By any account, this has been a wonderful summer. The Royals are the best team in the AL by a large margin. They have won 80 of their first 130 games. They are surpassing heights set previously by a team that took the field 35 years ago. This is a team that has been rolling almost since they won seven in a row to kick of the 2015 season.
They have survived an injury to their all-world left fielder. They have survived having a leadoff hitter with a .301 OBP. They have survived playing a black hole nearly everyday at second base. They have weathered the struggles of their closer.
The 2015 Royals have met each and every challenge head on as they have torn through the American League.
But can they survive chickenpox?
Before the start of the Tigers series on Tuesday, it was revealed the Royals had two cases of chickenpox within their ranks. Alex Rios was sent home from Tampa on a chartered jet on Saturday. Kelvin Herrera travelled the same way on Sunday.
The good news is, the Royals are hopeful that the disease is limited to those two. The bad news is, they can’t be sure.
The chickenpox overshadows the return of Alex Gordon to the lineup, the return of Frank White to the Kauffman Stadium field, the trade for Jonny Gomes, a slew of September call-ups, and the match-up between Justin Verlander and Johnny Cueto. Infectious diseases tend to cast a long shadow.
Fans were probably the most excited about the return of White as part of MLB’s Franchise Four festivities.
White, along with George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, and Dan Quisenberry were voted in as the four Royals who were the face of the franchise. Or something. Honestly, I’m confused by the criteria. Although since it was put to a fan vote, I would imagine there were millions of ballots to shuffle through.
I’m glad White is back in the Royals family, although I’m not as excited about it as I thought I would be. I’ve written about this at length, but I’m not a fan of how the episode was played out in public. Dan Glass is a convenient (and fitting) villain, but White didn’t exactly take the high road in all of this.
I guess what rubs me the wrong way about this is there have been a number of opportunities for White to come back. He could have been part of the postseason celebration. He could have come back for the Mike Sweeney Royals Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Hell, he could have just walked out of the dugout before some random game to deliver a first pitch. Instead, he comes back at a time when it’s more about the individual than about the team and the organization. I’m aware this is probably an unpopular opinion. White is a Royal deity. His number 20 is one of only three on that won’t be worn by a Royal again. Understood.
This isn’t to say White isn’t deserving of a “Franchise Four” designation. We all know his story. He is a Kansas City Royal. Maybe that’s why I have such a difficult time reconciling the estrangement between the team and one of the cornerstones of the franchise.
All water under the bridge. I’m glad he’s finally decided to come back. Whatever the circumstances. Kauffman Stadium is better with him on the field.
A more anticipated return undoubtedly belongs to Alex Gordon. Gordon has been out of the lineup for the better part of two months. In that stretch, the Royals have won 31 of 48 to pad their Central cushion by about 10 games. That’s not to say he hasn’t been missed. Still, it’s unbelievable the way the Royals were able to weather the Gordon Groin Injury of 2015. No small part of that was due to the late July arrival of Ben Zobrist.
Gordon marked his return by hitting sixth in the lineup. The hope here is that after he gets a few games of major league action under his belt, Yost jettisons Escobar from the leadoff spot and puts Gordon in that place. A Gordon/Zobrist one-two punch at the top of the order is dreamy. The two best place-setters up in front of some seriously productive run producers like Cain, Hosmer and Morales? That’s a strong, strong lineup.
Chickenpox arrives to knock this team for a loop, but with the return of Gordon, the Royals just improved their roster.
When the news broke the Royals acquired Jonny Gomes on Monday, the initial reaction was to ask, “Why?” Not that Gomes can’t contribute. As Clark chronicled on Tuesday, there is a role for a guy like Gomes on an October roster.
But with Rios down for the count with chickenpox, now we know why the Royals moved to make this trade.
Chickenpox tends to affect adults more harshly than kids. It doesn’t sound like a fun time. Plus, it’s Alex Rios. A pro tip for when estimating a Rios comeback, take the provided worst-case scenario and add a week. Rios could legitimately be down for four weeks before he returns to full strength. And as we saw when he came back from his hand injury, there’s no guarantee he will be ready when he returns. This isn’t Alex Gordon we are talking about here. Rios has a history of being a slow healer. Given the time of year, I just don’t think the Royals can count on him at this point.
So going forward, I expect we will see that platoon in right field we’ve been hankering for the last couple of months. Jarrod Dyson will start against the right-handed pitchers and Gomes will probably get plenty of time against the lefties. Paulo Orlando – who I thought was surplus when the Gomes deal was announced – is certainly still in the mix.
One very important factor to consider: Gomes is not a good defender. Plus, he’s played only 102 innings in right over the last three seasons. The Royals could use him almost exclusively as a pinch hitter. Although that seems far-fetched as well. Ned Yost has called on a pinch-hitter just 24 times this year, by far the fewest in the AL. The next closest team, the Minnesota Twins, has double the number of pinch-hit appearances. Yeah… Yost doesn’t feel the need to pinch-hit.
In that scenario, I see Dyson starting against the right-hander, then lifted for a Gomes PH if the opposition brings in a lefty. Then, Orlando goes to right to keep a solid defense on the field. Don’t forget, this is September baseball. Anything goes.
The point is, even with Rios down, there are myriad ways for Yost to fill that spot in right field.
Speaking of September, a little housekeeping is in order. On Tuesday, the Royals called up Francisco Pena, Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Terrance Gore, along with pitchers Scott Alexander and Miguel Almonte.
Alexander and Almonte were not on the 40-man roster. The Royals had one spot open after the Gomes acquisition. They moved Jason Vargas to the 60-day DL in order to free up the other one.
And about that game on Tuesday… Not so great. The Royals had chances, but just couldn’t ever grab that lead. It was the kind of game that would really hurt if they were in a tight pennant race. Good thing they have a sizable cushion.
The Royals magic number is 20.