but I'm not worried about having nothing to do this October.
Who was your Royals MVP in the first half?
Joshua Ward: I think it would be hard to argue against Lorenzo Cain. He's been their best offensive player, best defensive player, and outside of one mini-slump, he's been consistent all season. The Dude is slashing .316/.373/.491 and it seems like we don't even recognize it. He leads the team in runs, slugging percentage, stolen bases, and batting average, is second in on-base percentage, doubles, and triples, third in RBI, and fourth in walks. As much as I love Alex Gordon, who is the hero we deserve, Lorenzo Cain is the hero we need. Honorable mentions to Edinson Volquez for anchoring a suspect pitching staff and Wade Davis' historigood relief season.
Matthew LaMar: Lorenzo Cain. In a way, Cain is a microcosm of the Royals' entire 2015 season. With a breakout 2014 season, everybody expected regression from Cain. He did not listen. Cain plays truly elite defense at a premium position, combines that with extreme speed on the basepaths, and has shown a quickly developing offense that has yielded a season 40% above league average.
Kevin Ruprecht: It has to be Lorenzo Cain, right? He's providing elite defense at a premium position while also providing very good offense (137 wRC+). He's hitting for more power this year, he is still stealing bases, he is walking more, he cut down his strikeout rate, and he's done the above without increasing his popup rate.
Josh Duggan: It has to be Cain, right? He's been too good for anyone else to really lay claim to it.
Max Rieper: Seeing Lorenzo Cain break out this year gives me special feelings. Having a guy with his kind of defensive abilities also put together a very good offensive season means we may see our first 8 WAR position player in Kansas City for the first time since George Brett's prime.
How much will the Alex Gordon injury impact this team?
Joshua Ward: Some. Not much. I am as high on Jarrod Dyson's talent level as anyone I know, and I think that he is a more than capable fill-in. His defense and baserunning make up for his lack of power and average on-base skills. Billy Hamilton was worth 3.7 fWAR last season with a .292 OBP. Dyson is an equally good defender who gets on base more often and would likely end up with roughly the same number of stolen bases, given full time work. It's a combination that can work if teams are interested.
Dyson was worth 3.1 fWAR in 2014 when he started just 66 games and played as a defensive sub and pinch runner. He was worth 2.5 fWAR in 2013 when he started just 61 games and played a similar role off the bench. He's a career .259/.323/.346 hitter with over one thousand plate appearances. He's not Alex Gordon, but he's not a replacement player either. He accrues his value in different ways, but the falloff from Gordon to Dyson is a lot smaller than people tend to think, maybe accounting to at most a Win over a couple months.
Matthew LaMar: As much as Dayton Moore and Ned Yost let it. Alex Gordon can be reasonably replaced with a Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon, as both are superb defenders and a vigilant platoon will minimize their same-handed offensive deficiencies. But Yost can't be trusted to do that. The trade market for outfielders is decent, but, again, Moore can't be trusted to replace the true weak link (Alex Rios) and instead might patch the hairline fracture with ducktape instead of plugging the gaping hole. A LF of Orlando/Dyson, CF of Cain, and RF of, say, Ben Zobrist would probably be a wash against a Gordon/Cain/Rios outfield, if not better.
Kevin Ruprecht: The downgrade from Alex Gordon to a Dyson/Orlando platoon is significant, but it can be weathered. Dyson is solid against righties, and Orlando is probably acceptable against lefties. I wouldn't want this to be the situation for the rest of the season, obviously.
Max Rieper: Over the course of eight weeks, I'm not sure that the drop-off from Alex Gordon to Jarrod Dyson is large enough to create too many problems. It is not as big a drop-off as say, the difference from Miguel Cabrera to Marc Krauss at first base for the Tigers. The good thing is the Royals have some margin of error to deal with, I'd be a lot more worried if this was a really tight race right now.
Josh Duggan: It's the absence of the bat that is so worrisome. A Dyson/Orlando platoon employed correctly would mitigate the immediate damage while thinning the bench that Yost does not use, but Yost has not shown that he is going to use them correctly thus far this season. In theory, the loss is not gigantic, but it sure seems like this will cost the Royals at least a game or two.
What most concerns you for the second half?
Josh Duggan: Rotation, rotation, rotation. Is it possible to land in the postseason with a rotation that is entirely composed of question marks?
Joshua Ward: Duffy and Ventura being some combination of healthy and/or effective. Chris Young's Magic Show won't last forever. I'm kind of okay with Vargas not being healthy, but Jeremy Guthrie is a stress test every fifth day. Duffy has been okay his last couple of starts, but the Royals need him to start performing. Ventura has equally been somewhat less than cromulent, as evidenced by his recent injury and his fifth inning collapse against Tampa. Kansas City needs both of them to be healthy and effective down the stretch, and especially into the postseason.
Matthew LaMar: Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Hosmer has had a terrible, and a I cannot stress this enough, TERRIBLE last two months. To have only one home run and eight walks in 35 games from the beginning till now is frankly unacceptable from a 'franchise cornerstone.' Especially with Gordon out, Hosmer needs to step up.
Moustakas just concerns me. Until this year, Moose posted an OPS of .668. This year, his OPS is over .100 points higher. Is it sustainable? Maybe. Does that kind of extreme jump scare you, especially with career-low power numbers? Yes. Infante and Rios will continue being bad. The rotation will continue to be suspect. But if Hosmer and Moose fall off a cliff, the Royals won't be able to climb back.
