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Are you ready for another Royals late season run?

Plus a look at the leftover trade candidates, Ian Kennedy’s dominance as a reliever, and Brett Phillips now!

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In completing their sweep of the Chicago White Sox, the Royals have won four games in a row for the first time in 2019.

I mean, that’s kind of insane, isn’t it? That it took almost 100 games before the Royals won four consecutive? Even the worst teams can stumble into limited periods of success. My god, the Orioles won four in a row in early April. The Orioles!

Last year the Royals waited until the first of September to win four in a row. That winning streak ultimately stretched to six games. They reeled off another stretch of four consecutive wins toward the end of the month. It was part of a stretch where the Royals won 18 of their final 31 games. By the point they got hot, they were so buried in the standings, it didn’t really matter. The wins were nice and it left a good feeling as winter approached, but ultimately they were in the same position at the first of the month as they were at the end—the second worst team in baseball.

This year, the schedule makers weren’t so kind. There is a stretch in early September when the Royals play Baltimore, Detroit, Miami and Chicago in consecutive series. That looks tasty. But then they close out the schedule with Houston, Oakland, Minnesota, Atlanta and Minnesota again. That looks brutal.

So far the Royals have passed the Tigers and now own the third worst record in baseball. But they have the Blue Jays and Marlins in their sights. The Mariners will be next. And if the White Sox keep sliding it’s not inconceivable the Royals will catch them. You can’t bet on it in Vegas, but the odds are strong the Royals will finish somewhere around with the fifth or sixth pick in next summer’s draft. Even with the difficult end to the schedule.

Kind of makes September worth watching.

Summoned from the bullpen to close out the sweep, Ian Kennedy teetered dangerously close to the edge.

Since May 30, Kennedy has appeared in 18 games, throwing 16.2 innings. He’s allowed 11 hits, four runs and struck out 21 against six walks. And if you’re into meaningless stats, 14 saves.

When a starter transitions to the bullpen, one (or more) pitches usually departs the arsenal. For Kennedy, that was the change, a pitch he threw 10 percent of the time last year and was ultimately his best offering. In it’s place is basically more four-seamers. He added a little more spin to the heater and, as a result, has increased its average horizontal movement by about an inch giving it a lot more run than the average major league fastball.

The result has been a lower average exit velocity against the four-seamer (87.4 mph this year vs. 90.5 mph in 2018) and a lower launch angle (18 degrees in 2019 against 24 degrees last year). The proof is in the results. After surrendering 16 home runs against his fastball in 189 batted ball events (BBE), Kennedy has yet to allow the ball to leave the yard in 63 BBE this year.

It’s safe to say he’s found his comfort zone as a reliever.

With around a week and a half left before the trade deadline, the Royals haven’t swung a deal now for a couple of days. What gives?

If we’re handicapping the upcoming action, the smart money is on Jake Diekman being moved ahead of the deadline. (And remember, the rules have changed this year. The July 31 deadline is now the drop-dead final date a trade can be made.) The aforementioned Kennedy would be attractive to any contender seeking bullpen help—and what contender isn’t seeking bullpen help?—but the Royals would need to eat a generous portion of that contract. Ditto for Danny Duffy and a team looking for an arm for the back of the rotation.

Obviously, it makes sense for the Royals to part with Lucas Duda again, but they’ll need to find a team with a need for a left-handed bat on the bench and cash considerations to burn. Billy Hamilton figures to be on the move and will actually return a warm body, albeit a C-level prospect.

With the roster movement certain to come in the next few days, it sure feels like the Royals need to make room for Brett Phillips. After making adjustments, he’s raking in Triple-A, hitting .316/.429/.602 since May 25. But where does he play?

The Royals are committed in giving Bubba Starling an extended—and deserved—look in center. Right belongs to a tandem of Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler. Left is for the potential Alex Gordon Farewell Tour. There is some positional flexibility with Merrifield that could open a semi-regular spot in right for Phillips which, with his arm, is really where he belongs.

I did see some speculation the Royals are waiting until the rosters expand in September. Phillips has 140 days of MLB service time. A player needs 172 days for it to be considered a full season. That would delay his free agency by another year, until 2025.

Sorry, I’m not buying that. The Royals with Dayton Moore in charge have never been interested in gaming service time, even if it would be to their benefit. Besides, while Phillips is raking in Triple-A, everyone is raking in Triple-A this year. His wRC+ in Omaha is 106, good but not great. There’s no guarantee he will be a cornerstone player for this franchise. In fact, forget about service time. Now is the time for the Royals to figure out who in their system will be contributors the next time the wind of postseason opportunity opens. That means getting Phillips up at the earliest opportunity.