As I write this post, the Royals are leading the division leading Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. The White Sox have had a stranglehold on the Royals this year, as the Royals are 3-6 against the South Siders and have been outscored by 17 runs, going into Monday’s series-opening game. Furthermore, the Royals lost 9 of 10 last year against the White Sox in 2020, a sore spot not just for Royals fans, but manager Mike Matheny, who is 4-16 overall against the AL Central’s best team in his tenure as Royals manager.
I am not sure if the Royals will pull this game off, or do well in this series. Honestly, a two-game split would be cause for celebration, especially for a team that is 42-55 going into today’s game, and only a half-game out of last place, thanks to the Minnesota Twins, who seem to be in freefall mode after trading Nelson Cruz to the Rays and failing to come to an agreement on oft-injured, but talented outfielder Byron Buxton. The Royals have less than a 0.1 percent chance to make the postseason after all, while the White Sox, according to Fangraphs, have a 99 percent chance. This should be an easy series for the White Sox in their path to an eventual AL Central crown.
But despite the odds of the Royals in this series, there is something buzzing in Kansas City baseball-wise. And honestly, that shouldn’t be the case. Sporting KC is competing at the top of the Western Conference with the Seattle Sounders, whom they beat over the weekend in Seattle. Training camp has begun for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Trade Deadline is approaching Friday, and the Royals should be “sellers” in order to strengthen their farm system and help continue that process of building with the future in mind. The talk about Whit Merrifield’s trade value are becoming more widespread, as Seattle is becoming a serious contender for Whit’s services down the stretch:
That isn’t happening though.
The Royals are not just competing, but they’re fun again. As fun as they have been since April when they were once the “best team in the American League” for a short period of time.
And it’s a weird place to be as a Royals fan.
Right now, there is so much to be excited about as a Royals fan, which is hard to believe if one was following this club just a couple of weeks ago, especially after the Orioles series. The Royals have been hovering around the basement of the Central for a good while now, and the playoff hopes of April have quickly turned to disgruntlement and frustration among the most passionate of Royals fans.
However, the stories that have emerged the past couple of weeks have been a surprising joy to watch for fans of the Boys in Blue.
Nicky Lopez has emerged as not just a defensive wizard, but an adequate offensive threat, as he is hitting .280, and has essentially become a second leadoff hitter in the nine hole for the Royals. And he has done this despite not offering traditional power, as Rany Jazayerli tweeted below:
On the mound, Daniel Lynch, who was awful in his first three starts of the year back in May (I went to his pro debut at Kauffman against Cleveland), returned to the rotation and had an outing to remember. Against a surging Tigers team, he went eight innings, had four strikeouts, and didn’t allow a single run in arguably one of the most efficient performances for a Royals starting pitcher this season.
The start brought hope to Royals fans who have been deflated by not only Lynch’s earlier debut, but the inconsistency of the Royals’ top pitching prospects overall this year. That includes Brady Singer’s most recent IL stint, Jackson Kowar’s rough outing at the Major League level and Asa Lacy’s struggles in High-A Quad Cities, which was further amplified by Lacy injuring himself and possible being shut down for the remainder of the Minor League season.
And lastly, the rebound in performances from Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler have certainly stirred a lot of “what if’s” among Royals fans’ psyches. Dozier has not only improved with the bat, as he is currently posting an .895 OPS in the month of July, but also with his glove. The Royals have had him as the Royals’ primary third baseman in the wake of Kelvin Gutierrez’s designation for assignment (which resulted in him being traded to Baltimore), and Dozier has made some big plays as of late at the hot corner, where he has traditionally struggled defensively:
However, the bigger revelation as of late has been Soler, who has been on an absolute tear since the end of the Orioles series. After the end of series against Baltimore, Soler was posting a .590 OPS. Right now, after three at-bats against the White Sox, he is posting a .667 OPS, a 177 point improvement in roughly a six-game span. He has also been just smashing picturesque bombs, as evidenced by the pair tonight he hit against White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel:
Here is the first one:
And here is the second one, on an 0-2 count, nonetheless:
Right now, Soler has 12 home runs for the year, and he could make a push for 20-plus at the very least over the next two months if he continues to stay healthy, whether it’s with the Royals or another club, should he get dealt at the Trade Deadline.
Oh what could have been for this Royals squad had Dozier and Soler been hitting like this in May and June.
It’s hard to keep perspective right now with this Royals team, especially in the midst of a hot streak. The goal should be to think “future”, and not just 2022, but even 2023. That is why I think the Royals should trade Whit, and why I think seeing Kowar up soon in Kansas City to rejoin the rotation, even if he may go through some growing pains. The Royals are not “there” yet in the “Process 2.0”, and that’s not a bad thing. There are a lot of good things going on in the farm system that hint that good things are on the horizon soon. (I mean, did you not see Nick Pratto’s grand slam?)
But this recent hot streak is fun. I am going to the game on Wednesday, and I am more jazzed than I was when I initially bought tickets (got to use that Soler Flex Pack). I am excited to see this team humming on the mound and at the plate, as they are as fun to watch on TV over the past six games as they were back in April.
Maybe it’s just temporary. And as I said before, this is just terrible timing. The Royals and Dayton Moore should look to unload Whit and other veterans for some prospects, look to get a higher draft pick, and look to give younger guys development at the MLB level, even if it comes at the expense of the W-L record in the short term.
But the Royals are instead surging. Their playing some fun baseball, and Royals fans like myself, as masochistic as we can be, are eating it all up.
Give me more Nicky. Give me more young starting pitchers succeeding. Give me more Doz hits and Soler bombs.
Who cares if it makes things more complicated at the deadline.
Royals baseball is supposed to be fun.
Let’s enjoy the fun while we can, even if it ends after this White Sox series.
Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images