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Recalibrating Our Expectations

As the calendar turns from May to June, we’re beginning to have a pretty good idea who is a contender and who is not around the league. Many experts use Memorial Day as a barometer, and it’s a pretty good measuring stick. We’re basically two full months into the season, about a third of the way through, and typically the division races are starting to have a little space between the teams. Well, this year isn’t exactly typical in terms of separation. I haven’t looked this up, so I could be totally off, but it seems like more teams are within five games of .500 than we’ve seen in a long time at this point in the season. Obviously, the biggest surprise of the early going is Cleveland, and they also have the biggest division lead at five games. I’ve talked about them a little in the past, but I maintain that they can win the division. I was dead wrong about them coming into the season. I think they’re going to get a big challenge from Detroit, but they have the talent to do it. Plus, it never hurts to have opened up a big lead so quickly.

I usually think I have a pretty good feel about the Royals pretty quickly, but this year I just haven’t. So a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself that I’d have a much better idea come the end of May. Interestingly enough, I don’t. This team is one that is so tough to grasp. They’re 24-30, but at times they’ve looked just so much better than that. At other times they look like a team that has absolutely not shot to finish at over 70 wins. It’s interesting to note that if the Royals had the Soria of old in the closer’s role (I know, big if, but humor me), they’d be around .500 at either 27-27 or 28-26. I find it somewhat fascinating that one of the three or four players on the team the Royals had no concerns about has caused the Royals to lose three or four games in the standings.

The book on the Royals has not yet been written, though, and we knew that coming into the season. We knew that the team we saw in April and May would not look a whole lot like the team we see in August and September. Of course, we’ve already seen a lot of promotion through the system, and I think we’re about to see another push in a week or two. I think I mentioned in this space my prediction of Mike Moustakas to the big leagues on June 10. We’ll see how far off I am on that, but people within the organization are publicly saying that he’s ready for the Majors and just needs a place to play. After a slow start to the season, Moose hit .321/.382/.560 in May with five homers and 11 doubles in 27 games. I’ll take those extra base hit numbers every single month of the year. I’m not beholden to the RBI stat like some, but he’s got 41 in spite of having a very tough month of April. He’s on his way. I think that Lorenzo Cain will force his way onto the roster soon. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jeff Francoeur traded and David Lough getting a chance at the big league level soon.

So I guess the point of this post is to sort of recalibrate and get an idea of what to expect for the rest of the season. With the Royals exactly one-third of the way through their schedule it’s easy to see what players’ statistics would be in 162 games, but I think this is a good opportunity. The Royals, as you’ll all remember started hot and were 10-4 after 14 games. They were at .500 as recently as a week and a half ago when they stood at 22-22. Well now they’ve got a new closer, probably a new ace in Duffy (which is more an indictment on the pitching staff than on Duffy’s prowess) and will be getting some new players coming up in waves over the next four months. I’m not sure that Moustakas will be an instant upgrade over Betemit since Betemit has hit so well, but he should provide some more pop. Lorenzo Cain will certainly be an upgrade over Melky Cabrera, both offensively and defensively. If Giavotella gets the call, I think he’ll be a much better player than Chris Getz. I think Lough will outperform Francoeur over the rest of the season.

Let’s start off with the most important number in baseball in projecting the rest of the season – wins. I think the Royals will start off the final two-thirds of their season a little slowly as they’re still in the midst of a team-wide pitching slump, but I really think the last two months of the season will be great for them. While they were 24-30 in the first two months, I see 32-22 in the last two months, which will make them a trendy pick to take the next step in 2012 and make the playoffs. The middle two months, though, I see at 20-34, which will give the Royals a 76-86 record to end the season. That would sadly be their best since 2003. I think Montgomery begins to figure things out in AAA and gets up here by August providing a true ace to the rotation right away. I think Soria works out his issues and gets back to being an All-Star level closer. I think Moustakas starts off very slow, but sizzles at the end of the year and hits 13 homers between August and September. I think Alcides Escobar starts hitting much better and has a .725 OPS in his final two months. Between now and August, though, things might get rough for the Royals. They might even pull off a trade for a starting pitcher who will be under team control for a few years. That would go a long way toward me being more optimistic about a playoff run next year. For a team with all these walk-off wins and all these extra inning games, it seems odd to say, but the fun part of the season hasn’t even started yet.

  1. ElChup
    June 1, 2011 at 10:03 am

    “I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jeff Francoeur traded”

    I would be floored. I can’t see DM trading away his veteren, clubhouse leader (the only other being DL Catcher/Bench Coach Kendall) to be replaced by another rookie. Frenchy is exactly the type of guy they want Moose be around and learn to emulate in the clubhouse.

    • June 1, 2011 at 11:14 am

      You know, I hadn’t even thought of that aspect. I think you make more sense than me.

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