The road might be just what the Kansas City Royals need, as the long knives are starting to come out in the local media—not unjustified after a ten-game losing streak, all at home—and a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians starting tonight is already looming as make-or-break.
Cleveland is 8-6 and a game back of the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. The Indians respectable play early on is primarily due to an offense that ranks 6th in the AL in runs scored, and that is primarily due to some phenomenal patience at the plate. Travis Hafner leads the majors in on-base percentage at .509 and he’s part of a group of three Indians, including leftfielder Shelley Duncan and catcher Carlos Santana, to already have double-digit walks.
Santana and second baseman Jason Kipnis have each hit three home runs, while third baseman Jack Hannahan is off to a hot start, with a .341 average. I’m skeptical that Hannahan will be a viable offensive threat for the long haul, but Royals’ pitching has to deal with the player who exists right now, and the Hannahan of present is locked in. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is off to a nice start with an OBP/Slugging line of .333/.513. Should Hannahan or anyone else cool off, then rightfielder Shin-Soo Choo is due to heat up. Add it all up and you have the makings of a nice offensive group in Cleveland.
Where the Tribe can beaten is in their starting pitching. The Royals will face Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin and Ubaldo Jiminez in that order. While the first and last names in that trio sound impressive, Lowe is far from unbeatable and Jiminez has been a portrait in mediocrity since his blazing first half in 2010. All three are capable of good games, but if you don’t believe the Kansas City offense is good enough to do some damage, then you never believed in this team to begin with.
Kansas City will send Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza to the mound. Sanchez and Hochevar have each looked good in their last outing, although Ned Yost could use each one going deeper into the game—say into or through the seventh. And Mendoza must bounce back from a disastrous outing against Toronto over the weekend.
If the Royals can’t take leads into the seventh, they are going to have problems, because Cleveland’s bullpen is deep and consistent. And the last thing this struggling team needs is to play from behind the next three days in any case.