The halfway point of the season is here, and the Kansas City Royals could really use this All-Star break. The franchise has been snakebitten with injuries and endured a 12-game skid, but at this writing the boys in blue are within striking distance of first place in the American League Central, a few games behind the Chicago White Sox.
To mark the midway point and reflect on a visit from Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, The Pitch asked the experts to grade the team's performance and evaluate its second-half chances. We polled national sports reporters Jeff Passan (Yahoo! Sports) and Sean Keeler (Fox Sports) as well as respected Royals bloggers Rany Jazayerli (Rany on the Royals), Michael Engel (Kings of Kauffman), Bob Stalder (Pine Tar Press), Bill Ivie Jr. (I-70 Baseball), Jeff Zimmerman (Royals Review), and Craig Brown (formerly of Royals Authority, which merged into Royals Review).
Read on for their reasons that Royals fans should feel optimistic (or the opposite) about the weeks between now and October.
Biggest Surprise of the Season
Jeff Passan: I didn't think Mike Moustakas would be this good this quickly. It's like he's gone from zero to getting it on a much steeper learning curve than most guys his age do. He slumped as a rookie and he's been fantastic this year.
Craig Brown: Mike Moustakas has been a revelation at third with the glove. It's strange to refer to him as a "surprise" since he's been one of the club's top prospects, but after he struggled in his debut last season, the speed with which he's become a really solid all-around player has been the best story of the year.
Sean Keeler: Jonathan Broxton. Closing games is about attitude as much as anything else, and the big guy still has plenty of moxie left in the tank.
Michael Engel: The way the Royals didn't let a 12-game losing streak sink them. In the past, that would be the nail in the coffin right away, but they've fought back.
Bill Ivie Jr.: Mike Moustakas' consistency at the plate.
Bob Stalder: Mike Moustakas has shown more defensively for me than I thought he was capable of. Tim Collins has been tremendous this season out of the pen. At the time I write this, his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is .096, and the league is hitting .171 off him. He is also third on the team in strikeouts, even though he is not a starter, with 49 K's in 34.1 innings. That is truly phenomenal.
Jeff Zimmerman: How good Alcides Escobar has hit. He seemed to be lost while hitting at times last year.
Rany Jazayerli: Mike Moustakas is not only excelling offensively but defensively. He's been a valuable performer at the plate all year, and in the field he's been a revelation — he showed up to spring training in shape, and he's making plays no one expected him to.
Passan: Injuries. Felipe Paulino blew out his arm ... and he's having Tommy John surgery. That makes four guys on this staff — Joakim Soria, Blake Wood, Danny Duffy and now Felipe Paulino — who are going to have Tommy John surgery within a four-month span.
Keeler: Eric Hosmer, obviously. Although Jonathan Sanchez somehow seems to make that Melky Cabrera trade — a deal that made perfect sense in the fall — look worse with each start.
Engel: I think long-term he'll be among the best ever in franchise history, but Eric Hosmer has struggled in a few ways.
Brown: The putrid offense. This team is the second-worst in the AL in runs scored per game. Last year, with roughly the same lineup, they ranked sixth best in the league. If I have to point fingers, I'm looking at you, Mr. Hosmer.