This is the most important series of the entire year. Not because there’s any real implication here playoff-wise, this is another late season Royals-Indians series where they’re just playing out the string. No, it’s important because I’m pretty sure I made a bet with a Royals fan that if the Indians finish behind KC at the end of the year, I have to, like, eat hair or something. I don’t remember, and that’s the greatest fear. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, the Tribe killing it in April as KC swooned. It looks close, Cleveland is six games back of the Royals going into it, so they have to do me a favor and get some sweeps.
But really, that’s where we stand, the Indians fighting to not be in fourth or even fifth place. It seemed so impossible mere weeks (well, months) ago. Meanwhile, the Royals are used to this and they’re playing pressure free baseball, all their young guns learning what it means to be a major leaguer, what it takes to win and what pitchers are trying to do to them. They’re 30-34 in the second half and went 17-11 in August (8-10 in September so far), so these guys aren’t pushovers. Just ask the White Sox.
You know who’s neat though? Alex Gordon. We all know all about him, we’ve seen him grow up from afar, 18 or so games a year. There are better hitters on the Royals, but Gordon just smacks doubles around Kauffman Stadium. He leads baseball with 49 going into the series and besides his prowess at the plate (.293/.363/.447) he’s a gem in left field. Sure, defense is a bit of an afterthought for your left fielder, but he threw out what seemed like 10 Indians at the plate in 2011 and kept it going in 2012 with back-to-back 13 assist seasons and he’s still going. He likes aggressive third base coaches, thats for sure. Gordon is going to be a big piece if and when the Royals rise to prominence comes to pass (they still can’t pitch their way out of a paper bag). In short, he’s a baseball player. Insightful, huh?
While we’re here we gotta talk about the young corner infield pieces of the Royals, the much-heralded Mike Moustakas at third and Eric Hosmer. Hosmer beasted in 2011, second in Rookie of the Year voting (Jeremy Hellickson won) with a 118 OPS+ and 19 home runs. Moustakas has looked good in flashes this season, he’s hit 20 homers but his OPS has dropped over 200 points in the second half to .604. Hosmer is likewise not too good, an 88 OPS+ (.687 OPS) with only 14 homers. Shoot, that’s Cleveland-like production at first. And now you’re depressed.
These numbers could mean, well, anything. Hosmer is having a typical sophomore slump and it’s gotten in his head. Major league curves and sliders are beating him up, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t adjust. He’s only 22. I’d rather he channel Lyle Overbay, but I’m selfish.
As for Moose, that guy can pick it at third, to steal a phrase oft-used by the great Hawk Harrelson. The kid’s got a glove, good enough for 2.3 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. His 114-34 strikeout to walk ratio is troubling, but he’s a rookie. He did strike out 295 times in 439 minor league games though, so we’ll see. Combine these guys with Gordon, Butler and their young catcher Salvador Perez (.303/.330/.498 in 66 games and 11 homers—the guy can play) this is a borderline-great team to field every day. Or at least, it could be soon.
Oh, and Jeff Francoeur is back to striking out to much and not hitting with enough power to justify his existence in the majors. He really timed it well last year, and now the Royals are stuck with him for another year. Hey, at least he’s a good clubhouse guy. And still only 28. That’s crazy.
As for the Indians offense, in case you haven’t noticed it’s shown up a bit the last few games. A walk-off win on a Casey Kotchman single was great and they scored 13 runs against the Twins. Sure, the Twins are worse than the Indians, but you take what you can get. It’s still been a miserable September. We get to see more young guys, but it’s all names we know for the most part. Russ Canzler isn’t wowing people and Matt LaPorta’s brain fart blew the game the other night. Travis Hafner is back this weekend though, and even if he has no power, the guy can take pitches, get on base and every now and then still turn on it. I said back in July he’s the key to the Indians’ hanging in the race, and they went in a tailspin as soon as he went down. Coincidence? Probably. At least the Royals pitching is pretty, well, unmentionable.