George Brett has fixed the Royals, right? You be the judge

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals

The Royals went 5-1 against two teams with losing records – 3-0 against the awful LASTros, a team that beat the Royals two of three just three weeks ago. First off, lets not get too exited, but a 5-1 week feels good nonetheless. It does not mean everything is fixed, it does not mean the ship has been righted or that we “are back.”

But, the Royals are out of last place (third place, in fact) and are winning games the same way they were in April – good pitching, timely hitting and scoring runs late (the Royals have scored eight runs in the eighth inning the last four games).

The Royals are now 7-3 since May 30 when they brought on legendary George Brett as the hitting coach. This came off the heels of a horrid 4-19 stretch from May 6 (when the Royals were in first-place at 17-10) to May 29. So, is it as simple as saying this is the George Brett effect or is it just that the Royals are playing bad teams or – is it simply Billy Butler’s rally sauce, which sparked the Royals winning streak?

The hitting has clearly improved…right? Upon first glance, yes it seems that way, but the numbers tell a different story. Lets take a look: Before Brett (50 games): .261 AVG/.314 OBP/.375 SLUG/3.98 runs. After (10 games): .236/.303/.325/3.5. In fact, the Royals are hitting at a similar clip to they were during the 4-19 suck stretch (.249/.296/.325). The 3.5 runs per game are good for 22 out of 30 in those 10 games, so let’s not get too excited. But, I really think he has made a difference. Maybe it is the fact that its two bad teams the Royals just played – I know I am not getting too excited. But, that is part of baseball, beating bad teams. We seem to overreact – to winning and losing. We must remember that this is a long season. That said, it feels good to win. I have openly stated that I think the Royals are “done.” But, even though I see no way the Royals can win the division, barring any significant injuries to the Tigers, I still think the preseason prediction of 85-77 is still doable, as is finishing second place. I also think we could get to .500 by the All-Star Break, meaning we need to go 18-14 until then. It is doable, especially if the Royals continue to get clutch hitting – especially late in games – to go with what has been pretty consistent pitching.

Now, 10 games are too small of a sample size to take on Brett, but the fact that the Royals are 7-3 is not JUST because of George Brett. Now, I think it is very safe to say, he still has had an effect; he has brought a new attitude, a new voice for the players. The players seem more confident – in and out of the dugout – and the players seem looser. A noticeable trend is the number of pitches the Royals have seen. Going into June, the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox had both seen 1,500 MORE pitches than the Royals had. That is an absolutely insane number. Now, they are seeing more pitches, having AB’s go deeper into the count – primarily because they are swinging at less and less pitches out of the strikezone. Another thing that has been a key is being able to string together multiple run innings, and in this case, usually late.

The real reason for the Royals recent success has been, like it has been most of the year, is pitching. The Royals team ERA before Brett was hired: 3.82. After: An insane 2.02. If you allow two runs, you are going to win A LOT of games (unless you’re James Shields, I guess), and during this streak, the Royals have allowed three runs or less in all five, and two or less three times. The Royals team ERA is an AL best 3.52. Going into tonight’s showdown with the first-place Tigers, the Royals have allowed three runs or less in eight straight games. The franchise record is 11 straight games, set back in 1991. The bullpen, which was great in April, has returned here in June after blowing in May, throwing 19 consecutive scoreless innings – 24 in a row at home.

“When we come into the game, we think it is over,” closer Greg Holland said.

Lately, he is right. The bullpen is dominant again.

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Baseball has forever been a game filled with superstition and lore. Some teams rely on rally caps or chewing tobacco to continue dominant performances, but not our Kansas City Royals, we have our own rally cry – Billy Butler’s rally sauce. Butler’s barbecue sauce benefits his “Hit-It-A-Ton” charity, and has the Royals dugout in a barbecue sauce-laden craze.

The Royals brought it into the dugout on Tuesday when they started the streak and it has been there since. Players are rubbing it for good luck, holding, giving their bats “a drink” of it, according to Rex Hudler and hell, Jeremy Guthrie sleeps with it.

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Etc.

The Royals are also 5-0 since instituting a new lineup, with manager Ned Yost admitting that he finally submitted to stat guys (a.k.a a computer) and their “ideal lineup.”

The most important change, in my opinion, is moving Eric Hosmer from a RBI-producing, middle of the line-up spot to No. 2 in the order to take advantage of his .335 on-base percentage – second best on the team to guys on team with 100+ plate appearances not named Butler, Gordon, or Perez. The results have paid off. Hosmer has scored seven runs since the move and has flourished in his new spot in the order. In his last 21 games – since my friend Heath Cooper said he would have a “monster month” – he is hitting .329, raising his average from .244 to .276, but he has no HR’s and just 5 RBI in that span. With Hosmer moving to the 2-hole, it allowed a struggling Escobar, who is hitting .192 (28 for 146) since May 1, to move to the bottom of the order. His average has dropped from .295 to .239 in that span.

Besides Escobar, there are some other guys that are struggling. Alex Gordon is also in an extended slump, with hits in just 11 of his last 63 AB’s (.174). Even worse, he is hitting .130 since Brett’s arrival. His average has dropped from .352 to .308.

Mike Moustakas continues his season long struggle. He is 8 for 70 in his last 20 games, dropping his season line to .180/.247/.291 with four home runs in 172 at-bats.

Perez (.320, 2 HR, 20 RBI) leads the team in average, and has simply raked since his return from his 8-day the bereavement list stay, hitting in all five games, going 8 for 18 over that stretch with a homer and five RBI.

Lorenzo Cain is 10 for 33 (.303) since Brett’s arrival.

Ervin Santana earned his 100th win to pick up his first win since April 27, improving to 4-5 in Saturday night’s 5-1 win over the LASTros. It lowered Santana’s ERA to 2.99. It snapped a six-game losing streak for the Royals in Santana’s starts and was only the third time in 12 starts that the Royals scored more than three runs in his starts.

Tonight’s starter Jeremy Guthrie has a 2.78 ERA at home.  He has also allowed just five earned runs over his last three starts spanning 18 2/3 innings with 10 Ks, rebounding from losing his three previous starts.

Luis Mendoza (1-3) has now pitched well pretty consistently since the beginning of May, allowing three or fewer earned runs in seven consecutive outings.

James Shields (2-6) is still in search for his third win, despite having 11 quality starts in 13 outings and a 2.81 ERA. He is receiving just 2.1 runs per game of support. WOW. An absolute shame that the Royals have two starters with sub-3 ERA’s and they have a combined record of 5-11.

The return of Jarrod Dyson looms, and a roster decision will have to be made. I think I speak for many Royals fans when I say I hope it means the end of Frenchy’s tenure in KC. I hope it is Frenchy gone – no matter what they have to do to make it happen – keep David Lough, who is batting .279 in 18 games (although his on-base percentage is just .302). Although, I just don’t see the Royals keeping three left-handed outfielders and just one righty. As for Frenchy, his salary for the remainder of this season, a little over $4 million, is guaranteed and he is a pending free agent. Would the Royals be willing to eat that? I don’t see Dyson staying in the minors, so a tough decision is ahead.

Now, it is time to Keep Clam and Carry On against the Tigers, in a make or break series the next three days at the K, including a James Shields – Justin Verlander series finale showdown on Wednesday afternoon.

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