As the Royals make their way to Oakland for a three-game weekend series, it’s natural for fans to speculate as to the revenge factor.
Rewind yourself all the way back to April, when Brett Lawrie blew up Alcides Escobar at second base. The beanballs and the pointing to the coconuts. Things were finished and then things started back up. It was a wild and uncomfortable rematch between the Wild Card combatants.
Seems like such a long time ago.
Don’t look now, but Oakland is the hottest team in the AL, non-Canadian division. They have won 19 of their last 30. A’s manager Bob Melvin is the anti-Yost in that he stacks his best hitters at the top of the order. Billy Burns has posted a .363 OBP this year and has slashed .344/.377/.459 with a 137 wRC+ over his last 30 games. He’s the leadoff hitter. Catcher Steven Vogt usually hits third in the order and is having a breakout season, hitting .308/.401/.552.
The Royals miss rotation stud Sonny Gray this weekend, but get to face the Jesse Hahn, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez. That’s a solid core of starters. All three excel in keeping the ball in the yard. Hahn doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters (5.6 SO/9) and Kazmir is more likely of the trio to issue a free pass (3.5 BB/9).
This series is no longer about “Round 2” or whatever boxing term you’d like to use. Rather, it’s about standing toe to toe with a team that, due to their awful start, is much better than it’s current record would indicate. Both teams have been playing good baseball of late. Forget the revenge factor. (Who’s supposed to be taking revenge on who anyway?) That’s old news and hopefully is forgotten. This weekend is about the Royals trying to derail a team playing great baseball of late.
Hey, this is supposed to be about the Royals rotation, not some preview of the Oakland series. Where’s my starting pitching info?
Fine. Let’s start with some injury updates.
— Yordano Ventura is scheduled to make his first rehab start for Omaha Friday night. We haven’t seen fire thrown in Kansas City since June 12. Ventura is scheduled to throw around 75 pitches.
— Jason Vargas threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and the Royals are confident he will return soon. They don’t expect he will need a rehab start.
— Kris Medlen made his second rehab start on Wednesday for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The Naturals kicked the ball around a couple of times, which led to a different kind of outing than I’m sure was hoped for from the starter making his way back from his second Tommy John. He allowed four runs in six innings, but results aside, reports were encouraging. Which is what is the most important thing when a pitcher is on a rehab assignment.
Barring setbacks, pitchers have 30 days to rehab in the minors before they must be added back to the roster. Day 30 is July 18. He seems to be right on schedule.
The above injury update is why I’m feeling skeptical the Royals will pursue starting pitching ahead of the trade deadline. Dayton Moore likes to examine and exhaust all internal options before moving beyond his organization. If Ventura and Vargas return to the rotation ahead of the All-Star Break and if Medlen stays on track and if Danny Duffy makes progress you could have pretty much a brand new rotation on July 17.
Granted, that’s the best case scenario, something that hardly ever happens in baseball. Especially with pitching.
Also, do the Royals have the necessary prospect depth to deal for a front line starter? I’m not sure they do. A move without quality would take quantity, something we know the Royals are loathe to do given their desire to build a strong pipeline to the majors. Plus, do they have the stomach to ship a key prospect in a deal where they would have a rental starter for two months? Johnny Cueto would be a nice addition, but there’s no way the Royals are going to keep him beyond this year, should they land him in a trade. Cole Hamels is under contract for the next three seasons at $22.5 million per (with an option for 2019) which is nice to have that certainty, but is that something the Royals can add to a payroll? Especially when Alex Gordon is a pending free agent and they will certainly look to restructure Sal Perez’s contract. Not to mention the possibility of extending Mike Moustakas. Anyway, the Phillies are a shambles and difficult to deal with, setting the prices extremely high for their trade chits.
The drumbeat to make a move will grow louder, the closer we move to the trade deadline, but Moore has never paid attention to that. If the best case scenario pans out, the Royals will look at their arms as if they have depth with Chris Young and maybe Joe Blanton back in the the pen for the swingman role and with someone like Guthrie bumped. Heck, they could even go to the six man rotation if they felt like they had the arms.
We’re still about five weeks away from the trade deadline. The picture is just as murky today, as it was at the start of the season. The needs haven’t changed, but the situation won’t gain clarity until the last week of July.