KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Just when you think the Royals are out, they pull you back in again. And then the vicious cycle starts all over. As we take a deep breath at the All-Star Break, you can’t help but wonder: Will the next 10 weeks become the stuff of legend? Or just another tease?
3 REASONS FOR ROYALS FANS TO DREAM BIG IN THE SECOND HALF … :03 … The schedule
With 14 games remaining versus Detroit — the most of any single opponent, 20 percent of the rest of the schedule — the Local Nine still have a big say in the division race, if, for nothing else, the chance to whittle away at the Tigers’ cushion in the catbird seat. And it goes without saying that the three-game weekend set with the Motor City Kitties coming out of the All-Star break could very well dictate which fork in the road — buy or sell? — the front office ultimately elects to take. Yes, half the remaining tilts (35 of 70) are against clubs with winning records, but 24 of those 35 are at The K. And 22 of the final 70 contests are against absolute sellers in Minnesota (nine games), the Chicago White Sox (10) and Miami (three). :02 … Danny Duffy
The road back from Tommy John surgery is long, but it sounds as if the 24-year-old fireballer — remember him? — is only a few laps away from returning to the Royals’ rotation. The young left-hander has a 2-0 record and a 5.06 ERA in seven appearances at Triple-A Omaha, and on July 1 was named the Pacific Coast League’s Pitcher of the Week. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (a 4.85 ERA, a WHIP of 1.5 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.33 in 42 2/3 rehab innings), Duffy has said he’s pain-free, and reportedly throwing in the mid-to-low 90s again with ease. A healthy Duffy doesn’t alleviate the biggest thorn in the club’s backside — namely, the offense — but it does potentially offer the Royals some flexibility (and insurance), pitching-wise, down the stretch.
:01 … Shields, Santana and Billy Bats
For each of the Royals’ top two starters, the second half has historically offered a second wind. Shields has a 32-21 record in 72 August and September starts over his career, with an ERA of 3.48 over that span. Santana is 38-23 in 83 August/September starts, with an ERA of 3.76. Of slugger Billy Butler’s 235 career doubles, 89 of them (37.8 percent) have come in August and September; of his 111 career home runs, 40 (36 percent) have occurred over that same stretch. The law of averages says Country Breakfast is overdue for a feast.
… AND 3 REASONS TO TEMPER EXPECTATIONS
:03 … The schedule
The glass is half — well, it’s half something, depending on how you choose to look at it. On the plus side, of the final 70 games, 37 are at home. The down side? The doggiest part of the schedule comes at the doggiest part of the year — between July 30 and September 11, the Royals are slated to play 44 tilts in 44 days. Meanwhile, of the Tigers’ 68 post-break contests, 25 — 36.7 percent — are dances with the lowly Twins, White Sox and Marlins. And of Cleveland’s 67 second-half tests, 30 of them — 44.8 percent — are against the shoplifters’ row of the Twins, White Sox, Marlins and Astros.
:02 … History
For ages, conventional wisdom blamed extended Royals losing streaks on the lack of front-line starting pitching; now that the club has put together its best rotation in years, the bats are stuck in the kind of funk James Brown couldn’t dance his way out of. An eight-game slide from May 22-29 was painful enough, but that hurt is compounded by the fact that the Royals, in recent years, haven’t been able to balance out those tough stretches with a corresponding run of victories. The Royals haven’t won eight games in a row since 2003, and haven’t won as many as 10 in a row since 1994. That those are the only two winning seasons the franchise has seen over the last 19 years doesn’t seem like a total coincidence, does it?
:01 … The misery of May
Even the elite clubs can’t avoid potholes; over the last 13 seasons, seven American League teams that reached the postseason had at least one month between April and August in which they played less than .400 ball. But such recoveries are also rare — that’s just seven out of the 53 AL postseason squads since 2000, or 13 percent. And only one of the seven — the 2002 Oakland Athletics — had a month in which it won fewer than a third of its games, posting a .320 winning percentage in April. The Royals went 8-20 in May, a .286 clip that put everybody behind the 8 ball. You can endure a crummy month and contend. But May 2013 might prove, in one fell swoop, to be a hole too deep and a bridge too far.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.