The Kansas City Royals are right in the middle of the AL playoff picture after sweeping a doubleheader. [Leon Halip/Getty Images]
This morning, Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger asked
, “Is it a stretch to call this the most important single day of Royals baseball in a decade?”
The Royals were set to play a doubleheader in Detroit -- game Nos. 2 and 3 of what early-season rained turned into a rare five-game series -- and, Mellinger argued, it was the most important day of actual baseball for the franchise since their last year of contention in 2003.
After K.C. swept Detroit 2-1 and 3-0 to cut the division deficit to 6 1/2 and, pending tonight’s West Coast action, to move within 4 1/2 games of the second wild card, the day is looming even larger.
The important caveat in Mellinger’s column was that it purposefully excluded key off-field events, such as momentous trade of Carlos Beltran and, especially, Wil Myers. The latter move set the tone for the 2013 season as the Royals sacrificed years of control of Myers -- last season’s minor league player of the year -- to trade for starters James Shields and Wade Davis.
That Shields threw seven innings of three-hit shutout ball in the nightcap reinforced the fact that GM Dayton Moore’s daring trade undeniably improved the club this season (and next, the final year of Shields’ contract), though he may have done so at the expense of budding offensive greatness: Myers has nine homers in his first 47 games and an OPS over .900.
A trade such as this can’t be evaluated so soon, of course, but Myers’ great rookie season shouldn’t overshadow the Royals’ first year of competitiveness since 2003. K.C. is 21-8 since the All-Star break, the AL’s best second-half record and third only to the Dodgers and Braves in the majors. Relatedly, the Royals’ reconstructed rotation -- which also includes Davis, who was acquired alongside Shields, as well as Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, both trade acquisitions after the start of the 2012 season -- has a 2.50 ERA since the break, which also ranks third in the majors.
The Royals’ 83-win season in 2003 was their last winning record and also the last time they played meaningful ball in August, so Friday’s doubleheader sweep over the Tigers would seem to qualify as their most important game day in a decade. But the Royals dug enough of a first-half hole -- eight games out of a playoff spot at the break -- that in order for this season to end in Kansas City’s first playoff appearance since 1985, it’ll take several more “most important” days.