The Royals resume play Friday in Chicago with a doubleheader against the White Sox. Here's a look at some of the second-half storylines to look forward to for Royals fans.
No Rest for the Weary
Because of earlier rain-outs, the Royals have 18 games in the first 17 days of the second-half. Their next off day will be August 3. They end the season with 13 consecutive games without a break. The starting rotation has been in flux lately, and how the Royals handle the starting pitching assignments over the next few weeks will be important. There will also be pressure on Ned Yost to rest regulars like Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain to avoid those players wearing down or getting hurt down the stretch.
Travel plans will also be disrupted due to makeups of games rained out earlier in the year. Next week, the Royals will interrupt a six-game homestand to travel to St. Louis for one day to make up a game against the Cardinals. In late September they'll have a travel day removed to head to Chicago one day early to make up a game against the Cubs before they begin a series against the White Sox.
Kris Medlen's Debut
Dayton Moore quietly signed the former Braves pitcher last winter knowing Medlen would miss the first half after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Medlen is close to returning with reports that last night's start for Northwest Arkansas may be his last rehab outing. When healthy, Medlen is a 3-4 WAR pitcher who could give the Royals the much-needed frontline pitcher they have lacked this year. The Royals are likely to ease Medlen into Major League action at first, probably pitching him out of the bullpen to begin with. If he can prove he is healthy and can tolerate a bigger workload, he could slot into the rotation.
Eric Hosmer to Heat Up?
Hosmer looked like he was having a career best season until June when he hit just .267/.302/.322. He has been a much better hitter in the second half in each of the past two seasons, hitting .323/.379/.473 in the second half of 2013, and .280/.328/.449 in the second half last year, including a hot post-season. Eric has begun to hit a bit better in the week leading into the All-Star break, and with Alex Gordon out for eight weeks, the Royals will be counting on Hosmer to provide the offensive firepower.
Consistency from Ventura and Duffy
The Royals were counting on improvements from Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy to make up for the loss of James Shields. Thus far, those two have been disappointing due to inconsistency and injury. Yordano looked better in his first start off the disabled list before the break, and Danny Duffy has been more reassuring since his return from the disabled list. The Royals will need both pitchers to not only be healthy, but consistent to stabilize a rotation that has already as many different starting pitchers this year (eight) as they had all of last year.
The July 31 Trade Deadline
For the first time since the modern July trade deadline has become a big deal, the Royals are firmly in contention and are obvious buyers. The Royals have been attached to a few names in the starting pitching market including Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, but could also use a bat as well, particularly with Alex Gordon out. Dayton Moore has a reputation for being conservative, but remember he made a big gamble to land James Shields with the hope the move would put the team in contention. Moore has said that "pitching is the currency of baseball", so don't be surprised if he cashes some of his reserves for an impact player.
The Return of Gordo
Alex Gordon is expected to be out eight weeks after injuring his groin in a game on July 8. That would peg his return to be around the first week of September, although he would probably need some rehab time in the minors before returning to the Royals. While Jarrod Dyson can hold down left-field defensively, the Royals will miss Gordon's bat. Alex was enjoying his best offensive numbers since 2011 and was a big reason why the Royals offense had improved from ninth in the league in runs scored in 2014 to fifth in the league this year. Fortunately, Gordon should be back in time to the September pennant stretch and the post-season.
The Royals still have twelve games remaining against the Detroit Tigers, but with last year's division title winners trailing the Royals by nine games and flailing around .500, they may not be much of a threat in the second half. The Minnesota Twins continue to linger around, and if they are still around first place in September, they'll have a chance to make up ground with two series against the Royals. Kansas City will host the Twins September 7-9, then the two teams will end the season against each other in Minnesota. Hopefully the Royals will have things wrapped up by then, but it could make for a very exciting conclusion to the season if things are close.
September Cups of Coffee
Teams frequently promote minor leaguers when rosters expand in September, and last year the Royals saw just how valuable those promotions could be. Terrance Gore proved to be such a valuable weapon with his speed, the Royals kept him on their post-season roster. First-round pick Brandon Finnegan showed his mettle in September and impressed the Royals enough they let him pitch in the World Series. Minor leaguers that could be promoted this year to make an impact could include Gore, infielder Cheslor Cuthbert, pitchers Kyle Zimmer, Miguel Almonte, John Lamb, and possibly even slugger Balbino Fuenmayor.
The Royals don't have anything wrapped up of course, but with the largest division lead in baseball and a 8 1/2 lead for the last playoff spot, things are looking good for October baseball. Fangraphs has the Royals at an 83% chance of reaching the playoffs, and even if the team goes .500 the rest of the way, they would win 90 games. Last post-season was a magical run, but who's to say the Royals couldn't have another one in them? With so much parity in the American League this year, the path to another pennant is available. The Royals came so close to winning it all last year, this fall would a great time for them to take care of unfinished business.