Another night, another win. These are occurring with great frequency, yet they never get old.
With Monday’s 8-4 demolition of a listless Cleveland nine, the Royals have surged to 22 games over .500, built their lead to 8.5 games in the Central, and won their 60th game of the year in just their 98th game, the fastest pace to 60 wins in franchise history.
Oh, and the Royals have some guy named Johnny Cueto joining the team on Tuesday.
Heady days, indeed.
This one ended early, when Eric Hosmer clubbed a three-run monster shot over the tall wall that lines left-center field in Cleveland. The only drama that remained was whether Angry Ed Volquez would get run due to the gross ineptitude of the home plate umpire who insisted on calling strikes balls and balls strikes. It was a frustrating night to be a starting pitcher for the American League’s best team, but Volquez kept his cool and, while his pitch count was elevated thanks to a rotating strike zone, he managed to throw six innings of one-run ball.
Games in July and August have taken on the point where we are just marking time. Certainly, there is much baseball to be played, but this team is positioning itself for October. That’s what Cueto and any subsequent moves are about. I know Clark exalted the Cueto deal, but forgive me if I revisit some points he may have made because I’M JUST SO DAMN EXCITED.
Just like everything that has happened over the last 12 months, this is new territory for the Royals. I can’t remember a time they were buyers at the deadline and I certainly can’t remember they were buyers and they went out and landed the big fish. The rotation now looks like this:
An ace in Cueto
A steady Volquez.
An ascendant Danny Duffy.
And a rebounding Yordano Ventura.
That’s something else. A couple of anchors and some upside thrown in for good measure. (I’m starting to tire of referring to Duffy and Ventura as guys searching for their upside. I have a feeling we may finally shed that distinction when discussing them over the course of the next few months.)
Joe Blanton took the mound in the seventh, gave up a home run and settled down, dispatching the rest of the lineup with relative ease in picking up a three inning save. It’s likely his swan song with the Royals, as they will surely cut loose a pitcher to free up a roster spot for Cueto on Tuesday. If this was Blanton’s final appearance, it was a good one. He gave the Royals 41.2 innings and 40 strikeouts against just seven walks. He did surrender six home runs, but he answered the bell when it rang and pitched better than anyone could have expected. I have to say I don’t understand some of the invective I saw on Twitter about some of his performances or his role on the team. Blanton is the back of the bullpen, but someone has to have that spot. They can’t all be Wade Davis. Blanton sat on the sidelines last year and came back to contribute for the best team in the American League. That’s something.
Personally, I hope he clears waivers and decides to go to Omaha. There could certainly be a spot for him back in September when the rosters expand. Now putting him on a playoff roster? That’s another matter entirely. But I just respect the perseverance it obviously took for him to make it back.
The other matter of Cueto business is who will leave the rotation? Chris Young starts on Tuesday and Jeremy Guthrie takes the bump on Wednesday. Both could be pitching for their rotation spot. If I had to guess, unless Young throws a no-hitter, the spot goes to Guthrie. I can hear the outcry from here, but like the back end of the bullpen don’t forget, we’re discussing a fifth starter here. The Royals are at something like a 95 percent chance to make the postseason. I’m not going to sweat whoever the last guy in the rotation is going to be since he’s going to the bullpen when the stakes elevate anyway. The thinking here is it will be Guthrie because he’s been a good Royal soldier (don’t forget he restructured his contract to free up some money a couple of years ago) and because he was a member of the team last year. Those kind of things count to this organization. Young was signed to be a long man out of the bullpen and to fill a starting role if the need should arise. He’s done both and done both admirably well. Yet his peripherals have long suggested his success was unsustainable.
The Royals finally catch a break in the schedule with their off day next Monday. Here’s how I see the rotation going forward:
7/28 – Young
7/29 – Guthrie
7/30 – Duffy
7/31 – Cueto
8/1 – Ventura
8/2 – Volquez
8/3 – Off Day
8/4 – Guthrie
Everyone gets an extra day of rest (finally) and the rotation sets up for the month of August.
And by the time the Royals reach Ventura’s next start, there could be another trade or two. Perhaps a Ben Zobrist? I can’t rule anything out with this team anymore. Hell, anything seems possible these days.