KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For much of this season, some fans and talk-show hosts have bemoaned third baseman Mike Moustakas’ presence on the team.
As Moustakas scuffled along with an average below .200 in May, and with power numbers that were almost non-existent until July, his critics demanded the Royals ship him back to Triple-A Omaha — never mind that there were no real alternatives there to be called up.
But now we all can see what the Royals’ lineup looks like without Moustakas — we’ve seen it for six of the last seven games as Moose recovers from a strained calf muscle.
And it’s a lineup that looks awfully toothless from the six through nine spots.
Yes, it’s quite telling about the fragile nature of this Royals offense, which has scored just 16 runs in the last seven games, that we can all be begging for the return of a .236 hitter with 30 RBIs.
But the truth is, the Royals have missed Moustakas in the last week perhaps more than they have missed Lorenzo Cain or Miguel Tejada.
Moustakas has overcome his hideous start to this season, and he did hit .267 in July with four homers and five doubles. He at least poses some danger for opposing pitchers that the Royals’ lineup simply doesn’t have without him.
“We have 25 guys on the roster for a reason,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “But Moose is a big part of this team. It’s a big loss when he’s not in.”
The Royals weren’t eager to demote Moustakas earlier this season for the same reason — the hole his absence creates in the batting order can’t be replaced right now with backup utility infielders.
The Royals stuck with Moose during his down time in the hopes he would pull himself out of his slump at this level, rather than at Triple A.
“He wouldn’t be gaining anything by going to Omaha,” general manager Dayton Moore told me in June. “He needs to figure it out up here. He will figure it out, the way our other young players have figured it out.”
And Moose was grateful for the vote of confidence from the front office and from manager Ned Yost.
“Yeah, absolutely, I started off pretty rough this year,” he said. “Pedro (Grifol) and George (Brett) helped me a lot and made me a better player. Whatever happens with me this year, it is what it is.
“But I’ll just be happy if I can help this team get to the postseason.”
And it’s that team-first attitude from Moustakas that has endeared him to his teammates and to the organization.
Clearly hobbled by a calf strain, Moustakas fought through the pain and started in Saturday night’s tough 6-5 loss to Detroit.
“I just have to contribute somehow right now and get on the field,” Moustakas told reporters after that game.
And that’s who Moose is at heart — a gamer who goes all-out to win.
The funny thing is, too, that Moustakas’ numbers this year might end up resembling his 2012 season more than you think.
Last year, Moustakas hit .242 with a .296 on-base percentage. Right now, even after his horrific start, Moose is hitting .236 with a .293 on-base percentage.
If Moustakas continues to hit like he did in July, he likely will eclipse those splits — modest as they are.
“Maybe one of these years I’ll figure out how to put a whole season together,” he said, laughing.
Moustakas isn’t likely to top his power numbers from 2012 — 20 homers and 73 RBIs. He sits at 10 homers and 30 RBIs now.
But it’s not about individual statistics right now.
“All I’m concerned about is trying to help this team make it to the postseason,” he said. “Whatever it takes. My hitting, whatever I do personally, isn’t as important to what the team is doing.”
After all, there are other ways Moustakas says he can contribute to the team.
“That’s how I always feel, though,” he said. “I always feel I can contribute to the team somehow to win a game. We’ve bought into that.
“Each day and each game you try to do something, any one little thing to help out. That’s how you win games.”
And right now, Moustakas is doing everything he can just to get on the field.
“He is a guy who hates not playing,” Yost said. “He’s battled through injuries all season, through things no one outside the clubhouse knows about. That’s the kind of player he is.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.