Knowing that Luke Hochevar was on the mound for the Royals in their second game of the Astro series, I prepared two leads:

Luke Hochevar was awful on Tuesday.

Or…

Luke Hochevar was brilliant on Tuesday.

It just seems like there’s no middle ground with this guy.

And by now, you know he was brilliant. Brilliant, as in, best start of the season, brilliant.

His curve was just outstanding. While his fastball was averaging 92 mph his curve was the perfect compliment, coming in at 79 mph with a ferocious break. Hochevar weaved both pitches in and out, throwing 33 fastballs and 32 curves. He got 22 strikes with each pitch. Excellent. Just excellent.

Hochevar is featuring his curve more than ever. It’s accounted for 16 percent of his pitches this year, compared to around eight percent two seasons ago.

In his post game presser, Yosty said that Hochevar was “getting back to being the pitcher we know he can be.” Yosty stressed Hochevar has three “core” pitches: Fastball, change and curve. And with those three working, Hochevar can be nasty.

Then, Yosty dropped this nugget: “He was relying too much on his cutter which was burning him.”

Oh, really?

I know we want to believe and buy into the “New and Improved” Hochevar, but please… The Royals keep throwing crap against the wall and hoping it sticks.

From the “he’s tipping his pitches” claim to the issues with runners on base, the Royals have identified (or made up) myriad reasons for why Hochevar has been awful. Have they addressed how his eyelids get jammed? It’s hysterical how many different ways the Royals have approached the guy.

So about that new, over-reliance on the cutter…

In Hochevar’s start for the Royals in the home opener – you know, the one where he stunk up the joint in the first and exited after giving up seven runs in four innings – he threw 70 pitches. Seven cutters.

In his start on May 1 against the Tigers where he allowed nine runs in four innings – and finished with a Game Score of 1 – he threw 75 pitches. Four cutters.

And in his start in his next turn in the rotation where he was knocked around by the Yankees in 2.1 innings to the tune of nine runs, Hochevar threw 51 pitches. Five cutters.

Look, I was fooled too. I thought it was his slider and his arm slot when throwing said slider. He’s not doing that anymore and seems to have moved away from his slider in his recent starts. He’s done pretty well in a couple of those. Hell, Hochevar has frustrated me so much, I don’t know what to think anymore.

And neither do the Royals.

What just kills me about this organization is that they think they can throw some BS out there and just because Yosty or GMDM says it, it’s true. Cutters? My ass. That has as much to do with Hochevar’s struggles as the financial problems in Greece and Spain.

(Although I would love for Yost to say something like, “Hochevar’s really been troubled by his investments in the Euro zone, particularly the south. Hell yes, it’s affecting his performance.” Don’t think that can’t happen.)

Hochevar has been fixed more times than Joan Rivers’ face.

Yet the Hochevar fix is never permanent. Rivers is frozen in time. Both scare the hell out of me.

I’ve come to accept Hochevar for what he is: A maddening starting pitcher where he’s liable to be brilliant in one start and awful in the next. On Tuesday he was brilliant. His best start of the season. It saved the bullpen and got the Royals the win, pulling them closer to .500. Huge.

And he did it on the back of 17 cutters.

He gets the gold star, but don’t try to sell me that he can do this on a consistent basis. Because he can’t.

On contention

Shortly after the final out was recorded, my Twitter feed exploded with celebratory notes about being 4.5 games out of first.

Hold on…

I understand where we’ve come from with this team. All these years of losing baseball wears you down. When you’re within sniffing distance of first, you tend to get giddy.  Excited. However, there’s a couple of issues we have to deal with before we can discuss contention.

For starters, the Royals current .455 winning percentage is the third worst in the AL. Yes, the Central sucks, but there’s a certain crazy amount of parity going on in the league. That will happen with the unbalanced schedule and the three division setup.  They have to leapfrog three teams. Not an easy task. Besides, entering play on Tuesday, the Royals playoff odds stood at 0.8 percent. There’s still a ton of baseball to be played.

Also, the starting pitching still has a long, long way to go. If you are throwing Sanchez, Mazarro and Mendoza out there you’re fighting an uphill battle. We’ve beaten this dead horse until it became reincarnated and died again, but this is a huge issue. You can’t win without decent starting pitching.

And finally, the offense has been… Not good. They rank ninth with a .318 OBP and ninth with a .394 slugging percentage. They’ve brought home 13 percent of all baserunners, among the worst rates in the league. They’ve also run into 28 outs on the bases, the most in the league. The Royals are scoring 3.9 runs per game, second worst in the league. I know everyone thinks Sal Perez is going to be some sort of offensive savior, but that’s not likely. Nor is it likely Wil Myers can rake in Kansas City the way he’s doing in Omaha. At least initially.

There are some serious holes with this club. Yes, they are 4.5 games out despite these problems. But baseball has a way of leveling the field, so to speak. Teams can’t survive the full 162 games on smoke and mirrors.

So ask yourself… Is this team developing, or are they built for contention? Answer honestly.

The stakes are enormous. You can’t afford to be wrong in your assessment. Most of us should remember 2003 when the Royals effectively went all in. We convinced ourselves we were close. Allard Baird was convinced. David Glass was convinced. Turns out we weren’t so close. And it set us back in a bad way. We thought they were built for contention.

Myself, I think this team is still developing. They need to get Wil Myers up sometime in July and – this is tremendously important – they need to get some starting pitching. Internal, free agent, trade… Whatever. This has to happen. If Dayton Moore attacks the market this winter (a prospect that makes me tremendously nervous) the timetable could be bumped to 2013. If Moore chooses to wait on his internal options (which appear to be shrinking) the timeline moves to 2014.

I still have the Tigers as the prohibitive favorites in the division. They’ve won seven of their last 10 and are showing signs of life. Someone is going to go on a roll and move ahead of the rest of the teams in this division. That team will have to have power and starting pitching. I don’t think that team will be the Royals. My money is still on the Tigers.

I know my opinion won’t be popular with some of you. Don’t confuse my thoughts of contention with a dislike of this team. I love the way they’ve battled back recently. And I love the way they’ve seemingly erased the brutality of that 12 game losing streak. There’s plenty to like on this team. But there’s still some epic holes.

I’m still with my team. I just think they’re still a year or two away.