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Is This Rock Bottom?

Buddy Bell, ever the optimist, once said that things can always get worse. Sometimes as a Royals fan, you wonder how things can get worse than they already are. After the road trip they just took, I’m not sure how much worse it can get. I take that back. If they lay an egg on this upcoming nine game homestand, then things can get way worse than they are right now. Still, it’s hard to argue that a six game road trip in which they never had a lead isn’t as bad as it can get. Can you believe that? Six games on a road trip and they didn’t hold one lead in the entire series? Wow. What’s alarming about that is that any time they’d come back and tie a score or make it a game again, the pitching would just give up another homer and watch the hope deflate from their team.

Something we’ve seen from the Royals all season long is their resiliency within games, and that’s something that we’re going to have to see on this homestand. I’m not talking about within games, but within their season. Things can go one of two directions right now. They can spiral out of control and we can be looking at a 14-20 team by the end of the homestand, or they can rally around each other and tighten things up and end this homestand with an 18-16 record and back on track to be a surprise competitor for the division. They’re catching the Twins at what appears to be a good team as they are absolutely reeling and coming off a day in which they played a double header and then had to travel, so they might not be the freshest team out there tonight.

After the Twins leave town, the Royals draw the Orioles. No matter how bad the Orioles have been over the last few years, they’ve still been a huge thorn in the side of the Royals. Hopefully that doesn’t continue in this homestand. Following the Orioles into town are the Athletics. The Athletics are a solid team, but they’re beatable as evidenced by their identical record to the Royals. It’s important that the Royals go 6-3 on this homestand or better. And if they’re going to sweep a series, it should be the Twins for multiple reasons. One, their fans are so obnoxious when they invade Kauffman Stadium. Two, they’re a division rival, and it’s always important to beat them into submission.

The good news for the Royals is that even through all of this, they are still in second place though they are behind an Indians team that might actually be for real. I was talking with a friend about how good the Indians could possibly be, and my gut reaction is that they were all smoke and mirrors. Having seen them twice now and looking a little deeper into what they’ve done to start the season, I have to admit that my gut was dead wrong. They’re a good team. They’re probably not 108 wins good, which is their current pace, but they are much better than anyone anticipated. Their offense is solid, their pitching is fine for now and they have a pretty solid defense. Getting Grady Sizemore back was such a boost for that team that I think we’ll see them compete for the division this year. If they go out and get someone to shore up their rotation, then they’ll be downright dangerous both in the regular season and the playoffs. I don’t think their rotation can continue this throughout the course of the year, but if they can keep it up until they’re able to acquire reinforcements, then they’ll be in good shape.

The rest of the division looks to be in shambles right now. The Tigers are tied with the Royals as they’ve lost three in a row themselves. The White Sox and Twins are each six games below .500 and tied for last place. If anybody saw this coming, I need you to post your phone number in the comments section. I’m going to call you, you’re going to give me the Powerball numbers and then we’re going to split the winnings. Deal? It’s still very, very early of course, but digging out of holes is an incredibly difficult task for a Major League team. It’s made easier in a division like the Central where there is no true super team, but at some point the White Sox, Twins and Tigers are going to wake up and go on a hot streak. When that time comes, it’d be nice to have been able to run away and hide.

If pressed, I’d say that I still don’t believe the Indians (or Royals) will win the division. There’s just too much talent on the other teams and too much inexperience on the Indians. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if the Indians did win the division, though, for the reasons listed above, but it’s hard to count out a team like the White Sox with their starting pitching and offense after just 26 games. So the ultimate question is this: where do the Royals fit in with this division now that the Indians are better than anyone thought? Are they the worst team in the division? The answer to that question is that they probably are, though I think it could be easily argued that they have the absolute brightest future of any team in the Central. Of course, if the Twins don’t pick things up, they could easily be the worst team in the division, which would be a huge shock considering their star power and $100 million plus payroll.

That’s why this series with the Twins is so important. They are sitting at 9-15 right now. For them to win 90 games, they have to go 81-57 the rest of the way, which isn’t an outlandish record for a good team. It just translates to a 95 win season which is just one more than they had last year. The Royals need to sweep this series to take the Twins out of the race. 9-18 is tough to come back from no matter how early in the season it is. It doesn’t make the road to 90 wins that much harder, but it just has the look and feel of a tougher trip to get there, so it’s vital to get rid of the teams who should have been in charge of this division in order to become the top dog. Honestly, I’m not terribly confident about the Royals for the rest of the first half of the season, but this homestand would go a long way toward restoring the confidence I had just a short week ago.

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