The Royals usually do this in September, so this is a little different, but nonetheless, its late in the season – and like clockwork – the Royals are on a nice roll.
Following today’s 5-2 win over the White Sox, the Royals completed the sweep and a 5-1 homestand and have now won 12 of their last 18 contest. In the process, the Royals have climbed out of last place and have now tied the Indians who are playing at Oakland and trailing 5-0 in the fourth inning, for third-place. Hey, tomorrow when you look at the standings, the Royals might be in third place, and for us Royals fans, that is something. In addition, since the Royals abysmal 12-game losing streak in April, the Royals are 51-51. Yes, I know, nothing special, but for the Royals a 102-game stretch of .500 baseball is progress. In March, we thought this team could have been a .500 team. They have played like one for a long stretch now.
Today was all about Jeremy Guthrie, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but amazingly did not get the win. He had 6 2/3 IP of no-hit ball, but lost it in controversial fashion when Paul Konerko reached first on an apparent error when Escobar threw from deep and the hole wide of first base to the right field side, but Eric Hosmer’s swipe at the ball resulted in a drop. Amazingly, our own score keeper ruined Guthrie’s no-hitter but ruling it a hit on a play where Konerko was barely in the frame when the ball got to first. Clearly an error. Two outs in the seventh with Guthrie’s scoreless inning streak at 22 2/3, the White Sox got a legit hit, followed by another. I was glad to see this. Could you imagine if that was the only hit he gave up? But I was not glad to see what happened next. Kudos to the Royals fans for offering Guthrie a standing ovation after the second hit – the first legit hit – with two outs in the eighth. Well-played. Lil’ Timmy Collins entered the game and Dewayne Wise hit a shot to 1B that went right in between the legs – Billy Buckner style – of Hosmer and the game was suddenly tied.
A great job by Hosmer – striking out with the bases loaded in the sixth, followed by the play at first in the seventh that ended the no-hitter and the three-base, two-run error to cost Guthrie the win. Great game all around.
Holland came in to get the last out of the eighth and a perfect ninth to earn the win after the Royals scored three in the bottom half, moving the Royals to 8-4 this season against the first-place Sox and have won 13 of the last 19 dating back to last year. The White Sox are averaging less than three runs a game against KC this season and have scored just 11 runs in the last five matchups.
Guthrie is 2-3 with a 3.23 ERA with six starts with the Royals and has a 0.94 ERA in his last four starts. In two games against the White Sox this year, he has allowed 2 runs (none earned) and just six hits – all singles – in 14 2/3 IP in two starts against the White Sox this year.
For this team, it all starts with pitching. The Royals starters have went AT least seven innings in five of the six games on the homestand, and the one that wasn’t seven innings was Bruce Chen last night, who allowed just two runs in six innings. In fact, the rotation posted a 1.94 ERA in the homestand and the TEAM has a sub-3 ERA over the last 19 games. Before Chen’s outing, the Royals had a streak of four straight starts with the starter going AT LEAST seven innings, the first time that had happened since June 12-19, 2008 (Greinke x 2, Bannister x 2, Davies, Meche and Hochevar). Absolutely incredible stat.
- Speaking of Hochevar, his 7-plus IP start resulted in a loss, when the Royals lost 3-0 Thursday night to the A’s, allowing just three runs and four hits. He was done in by two solo HR’s (Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes), but pitched well. His record dropped to 7-11 for the season and 0-8 with a 6.52 ERA in nine career starts against Oakland. He has now allowed five HR’s in the last two starts after allowing just four in the other five outings after the All-Star break. What is Hoch’s future in Kansas City? After four-plus seasons in the majors, Hochevar just can’t seem to take the next step to becoming an effective starter. The right-hander has been unable to sustain his solid production from the second half of last season (6-3, 3.52 ERA) and continues to post pedestrian numbers this year. His loss Thursday matched his total from last year in seven fewer starts and provided concern about his inability to keep the ball in the park recently. His next start is on the road at Tampa Bay, where Hochevar is 5-6 with a 5.43 ERA and nine allowed homers in 12 road starts this season. The Royals have to make a decision on “Cool Hand” Luke in the offseason. If the Royals decide to re-sign Guthrie, who has looked great in his last three starts since coming over from Colorado, it could be at the expense of Hochevar or Bruce Chen.
