KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Five observations on the current state of the Royals.
First of all, I’m not going to rain on Wade Davis’ parade. He pitched a fine game Saturday night at Chicago (7 1/3 innings, four hits, no runs) when both he and the Royals absolutely needed him to. The Royals were facing Chris Sale, arguably the best pitcher in the league right now, and there was no margin for error.
Davis came through and the Royals held on, 1-0, in one of the most thrilling wins of the season.
But one of the reasons Davis was still in the rotation last weekend was because the Royals believed he had a chance against a pitiful hitting team such as the White Sox, who are last in the league in runs scored and second to last in on-base percentage (.301). The feeling in the front office was that if Davis couldn’t contribute against the lowly White Sox or the lowly New York Mets (hitting just .237 as a team) this coming weekend, he would finally have to be pulled from the rotation.
The schedule will favor Davis over the next few weeks. He will get the Mets on Friday night, barring any rainouts in Minnesota. He then will miss the four-game set against the Boston Red Sox, and instead will get the Miami Marlins, the worst-hitting team in baseball, in his following start.
Davis won’t get another challenging start until mid-August at Detroit. In other words, he has a chance to hold on to his spot in the rotation for a while.
The Royals, with their six-game winning streak, suddenly have closed the gap in the race for the final wild-card spot. The Royals are just five games behind Baltimore — just three in the loss column — although they would still have to leapfrog the Indians, Rangers and Yankees.
But it’s noteworthy that we’re even having this conversation this late in the season. The last time the Royals were .500 or better after 102 games was in 2003, when the Royals were 56-46.
The effect of the Royals’ surge since the All-Star break likely means they will hang on to right-hander Ervin Santana, a free agent after the season, and either try to sign him to a long-term deal or tender him a one-year deal. If Santana passes on that one-year offer, the Royals will get a compensatory first-round draft pick next June.
Or, the Royals could trade Santana before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline and get ready-now players (second baseman, right fielder) in return for Santana, as opposed to getting prospects, which is what the Cubs got for Matt Garza.
The Royals also could deal lesser value in Luke Hochevar, who will be entering his final season of arbitration, for a much-needed bat, though obviously the return would not be as high as what Santana would bring.
The feeling here is that general manager Dayton Moore will be looking to add pieces to this year’s team in hopes of staying in the playoff race, as he indicated to me two weeks ago.
A FEW INCHES EITHER WAY …
The amazing thing about right fielder David Lough’s spectacular catch in the ninth inning Saturday was its do-or-die nature. Granted, Alex Rios of the White Sox messed up by not tagging at third, which would have forced Lough to bounce to his feet and make a perfect throw to home.
But the gutsy move by Lough to dive headfirst was the ultimate all-or-nothing play — if Lough misses the catch, the ball likely scoots past him to the wall, and the White Sox, who had runners on first and third, would have won, 2-1.
And if that had happened, then maybe the Royals would have come out deflated Sunday and lost the series finale. And then we’re not talking about a six-game winning streak and then we’re not talking about the playoff race, and then maybe Moore would be changing his mind and thinking about selling off some pieces before Wednesday’s trade deadline.
Another huge bright spot to the weekend sweep of the White Sox was that Alex Gordon won Sunday’s game with a clutch two-run homer. Gordon has been immersed in a miserable slump — he is just 8 for his last 59 and is hitting well below .200 since the end of May.
The Royals’ struggling offense absolutely must have a resurgent Gordon to make any noise these final two months, and perhaps his two-run shot Sunday will kick-start a hot streak.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.