Flanny’s Five: Royals embark on possible make-or-break trip

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Five observations on the current state of the Royals …


The Royals’ biggest road trip of the season launches tonight beginning with four games against the Yankees, and then three against the Indians before the Royals hit the All-Star break.
A make-or-break trip?
Quite possibly, because this trip may determine what general manager Dayton Moore does in the following two weeks approaching the trade deadline. A collapse here and Moore might be tempted to be a seller later this month, starting with Ervin Santana, who will be a free agent after this season. A successful trip, or even a so-so trip (three wins), could keep Moore in the all-in mode for 2013, and could mean Moore will hunt for some valuable pieces to keep the Royals in playoff contention.
There’s little question that this trip is daunting for a Royals team suddenly stuck in neutral. Since the Royals climbed back to 34-34 with a thrilling 2-1 victory in Cleveland on June 17, they have been spinning their wheels with a 7-10 mark that has kept them on the fringe of the American League Central race.
The Yankees are far from world beaters, but they are a healthy eight games over .500, and they did sweep the Royals earlier this season without breaking a sweat.
Time for the Royals to step up, or before you know it, Moore and Co. might start preparing for 2014.

Sure, it’s always easy to find players who were snubbed for the All-Star Game. Even with the bloated 35-man rosters for each league, deserving players will be left out.

One of those snubbed right now is Royals closer Greg Holland, among the hottest closers in all of baseball. He’s 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA overall to go with his 20 saves. And in his last 21 appearances since that fateful hiccup on May 6 against the White Sox, he has given up just two runs.
And Holland isn’t just getting opponents out — he is overmatching them.
In three of his last five outings, Holland has struck out the side with his combination of 97-mph heaters and 86-mph sliders and splitters.
But as manager Ned Yost points out, there is still a chance Holland could get in because of an injury to another player or because of the Sunday rule, which stipulates that any pitcher who starts on the Sunday before the All-Star Game has the option to be replaced.

Right-hander Luis Mendoza may be pitching himself out of the rotation after another poor outing Sunday in which he did not survive the second inning. Mendoza also got bombed in his previous start against Cleveland.
There was a time when the Royals would have been patient with Mendoza — but the stakes are higher now as the Royals have moved out of the development phase and into the win-now phase. In his last four starts, Mendoza has a 7.64 ERA and has walked 10 hitters in 17 1/3 innings.
Left-hander Danny Duffy, recovering from Tommy John surgery, would be the likely replacement, which would push Mendoza to the bullpen and perhaps mean a release for J.C. Gutierrez, who is out of options and has not performed well.
Duffy has not been sizzling at Omaha, but he did have back-to-back shutout starts before giving up four runs in five-plus innings in his last outing.

Right-hander Kelvin Herrera, a vital late-inning component for the Royals’ bullpen last year, again seems to have made the right adjustments during his second demotion to Omaha. In his last two outings, Herrera has given up no runs in 6 1/3 innings and has struck out eight hitters.

It will be interesting to see how shortstop Alcides Escobar responds in this Yankees series after Yost wisely gave him two days’ rest. As Yost suggested, Escobar had been “grinding.” He is just 5 for his last 29, and he booted a routine grounder last week in the ninth inning of a one-run game against Cleveland.
The Royals can use all the help they can get this week, and a refreshed Escobar is needed.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.