And here we go again, folks. It’s time to play the Royals for the second time in a week. As it just so happens, I have previewed more series against the Royals this season than any other team in baseball. I don’t know why or how, but my series preview counterpart, Merritt Rohlfing, has been spared from having to spend as much time and effort on the Royals as I have. What this really means is I am almost completely out of things to say about the Royals that I haven’t said about 100 times before.
This is borderline torture. I’m sure of it.
Well, here goes nothing.
The Kansas City Royals come into play tonight having fallen back from the pack in the AL Wild Card race. As things currently stand, the Rangers and Rays lead everyone and are tied atop the standings with identical 81-67 records. The Indians are hot on their trails having cut their deficit to a minuscule half game. After that, it’s a toss-up. The Orioles sit at 2.5 games behind followed by the Yankees at 3 games back and then the Royals at 3.5 games back. Meanwhile, the Houston Astros are only 30.5 games behind. I think they might still have a chance.
Anyways, as we have seen first hand this weekend all it takes is one hot stretch of quality baseballing to pull yourself right back into the mix. The Indians rattled off four straight wins and when combined with the struggles of the Rays and the implosion of the team masquerading around as the Texas Rangers it has put them within striking distance only days after being as far as three games back. For that reason alone it is imperative that the Indians not fall flat on their faces in Kansas City over the next three days.
That will be easier said then done, however. Despite their struggles of late, the Royals are still in the race. They are within striking distance of the playoffs for the first time in decades. That in and of itself is motivation to make a late push. Combine that with the fact that they are one of the younger and more talented teams in the game and there is no reason to think they can’t get hot, string together a couple of quality wins, and put themselves in the conversation as we head towards the final week of the season.
To avoid that pitfall the Indians will need to find a way to limit the impact of their two superstars in the making, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer. Both are red-hot right now. Gordon has shown impressive power by homering four times and driving in seven runs over his last ten games while also scoring ten runs. All Hosmer has done since the calendar flipped over to September is hit .388/.464/.551. The Royals wanted him to finally man up and start hitting. Well, they’ve gotten everything they could have possibly wished for and then some.
In addition to the hot hitting of Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer, the Indians will also have to tend with the usual cast of characters for the Royals who have made it a habit of making life difficult on opposing pitchers. Billy Butler can certainly have an impact on the game despite the fact he is having a bit of a down year by his standards. Salvador Perez is a dangerous hitter who will need to be handled very carefully. And Mike Moustakas, despite his atrocious season to this point, is the type of hitter who can take any pitcher deep at any given time.
Perhaps the most discouraging thing going for the Indians right now is the fact that they won’t miss James Shields in this series. To make matters worse, they have to face him in the very first game. Nothing like facing a team’s ace and a guy that limited you to two runs on four hits a week ago in the first game of a series when you’ve just won four in a row. If the momentum the Indians had been carrying suddenly vanishes into thin air, I have a sneaking suspicion that Shields will have played an active role.
Knowing that Shields is on a roll and appears to have the Indians number right now, it is critical that they put together solid performances offensively against the other two starters they will face in this series, Danny Duffy and Bruce Chen. This will mark the first time the Indians have faced either as a starter in 2013. Over the past three seasons Chen is 6-1 with a 4.28 ERA versus the Indians in 10 appearances, 8 of which were starts. Meanwhile, Duffy is 1-0 in his career against the Indians in two starts but has posted an ERA well over five. So far this season he has posted an ERA under 2, but Duffy’s SIERA of 4.67 indicates he may be pitching far worse than his results suggest.
So can the Indians avoid the pitfall that is potentially the Kansas City Royals? One would certainly hope not, but with how this season has unfolded thus far, nothing should be out of the question. The Indians are just as likely to be swept as they are to do the sweeping this series. Whatever the case, the Royals are sure to put up a fight as they have something to play for for the first time in what seems like forever. Their fans are sure to show up to support them and give them the added boost they need.