- Chen is on a 2-year deal, so getting rid of him may be a little more tough, if that is what the Royals wanted to do. He has had some rough stretches this season, but following his six innings, two runs on five hits, win last night in the Royals 9-4 win over the White Sox – who Chen just beat 11 days prior – the left-hander is one win away from having his third straight double-digit win season and is on way to leading the team in wins again, for the third straight year. Chen owns the month of August with 17 career wins and the Royals are now 4-1 on the homestand. Chen is 9-10, which is not bad considering his 5.45 ERA. He has turned his career around in KC and will likely be a Royal again next year unless he has a dismal spring training.
- The “Mexican Mullet” Luis Mendoza (7-8) continues to impress. Yes, he has a rather high 1.40 WHIP, but is sporting a solid 4.26 ERA following Friday’s 4-2 win in the series opener of the White Sox, allowing just two runs and four hits in seven innings, allowing just a HR to Paul Konerko (who also hit one last night off Chen). Mendoza also struck out six and walked one while picking up his fourth win since the All-Star break. He is also 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA through four starts in August and has pitched well since being put back into the rotation in mid-June and looks like a strong candidate for the 2013 rotation.
- Will Smith’s spot in the rotation after this season is surrounded by a lot of uncertainty, but he is certainly helping his case as of late. Since June 4, Smith, who improved to .500 (4-4) on the season, has not allowed more than four runs in a start. He gave up just the two runs on five hits and one walk over seven solid frames. He struck out five and his ERA is at 5.09 and has won back-to-back outings.
Now, how about the bats?
- Eric Hosmer wet 1-for-4 last night with a bomb off Jake Peavy, his 11th of the year, and is now hitting .260 (13-50) in August. It is sad that this is considered a “hot stretch,” but that is what Hosmer’s season has become. I really thought he would turn it around in the second-half. Instead, he is hitting .239 with with 2 HR, 9 RBI and is still hovering around around .230 (.233) for the season. He has 11 HR, 49 RBI on the season. The good news is, there are tons of players that have awful sophomore seasons after a good rookie season and then rebound for the third year. The latest example was Jason Heyward, whose had a very similar rookie year as (.277, 18 HR, 72 RBI) to Hosmer, and a woeful sophomore season (.227, 14 Hr, 42 RBI) that resulted in a brief demotion to AAA. Now, he is enjoying a nice bounce-back season (.272, 20 HR, 61 RBI). Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
- Ned Yost surprisingly moved Alex Gordon out of the leadoff spot, where he has thrived the last two seasons, into the third-hole, where he was projected to bat when he came up as a prospect. Gordon had a career-year last year after moving into the leadoff spot and hit .309 with 5 HR, 30 RBI this year in 82 games in that spot. “He’s been good, but I think he’ll be comfortable in the three,” Yost said. “In projecting long-term lineups, he’d be a guy that’d be in the middle of the order. We’ve struggled with production in that spot a little bit and we’ve got guys now I’m a little more comfortable with in the leadoff spot.” This move is more about not having a three-hitter than anything else. You can’t bat Hosmer with his struggles there or Moose, who is not consistent enough yet. A better option would be hitting Butler third instead of fourth and Perez or Cain fourth and fifth. Gordon (.290, 9 HR, 47 RBI) leads the league in doubles with 39 and is hitting .341 with 4 HR, 19 RBI since the All-Star break. Gordon also has a good chance to win a second gold glove in his second season as a left fielder.
- Is it time to put Billy Butler on the “Balboni Watch?” In April I declared Butler would hit 25-30 HR and drive in 100 runs. He is making me look like a genius. Butler is having a career year in terms of power with 25 HR and 78 RBI and is still maintaining a high average (.307). Butler finished 3 for 4 with two runs last night and is batting .356 (16 for 45) with one triple, two doubles, five homers, 10 runs and 13 RBI in his last 12 games. Butler has continued to get the job done in the second half. In 35 games since the All-Star break, Butler is batting .341 with a .400 OBP, .593 slugging percentage, .993 OPS, nine homers and 27 RBI. Butler needs 22 RBI to get to 100, can he do it? Last year, he set a new career high with 95. And what about Balboni’s record of 36 HR? He needs 11 to get there and 12 to break it. That is asking a lot with just 44 games left. But, it is not out of the question.