KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You’ll have a hard time convincing designated hitter Billy Butler that the Royals are not for real.
Butler says he truly believes the Royals as an organization are on the right track, and that the Royals will be a factor in the American League Central in the second half.
“I just like the direction we’re headed,” Butler tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “This is a good team. We’ve got the parts you need to compete this year and beyond.
“We’ve lost a lot of one-run games. Our run differential is right there. We were just one hot streak away from being six, seven or eight games over .500.”
The Royals, whose most recent day in first place was May 1, are still battling to get back to .500 at 42-44. But their run differential is plus-8.
“What that means is we’ve played a lot of tight, tight games,” Butler says. “You go through each month and you can definitely find three or four games in there that we certainly should have won or had a great chance to win. You flip those and it’s another story.
“I know a lot of teams can say this but I honestly feel like we’ve been on the wrong side of some of those tough one-run games where the breaks don’t go your way, more so than the ones we’ve gotten. I’m not complaining. We are what we are.
“I think over the second half, baseball says, not always, but baseball says they can even out.”
Butler also fully admits that one of the principal culprits for the tough losses has been a failure by the offense to capitalize on golden scoring chances. That, too, could change in the second half, he says — and there are signs it already is starting to.
Let’s look back at some of the tougher losses through the first half of the season that could have swung the other way:
April 6: Phillies 4, Royals 3 — An early-season slump by closer Greg Holland costs the Royals here as he inherits a 3-1 lead in the ninth and gives up three runs.
April 20: Red Sox 4, Royals 3 — Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera spit out a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning at Fenway Park.
May 2:Royals 1, Rays 0 (postponed) — The Royals are three outs away from an official game, a win and a three-game sweep of Tampa Bay at Kauffman Stadium. But snow and sleet (in May!) force a postponement after four innings, costing the Royals a likely win behind Ervin Santana, who was dealing.
May 6:White Sox 2, Royals 1 (11 innings) — This is the famous “Ned Game” in which skipper Ned Yost decides to take out starter James Shields after Shields had dominated the White Sox through eight shutout innings. Holland blows only his second game this season, though second baseman Chris Getz gets an assist for failing to make a play on a grounder over the bag with two outs and the bases loaded. Herrera gives up a homer in the 11th inning to seal the defeat, starting the Royals’ May swoon.
May 17-19: 2-1, 2-1 and 4-3 losses to Oakland — The Royals’ pitching is fantastic but the offense goes limp for three days in Oakland. Just one big hit by anyone offensively and the Royals would at least have salvaged one game in the series.
June 11:Tigers 3, Royals 2 — The Royals have Elliot Johnson on second with no outs in the bottom of the ninth against shaky Tigers closer Jose Valverde. But Billy Butler is called out on strikes on a pitch clearly off the plate (FoxTrax showed the pitch was inside.) Butler argues and is thrown out of the game. The Royals then strand Johnson and lose.
June 18: Indians 4, Royals 3 — This is the famous “Eddie Game.” The Royals, trailing in the ninth, rally and appear to have scored the tying run when Alcides Escobar singles toward the line in right field. Speedy David Lough is on second, reads it correctly, races around third and is just 45 feet from home plate when he notices that third base coach Eddie Rodriguez mysteriously has given him the stop sign. Lough would have scored easily as the throw home also was way off line. But Lough halts when he sees the stop sign and is out in a rundown.
June 22: White Sox 3, Royals 2 — The Royals get a one-out triple from Eric Hosmer in a 2-2 game in the eighth inning, but Sal Perez pops out and Lorenzo Cain strikes out. The White Sox nudge a run across in the ninth to win it.
June 25: Braves 4, Royals 3 — One of the real crushers comes here as the Royals get runners on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. Needing just to put the ball in play to tie the score, both Elliot Johnson and Jarrod Dyson strike out. After a walk loads the bases and puts the winning run on second, Escobar ends the game with a weak fly-out to short right.
July 2: Indians 6, Royals 5 — The Royals have a great chance in the ninth with runners on first and third and one out. Escobar, needing just to put the ball in play, strikes out on three pitches. Hosmer then grounds out to end the game.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.