Royals need help from several teams playing out the string
Hey, Twins, White Sox, Jays, Red Sox, Giants, Astros: A little help, please?
By JEFFREY FLANAGANFS Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. --
Five observations on the current state of the Royals.
As we roar toward the final two weeks of the season, Royals fans will be begging for some help from other teams not so fortunate to be in the playoff chase, and from another team close to sewing up its division title.
Outside of the Royals, here are our new favorite teams for the rest of the season: The Twins, White Sox, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants and Astros. These teams all will have a big say in whether the Royals reach the playoffs for the first time in 28 years.
The White Sox, of course, have been of little help so far. Since sweeping the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in late August, the White Sox promptly lost all three games to the Yankees and lost three of four to the Orioles. The White Sox also got thumped 14-3 Thursday night by Cleveland.
Thanks for nothing.
But the White Sox can redeem themselves: They have five games left with the Indians.
The Twins have three big home games against Tampa starting tonight. The good news here is that Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire manages every game like a playoff game and it's unlikely his team will lay down. The Twins also finish the season with four at home against Cleveland.
The Blue Jays will have perhaps the biggest say in who wins the final wild card. They have six games left with the Orioles, three with Tampa and three with the Yankees.
The Red Sox, while wrapping up the AL East, can really help the Royals. They have three games left with the hated Yankees and finish the season with three against Baltimore.
The San Francisco Giants have three games left with the Yankees, who finish the season with three games at Houston (ugh).
Here's hoping those teams with nothing to play for find a reason to play for something.
NEED SOME MAGIC
Ervin "Magic" Santana has been phenomenal most of the season. But lately, he has been slumping -- he hasn't posted a win since Aug. 4.
Santana also has been roughed up quite a bit. In that span since his last win he has had his two shortest outings of the season, not surviving the fourth inning in starts against Boston and Seattle.
The good news is that Santana did pitch better in Monday's loss to Cleveland, giving up just three earned runs in seven innings.
Obviously, the Royals need him to step up against the mighty Tigers on Saturday night. Strangely, because of a scheduling quirk, he has had just one outing against the Tigers all season. He got the victory July 19, throwing 7 1/3 shutout innings in a 1-0 win over Detroit.
Manager Ned Yost's decision to skip Danny Duffy in the Tigers series has drawn criticism from some fans. Yost indicated he wants to go with his veterans in this huge three-game set, saving Duffy for a better matchup next week.
This is actually a bold and risky move by Yost, considering that Duffy nearly no-hit the Tigers through six innings in that brilliant start during the Royals' last trip to Detroit.
Of course, there's no telling which Duffy the Royals or Yost would have gotten this weekend: The pitch-to-contact Duffy who can baffle opponents for six or seven innings, or the Duffy with no command who can easily pile up 100 pitches through four innings.
Yost clearly isn't in a gambling mode, but if things don't go well for Bruce Chen tonight, the second guessers -- or first guessers, for that matter -- will be barking.
Fans have been asking what to expect from the Royals this weekend, in what will be the three hardest games left on their schedule.
To be honest, in my mind, salvaging at least one win this weekend would not be a huge disappointment. The Royals need the mind-set of "anything to avoid the sweep." Getting swept not only would push them back to an unreasonable distance in the wild-card chase, but also would kill their momentum heading into the final homestand of the season.
Winning two this weekend would be fabulous, but winning at least one keeps them in the hunt with a chance to sweep either the Indians or the Rangers at home to make up ground lost this weekend.
It's like the old NCAA tourney theory: Survive and advance.
ESKY TO THE RESCUE?
It's always fun to speculate who might be the unsung heroes when a team in a playoff hunt gets set for a big series.
What if this weekend's hero turns out to be weak-hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar?
Esky is sort of hot, by his standards -- he has a modest six-game hitting streak. But one of those hits in that streak was a huge home run against the Tribe on Tuesday, his first homer since late April.
If there was ever a time for Escobar to rise up offensively, and maybe even come through with another big long ball, it is now.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.