The title of the post is important.
With five games left to play, the Royals need a combination of three wins and Seattle losses to reach the promised land. The Royals need to win games, but the pressure at this point is mostly on the shoulders of the pursuers. Not the pursued. That’s a good feeling. And the Royals are most assuredly in a very good place.
This is maybe the most difficult post I’ll ever write. After 29 years, it’s hard not to get out in front of this. To gloat. To exult in our collective good fortune. A magic number of three. Are you kidding me? So close.
But there’s still work to be done. There’s still that magic number of three.
Wednesday, the Royals go back to work in Cleveland. They will send Jason Vargas to the mound. There’s no doubt Vargas has been a solid starter for the Royals this season, but over his last six starts, he’s hit the inevitable patch of regression. In those starts, he has a 5.51 ERA and opponents are hitting .319/.353/.479 against him. Yikes. The stat that stands out for me is the opposition slugging percentage. That’s probably because he’s surrendering a 33 percent line drive rate over that time. Not a lot of home runs – just three – but plenty of doubles.
On Tuesday, the Royals were playing with a confidence and swagger that comes with hitting doubles while backing a young, studly starting pitcher who is on the top of his game. Yordano Ventura tossed the latest of Royals lockdown starts. It’s just exceptional, really. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t absolutely love the Royals pitching. And this isn’t flash in the pan sort of stuff, either. This is something that can roll over into October. So huge.
Ventura threw seven innings last night. As much as I enjoyed that, I’m definitely concerned that Ned Yost sent him back out to the mound for the seventh. Ventura had thrown 96 pitches through six and enjoyed a 7-0 lead after the Royals plated a pair in the top half of their seventh. But there goes Yost, sending Ventura back out to finish with a career-high 117 pitches. Why? Why would you do that to a top young starter at this point in the season with that kind of a lead? I think it speaks volumes of how Yost doesn’t trust anyone outside his triumvirate of Herrera, Davis and Holland. Still, seven runs? I would have kept Ventura in the dugout for the seventh.
I’ll assume Yost is thinking ahead – as he will often try to do, but as we all know, he can potentially outsmart himself – to Sunday. That would be Ventura’s scheduled start. Maybe he’s counting on the postseason picture being sorted by that point and going to someone like Liam Hendriks for a little Sunday Funday kind of start. But as Yost himself said in the post game, the Wild Card is Plan B. The Royals desperately want to win the division. And they should. So what if the Royals are tied or a game behind Detroit on the season’s final day? Now we’re going with a potentially tired Ventura in a game they will frame as a “must-win.” I just don’t understand why Yost didn’t hedge his bets and remove Ventura while the tank was still partially filled. Just something to file away in case Sunday means something. I sure hope it doesn’t.
Offensively, Tuesday was all about the heart of the order. Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Sal Perez each had two hits. Gordon, Perez and Omar Infante each drove in a pair of runners. Hosmer and Gordon scored twice while Butler touched home three times. Total team effort. We’re not going to see that too often the rest of the way. Sorry, but with this offense, I’ll continue to be skeptical. That just means I’ll appreciate games like Tuesday as much as I possibly can. Danny Salazar was dealing the first time through the Royals order. I figured it would be one of our typical Royals games. Then, his cutter didn’t cut so much and the Royals were able to really barrel the ball. Salazar didn’t make it through the fifth. Ballgame.
So here’s where we stand as of Wednesday morning:
— The Royals trail the Tigers by a game. Detroit plays the White Sox today at noon. Take a long lunch. Verlander against Chris Sale. By the time the Royals take the field tonight in Cleveland, they could be playing for a first place tie.
— The Royals are tied for the best Wild Card record with Oakland. The Royals own the tie-breaker of head to head record, so if the standings remain unchanged over these final five games, the Wild Card game would be at Kauffman. That game would be beyond insane.
— The Royals are three games ahead of Seattle, who lost their fourth in a row on Tuesday. For some reason, that’s what I’m fixated on at the moment. Just get in to the playoffs. Just get in. Then I’ll shift my focus to the division. But damnit, just get in.