Royals hope trip to Houston is the tonic they need

MUST HOLD SERVE: After the painful sweep at the hands of the Oakland A’s over the weekend, the Royals find themselves back at .500, which might have sounded promising back in February considering how many horrible starts the Royals have had in April and May over the years. But there is obvious disappointment now because the team recently was 17-10 and riding high after a huge come-from-behind win over the White Sox on May 5.  The Royals have lost 10 of 13 since, many in agonizing fashion.

The cure may come over the next three days in Houston against an Astros team that resembles a mediocre Triple-A outfit. The Astros already have suffered through three six-game losing streaks this season and have dropped eight of their last 10.

The importance of winning at least two of three from Houston is twofold: First, the Royals obviously need to salvage this road trip, which started so well in Anaheim, and second, the Royals need to hold serve against a Houston team that will be a tonic for every other team in the American League Central. The Tigers, for example, already have racked up six easy wins against Houston in seven tries. The Royals can’t waste this opportunity.

Houston’s offense is arguably worse than the Royals, who are 13th in the league in runs scored with 171. Houston is 12th with 173 runs, but the Astros have played four more games.

The contrast comes in the pitching department. The Royals have the third best ERA in the league at 3.54 and have allowed the fewest earned runs (139) in the league. The Astros’ pitching staff has been the worst in the league with a 5.49 team ERA – one would think the Royals’ anemic offense will come to life over the next three days.

GORDON SHOULD BE AN ALL-STAR: The Royals have been consistently wasting great starting pitching this season, especially from James Shields and Ervin Santana.

But another player’s efforts have been getting overlooked: Those of Alex Gordon, who has been by far the best hitter in this underproducing offense. Gordon is having a remarkable season (four more hits in a loss Sunday) and he should be a shoo-in to make his first All-Star team this July.

Gordon leads the league with 20 multi-hit games and now is hitting .343 (tied for third best in the AL) with six homers and 29 RBIs. He also is playing solid defensively and should nab his third Gold Glove this season as well.

THE NEW HOZ? Did you happen to notice Eric Hosmer’s new swing on Sunday? Hosmer began lifting his front leg dramatically again as a loading and timing mechanism (Billy Butler uses the same method). And the results were very encouraging. It’s the type of swing that Hosmer used in the minor leagues, then as a rookie and again early last season.

But Hosmer, desperate for answers, switched to a more quiet front leg as his struggles mounted last season and stayed with that approach for all of this season. But with a quieter front leg, Hosmer seemed late on most of his swings and also seemed unable to pull anything to the right side. Most of his hits this season haven been seeing-eye grounders and soft liners the other way.

But Hosmer seemed way more comfortable with an active lead leg on Sunday, and pulled a long out into the right-field corner as well as several other loud fouls to the right side. He also lashed two bullets the other way for hits.

Here’s hoping Hoz sticks with this approach for a while.

STICKING WITH MOOSE: Some fans were grumbling Sunday when manager Ned Yost stuck with slumping Mike Moustakas (one for his last 34) with the game on the line in the ninth inning.

That Yost didn’t pinch-hit with veteran Miguel Tejada tells me that Yost, although the team is in a win-now mode, is still concerned about development and wants Moose to learn from these situations.

You’ll recall that Yost stuck with Alcides Escobar countless times in 2011 with games on the line instead of pinch-hitting, and more often than not, Escobar failed. Yost got roasted by the media and fans for doing do, but Escobar learned during that process and now has become a reliable hitter in the lineup.

HERRERA’S STRUGGLES: Yost isn’t giving up on reliever Kelvin Herrera, either, though Yost did suggest he will ease Herrera back in the late-inning order and make Aaron Crow or Tim Collins (perhaps even Luke Hochevar) his primary set-up men to closer Greg Holland.

Yost may be concerned about the fact Herrera already has given up eight homers this season, but Yost also knows that Herrera’s struggles are likely tied to youth. Keep in mind that Herrera has had just one full season in the big leagues and is only 23. All young pitchers struggle early in their careers, and Yost’s mission is to keep Herrera’s confidence up. The Royals will need Herrera for years to come, long after we remember this tough spell.