We may look back at that three-game series in Oakland and determine it was the catalyst that propelled the Royals into the postseason.
Without Gold Glove first baseman Eric Hosmer, the Royals nonetheless beat the Oakland A’s two out of three, winning their fourth straight series. And the Royals did so by beating baseball’s best team. The A’s, by the way, hadn’t lost a home series since early May.
Now the Royals head to Phoenix to take on one of the worst teams in baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but a sweep there could put the Royals in the lead for the second wild-card spot.
ABOUT THAT WILD CARD
The Royals are just 1 1/2 games behind Toronto for that second wild-card spot and their first postseason appearance since 1985.
Obviously, it won’t be easy. The Royals are in the mix with the Yankees, Indians, Mariners, Rays and yes, even the White Sox. Of that group, only the Mariners can compete with the Royals’ starting pitching. And of that group, none is better defensively than the Royals, even without Hosmer.
The Royals’ schedule is actually quite favorable after they get through a tough upcoming seven-game stretch with the Giants and A’s at home.
After that, the Royals go on a nine-game trip to Minnesota, Colorado and Texas — teams that are a combined 58 games under .500. And really, the most daunting part of the remaining schedule after mid-August will be the six games they have left with the Tigers.
In other words, it’s doable.
RETURN OF THE ACE
Remember that ugly seven-week stretch when Big Game James Shields struggled almost every time out, prompting numerous fans, bloggers and sports talk-show hosts to suggest the Royals dump Shields at the trade deadline?
Well, in his last five starts, Shields has posted a 1.93 ERA. And Sunday, Shields was dominant, throwing a perfect game for five innings before finishing with eight strong innings in a 4-2 win.
In what likely will be his last two months as a Royal, Shields appears set to do everything he can to get the Royals to the postseason.
ANOTHER BIG GAMER
LET’S GO ROYALS:Check out these photos of fans and the excitement around Royals baseball.
No doubt the last guy in the Royals’ rotation that anyone expected to rise up and shut down an opponent was struggling right-hander Jeremy Guthrie.
Guthrie during the month of July was an ugly 1-3 with a 10.07 ERA.
But Guthrie was sensational Friday night against baseball’s best team, throwing six shutout innings in a pulsating 1-0 win.
That win, by the way, likely was the biggest of the season and set up the possibility of a winning road trip. If we eventually do look back at the Oakland series as the biggest of the season, Friday’s thrilling 1-0 win might be viewed as the most significant.
CHIP ON THEIR SHOULDERS
We’re all curious to see how the Royals respond over the next three to four weeks without Hosmer, who is on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his hand. The Royals are not a deep club offensively, and before his injury, Hoz was the hottest Royal.
Sometimes, though, teams rally together when one of their key parts goes missing. The perception outside the team is that the Royals struggle enough as it is offensively with Hosmer, so how can they be expected to survive without him?
The Royals, though, have a chance to prove otherwise, and a lot of the onus will be on veterans Alex Gordon and Billy Butler (who had three hits Sunday) to pick up any slack.
A HAT TIP TO THE UMPIRES
Another completely enjoyable part of the weekend series with Oakland was the performance of the umpiring crew.
Yes, you read that correctly.
This might have been the best crew I’ve seen all season, certainly in terms of calling balls and strikes. Starting with Mike Estabrook on Friday behind home plate, this crew called strikes at the knees, at the letters and on the corners — in other words, the way a strike is defined in the rule book.
No pitcher got squeezed from either side, and hitters adjusted to the "real" strike zone.
The Royals did not issue a walk at all Sunday, and had only four the entire series. The A’s walked only four hitters in the three games as well.
Hunter Wendelstedt — son of former longtime umpire Harry — is the crew chief.