So today is my first day back in charge of the site following a vacation to Canada that lasted just a little over a week. Since returning yesterday evening I was pleasantly surprised to learn two things. First, the site did not crash and burn to the ground in my absence thanks largely in part to the efforts of the staff and stand in editor Geordy Boveroux. Despite his power trip and reign of terror the site kept running smoothly. Good job, everyone.
The second thing I learned since my return is that the Indians are still in contention for a playoff spot. This was surprising because I didn’t really expect that to be the case upon my return and just two years ago I went on the exact same vacation and came back to find the Indians had been throttled by the Tigers multiple times and completely knocked out of the playoff conversation. So this is a significant improvement.
With the Tribe a mere two games back of the Rays for the second wild card spot, they will look to beat up on the Royals over the next few days in order to gain ground. The Royals are by no means a bunch of slouches. They also have something to play for in the final weeks of the regular season. Not only are they looking at their first season finishing over .500 in years, but they also find themselves in the playoff race. The Royals are currently only 3.5 games back in the wild card race so they are very much alive. One good week combined with a bad week from one of the teams ahead of them could propel them into a win and you’re in situation. But for now they are stuck playing catch up.
The story for the Royals is pretty much the same as it has been all season long. For the most part, their pitching has been great. Their starting rotation, which is led by James Shields, has been filthy all season long. Say what you want about the Wil Myers trade and its long-term effects, but in the short-term Shields has been everything he was advertised as and more. Along with Ervin Santana, who apparently needed nothing more than a change of scenery, and Jeremy Guthrie the Royals have a solid core. Even Bruce Chen has performed well in his return to the rotation and Danny Duffy has more than enough talent to make things difficult on opposing hitters.
Offensively, the Royals have had their struggles throughout the year, but ever since they brought on George Brett to be the hitting coach/ass kicker the Royals have been a totally different team. They’ve gone from being one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball to borderline explosive. Alex Gordon has been his same spectacular self, leading the team in homers, RBI, and runs scored, and Billy Butler is as dangerous as ever. But the biggest impact was seen in Eric Hosmer.
Hosmer was believed to be the best hitter in the Royals organization. Much was made about the likes of Butler, Gordon, and even Mike Moustakas, but it was always Hosmer who was to become the superstar the Royals needed. After a season and a half of less than mediocre results following a solid debut, Hosmer has finally figured things out. He’s hitting for both power and average and isn’t an easy out anymore. A lot of it had to do with getting a few breaks to go his way, but one can’t help but feel like the presence of George Brett on a daily basis played a serious part in all of this.
So don’t be fooled. These aren’t the same bottom feeding Royals we have come to know and love beating up on over the years. This is a legitimate big league team with legitimate playoff aspirations. With something to play for for the first time in what seems like ages they aren’t just going to roll over and die for the Tribe. If the Indians want to make the playoffs, they will have to earn it and it starts with these next three games.