It has been a week for the Kansas City Royals, as they managed to go 4-3 while playing seven games in six days. Among the more interesting storylines of the past week was the continued ascendance of Alcides Escobar, not-bad hitter. Prior to Sunday’s game, Escobar was hitting .435 over six games and preceded to go 2-for-4 with a double and 2 RBI in the afternoon victory.
We should probably temper any enthusiasm. For one, the hot streak has brought Escobar’s season line up to .230/.248/.316, which still places him dead last among qualified hitters in the majors. For another, ‘Escobat’ hasn’t drawn a walk since June 8th, so he’s hitting .349/.349/.542 since then. But the Royals have kept winning, and recently it has had as much or more to do with who is hitting in the bottom half of the order than the guys at the top. The real fear is that Ned Yost will see Escobar’s performance in contrast with what Whit Merrifield has done over that same stretch (.263/.279/.388) and decide that a decision needs to be made on his position in the lineup.
Speaking of decisions that might need to be made, Brandon Moss complicated his perception by having a big weekend. During the doubleheader Saturday, Moss collected five hits before putting up a 0-for-4 Sunday to smother some of the goodwill.
But Saturday was noteworthy for one particular event. In the afternoon tilt, Kansas City found themselves down early when Luke Farrell made his first start and was thoroughly wracked by the collective might of Minnesota’s offense. The Royals managed to climb back into it, and had turned a 5-1 deficit into 5-4 when Moss strode to the plate in the fifth inning.
It has been a rough season for Moss. Prior to Saturday, he had put up a slash of .177/.253/.366, which put him in the same category as Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar in terms of offensive production. The trio has each managed an OPS under .620, with Moss leading the pack despite inconsistent playing time, with Gordon’s .582 and Escobar’s .556 being particular eyesores. The barrenness of their offensive performance makes Arrakis look like an oasis.
Moss was also the recipient of a two-year, $12 million deal last winter, making him the presumed replacement for the well-liked and productive Kendrys Morales. Things have not worked out so far, and the three of them remain as very visible symbols of the Royals early-season struggles that dragged their record down throughout April.
And so it was, as Moss strode to the plate on Saturday afternoon. He had struck out in the second and singled in the fourth, coming around on Escobar’s home run as Kansas City willed its way back into the contest.
With two outs, Moss worked a full count. Jose Berrios then threw a pretty good pitch, a 94mph tailing fastball on the outer half that rode away from Moss, who turned on it with all the force he could muster:
474 feet to center field, clearing the outfield wall, and then both the other walls behind it. Moss tied the game, the crowd exploded, and the Royals would score six more runs to turn a defeat into a rout.
Amidst all the craziness of a baseball season, between the periods of stark disappointment and the short-lived but lingering ecstasies of triumph, even the spurned can give us reason to celebrate. Moss’ perfect moment, the 3-2, two-out fastball that turned into a tie game, may be the only one he has this season, but it was a good one, and worth remembering.
The other big announcement from the weekend was the All-Star rosters. Among the catalogue of players for the American League, Salvador Perez and Jason Vargas were announced on the team, with Perez starting at catcher and Vargas being the presumptive starting pitcher for the American League. Mike Moustakas is in the blah blah blah vote for the GOAT sponsored by Whatever™, and while I hold a certain contempt for the mechanism, voting in Moustakas would be a good thing to do, and Royals Twitter will get out the vote so do your part.
The other, perhaps more distressing part, involves a pair of relief pitchers who were voted into the All-Star game for the National League. The Cyborg and Oranje, beside being a well-received detective sitcom in the style of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, are both headed to Miami for the festivities.
Wade Davis is putting together another one of those seasons, the ones that make you question whether there is such a thing as an unhittable pitch, if the optic trickery that our eyes perform can be deceived such that a spheroid can appear and disappear through the bending of light. His 13.50 K/9 and 16 saves for the Chicago Cubs spans 28 innings with a 1.93 ERA, and he has looked like the elbow issues that cropped up last season may not have been cause for long-term concern.
Likewise, Greg Holland is back. In a big way. He has posted 11.87 K/9 next to a 1.48 ERA and he has converted 26 saves in 27 opportunities for the Colorado Rockies. The elbow issues that required Tommy John surgery and kept him out of the 2016 season altogether in hindsight likely contributed to his struggles in 2015, and the Royals were unwilling to match the generous contract that the Rockies offered; a one-year deal for $7 million that had a 2018 vesting option for $15 million if Holland managed to finish 30 games this season.
He has already reached that threshold.
Holland and Davis, though Holland more so, presents Royals fans with a decent ‘what-if’ scenario in regard to the team’s current performance, particularly as it relates to the struggles of the bullpen. While trading a season of Davis for four years of a young, cost-controlled outfielder is exactly the kind of move fans have criticized general manager Dayton Moore for not making in the past, it still stings a bit when Jorge Soler has spent most of the season in the minors or on the disabled list. It stings when Greg Holland is throwing filth in Colorado while Scott Alexander and Peter Moylan are pitching meaningful innings in meaningful games on a consistent basis, when stability in the relief corps is hoping that Mike Minor can continue to be this year’s version of Ryan Madson, continuing the search for meaning in existence.
It’s a stretch to say that the Royals would be in a better spot now had they re-signed Holland or kept Davis. The course of events in baseball is such that retconning a game or stretch of games is nearly impossible; the confluence of events from one game bleeds into the next, game-time decisions are reliant as much on what has happened as what may happen, both that day and the day after.
But it is easy to dream, and Holland and Davis’ performance have made that dream a little unsettling, as the Royals cling to playoff aspirations by the skin of their teeth with a makeshift bullpen and a starting rotation that is navigating its way through AAA arms.