Max Rieper: The starting pitching. It seems like it has done just enough to allow the Royals to win, but I feel like its being held together with duct tape and pixie dust. Jeremy Guthrie probably should be designated for assignment, but he keeps performing just good enough to stick around, and the team somehow wins his starts, validating his performance to the "will to win" crowd. Chris Young could continue to confound BABIP by this much, but he is such a weird outlier, I'm not sure what to expect with him. We really have no idea what Jason Vargas will be like when he's healthy, and its probably safe to say the upside is not huge.
The Royals really need Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura to become the pitchers they thought they'd be at the beginning of the year. Its really amazing the team has been as successful as it has been without much of a contribution from those two.
Kevin Ruprecht: The offense. Hosmer, Moustakas, and Salvador Perez are on the down-swing. Infante and Rios have been terrible. We've lost Gordon for awhile. The offense has performed poorly recently, and we already know that this offense depends on streakiness.
Do you expect the Royals to make a significant trade at the deadline? If so, what kind of player will they acquire?
Matthew LaMar: I suspect the Royals will make at least one minor move out of nowhere. Last year, the Royals acquired Raul Ibanez, Jason Frasor, and Josh Willingham in a series of unheralded and unpredicted moves. Expect at least one of those. As for the big fish? I'm leaning towards no-Moore hasn't made a big splash at the deadline before, even last year when they needed it more. You never know, though.
Joshua Ward: I'm kind of torn on this one. I don't think they are as concerned about replacing Gordon for two months as the fans are, but there has to be some concern about the rotation. I think they are willing to ride out July to see if Duffy and Ventura can get right, but if not, then I would expect them to make a move at that point. Then again, Kris Medlen is a thing, and if they feel comfortable with where he's at in his rehab, he would be their mid-season acquisition. If he's 85% of what he was in 2013, then that would be good enough I think. Probably.
Presuming Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura remember that they are twin cannons of destruction at some point. Which is really where it's at. If Ventura and Duffy were pitching like Ventura and Duffy from last season, there is no way the Royals make a pitching move. If Medlen were a month further along in his rehab, there is no way they make a pitching move. If John Lamb is brought up at some point and shows that he's better than Joe Blanton, then I don't think they make a move. But that's a lot of question marks. Right now I'll say no, but three weeks of mediocre pitching could change that.
Max Rieper: The Royals have never been in the position of being a certified contender by the modern July trade deadline, so this is all new territory for us. I think Dayton Moore is generally conservative, but when he feels the time is right to make a big move to put the team in serious contention, he'll pull the trigger. So I'm betting a lot the Royals do make a significant move in the next few weeks. I'm not sure whether it will be a pitcher or a bat like Ben Zobrist, but I think the Royals will make at least one significant trade, and perhaps even a second move for a depth piece.
It would not at all surprise me to see Brandon Finnegan as the main trade piece, as I suspect the team is not as enamored with him as they once were.
Josh Duggan: Given Dayton Moore's history (of which only some is applicable to this season's situation), it seems unlikely. There are significant holes at second, right, and in the rotation with obvious trade targets at those positions, but it seems like Moore is loath to make a deal at the deadline when it makes all the sense in the world.
Kevin Ruprecht: No. I expect minor moves if at all.
Who do the Royals most need to have a good second half?
Josh Duggan: With Gordon out, Hosmer needs to fuel the offense. Two months of slump out of him could bury the Royals.
Joshua Ward: Duffy and Ventura pitching better. Everything else could taper off, but if Duffy returns to a 3.75 ERA and Ventura pitches to a 3.50 in the second half, then everything else would be good enough.
Kevin Ruprecht: Yordano Ventura needs to rediscover his good form.
Max Rieper: Yordano. The Royals need to improve their starting pitching, and also need someone they can start in Game One of a playoff series. It would also be nice to see Kris Medlen become another good Dayton Moore find.
Matthew LaMar: Danny Duffy. It's always Danny Duffy. Is he the guy who gathered 3.6 bWAR last year or the current, injured, mostly ineffective version? Or neither? He could make a sneaky-big difference. For bonus points, keep an eye on Bubba Starling in the minors. If he goes on a tear, he could be called up and installed in the September rosters, perhaps worming Rios out of a roster spot.
What needs to happen for the Royals to return to the World Series this fall?
Josh Duggan: Gordon needs to come back strong, possibly ahead of schedule, and Medlen needs to produce. And the rotation needs to get its collective shit together.
Joshua Ward: If you scan around the American League, I can point to maybe one team (Houston) that is better than Kansas City, and even that is debatable, having a lot to do with the fact that Ventura and Duffy [see above]. Not to mention that Houston's style doesn't play well in short series.
The important thing I think is for Kansas City to make sure that they have home field advantage this year. So much of what they do is built around their home stadium (anybody want to see Chris Young start a playoff game in Houston or New York?) that it would be nice if they didn't have to rely on Moustakas hitting a franchise record number of home runs or some such. Other than that, I think they have as good a chance as anyone right now. Which is so very, very weird to say.
Matthew LaMar: Replacing Omar Infante and Rios with even league-average players would hugely help. Also, if the Royals are in the 2015 World Series, Kris Medlen has probably stepped up bigtime.
Max Rieper: The rotation of Yordano Ventura, Kris Medlen or Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez and [insert July acquisition here] needs to be solid - not spectacular. Hey, we were two runs away from winning it all last year with Jeremy Guthrie as our Game 7 starter. Anything can happen.
Kevin Ruprecht: Their offense needs to go on a tear again. Hosmer and Moustakas performing like they did at the beginning of the year, Kendrys Morales remaining solid, and Perez taking walks would all go a long way toward fixing my concern with the offense.