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Sharing a six pack with Royals Review

We sat down with Matthew LaMar and Joshua Ward of Royals Review to get his take on the surprising Kansas City team.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

It's been quite a season for both the Twins and the Royals. The three-game series that starts tonight at Target Field may overshadow the draft, or the draft may overshadow what is undoubtedly the biggest set of the year for both clubs, but one thing is certain: if both teams head into the stretch run still in the fight, this series could loom very large - in the minds of the players if not in the standings.

The draft kicks off in just under three hours; first pitch is in just under four. Let's see what Matt and Josh think about those Royals.

Nobody predicted the Royals and Twins to be among the best teams in the American League this season, which makes this series a lot of fun...for those of us who are actually fans of these two teams. What would you say are the three biggest reasons for the Royals' success in the early going?

Matt: The biggest two reasons are clearly Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.  Both were underwhelming in 2014 (and in Moustakas' case, terrible) and both are having fantastic seasons.  Moustakas has been the true revelation; the difference offensively between his 2015 and 2014 is basically how much better 2009 Joe Mauer was to the average hitter that year.  Hosmer's breakout is less of a surprise and more of a relief, as his career has been bipolar so far. He hits with average, plate discipline, and power. The two have been worth 3.9 WAR so far. They were worth 0.8 WAR all of last year.

The third reason is the bullpen has been excellent. Last year, the cyborg trio of Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, and Wade Davis were historically great. There were real concerns that the bullpen would regress. Though Holland and Herrera have a bit, their supporting cast is much better. Luke Hochevar, Ryan Madson, Jason Frasor, and Brandon Finnegan have been significantly better than last year's group of Aaron Crow, Michael Mariot, Tim Collins, and Louis Coleman.

Josh: Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Kendrys Morales. Through April and May, the three of them carried the offense to make up for a lot of deficiencies in the starting rotation. Morales has cooled off over the past month or so, Hosmer hasn't hit a home run since May 14th, and Moustakas has one home run over that same period, which is why you see the offense struggling and, by extension, the Royals losing more often.

Is there any way for the Royals to still be in the hunt in another two months?

Matt: Yes. The Royals have a great run differential and equally great 2nd and 3rd order winning percentages. It took a 20-7 May from the Twins and a 3-9 run by the Royals for them to fall out of first, and they're all of one game out right now.

Josh: Yes, and it pretty much has to do with Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Both of them need to stay healthy and pitch like front-end starters. You are getting enough from 3-4-5 of the rotation to compete (well, maybe not 5), but where the Royals have really fallen down is at the start of the rotation. Duffy has been hurt and ineffective (5.87 ERA). Ventura has been really good but remarkably inconsistent, which is why his ERA is 4.62.

How the hell is Omar Infante getting so many All-Star game votes?

Matt: I'd guess aliens, but I don't know for sure.

Josh: At this point, I think he continues getting votes to reinforce the joke, the joke being that he has received so many votes, so it just kind of feeds on itself right now. It started off with good intentions, and then he continued plummeting towards, if I may be allowed to co-opt a reference, Pedro Florimon territory in terms of hitting. At least Florimon was a good defender. Infante is average, at best.

Full disclosure: I did not vote for Omar Infante. I voted for Jose Altuve.

Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are having the seasons that Royals fans had to have been waiting for. What's helped these guys turn the corner?

Matt: For Moustakas, he's showed a willingness to beat the shift by hitting the other way. Now teams aren't shifting on him as much, but his opposite-field approach has transformed his offensive game and it's still working for him.  He's also cut down on strikeouts.

I'm not sure Hosmer has done anything differently outside of walking more. He just seems to click sometimes, unleashing this inner beast of a ballplayer that is one of the most exciting hitters I've ever seen when he's hot.

Josh: Moustakas spent the off-season fixing his swing with hitting coach Dale Sveum. I think, after the World's Series appearance and the post-season success, he finally reached a point where he was willing to say that what he had been doing throughout his career was not working, and he had a strong desire to repeat his postseason success. If you re-watch the playoffs from last season (I did. It is a totally normal thing), the approach that Moustakas had throughout the Wild Card, ALDS, ALCS, and Series is essentially what he has continued this year, and it has worked out for him.

Hosmer is pretty much doing what he has always done, but with more success. He is walking more, but not much better than he did in 2012. He has hit for more power, but like I said, hasn't hit a home run in nearly a month. Honestly, I think he has improved, but there is also a decent amount of luck involved right now, as his .353 BABIP is over forty points higher than his career.

The Kansas City rotation looks like one area that would need definitive improvement to help the team going forward. Is there help on the way, will these guys need to figure it out for themselves, or is there hope that the front office might find some help on the trade market?

Matt: John Lamb intrigues me for internal help--he's a 24 year old lefty Tommy John survivor who has quietly put together a nice season in AAA. But he's about it. The Royals have been terrrriiiiibbbllle in developing starting pitching talent, and I don't see any saviors for the rotation within the next year. Jeremy Guthrie's spot in the rotation should be filled by someone better. I just fear that the Royals skim by on their improved offense and bullpen and decide not to give anybody up at the deadline.

Josh: There was a very brief rumor four weeks ago that the Royals were interested in Cole Hamels, and had gone so far as to send a scout to watch him pitch, but then again, I think there are likely twenty-eight other teams who have done the same thing. There have also been rumors about Scott Kazmir (which might be fine, for the right price) and Mike Leake (no thanks), but really if the Royals want to continue being in the playoff hunt this season, it is going to be because Ventura and Duffy start pitching like the team thinks they can.

Kris Medlen is a thing that exists in some nebulous future, so that could help, but it remains to be seen how he fits into the Royals rotation. A couple of minor league guys like Kyle Zimmer and Sean Manaea would be pleasant arrivals, however:  

-Zimmer was pulled from his start on June 7th with shoulder tightness. It was his second start of the year, and he has only thrown 9.1 innings in the past two seasons combined due to various injuries.

-Manaea has been dealing with an oblique injury all year and has spent the entire year in extended Spring Training. He also "tweaked" his groin a little over a week ago, and is now not likely to make his minor league debut this season until June 20th or thereabouts.

So yeah. If Ventura and Duffy don't get their acts together, the Royals might pursue a trade, but I doubt it. John Lamb might be the next guy called up if another injury happens, and I would be very interested to see what he can do in the major leagues.

Can you give us a quick scouting report on Jason Vargas, Chris Young, and Edinson Volquez?

Matt: Jason Vargas: crafty left, upper 80s fastball, good changeup and breaking stuff.  Deceptively cromulent.
Chris Young: tall as balls, induces more flyballs than anybody else on the planet. Mid 80s fastball, slider. Has been good for no apparent reason.

Edinson Volquez: low-mid 90s fastball, sinker, changeup, curve. Lives on the offspeed and breaking stuff.

Josh: Jason Vargas sucks. Chris Young is tall. Edinson Volquez has a very large forehead. Vargas is about what you would expect from a 5th starter, but he is currently the Royals 4th starter, owning a 4.79/.4.57/4.71, and he has been better since his stint on the disabled list. He still looks like he is getting away with pitches much less than he is making good ones, though. Chris Young has been the Royals second-best starter since replacing various injured guys (first Vargas, now Duffy) in the rotation. He does crafty things that annoy opposing team's fans (particularly since his fastball averages just 86.6 MPH), uses his height and reach to make up for his lack of velocity, and will generally craft his way around. He had two phenomenal starts his first time out, and since then has been relatively effective.

Edinson Volquez has been the Royals best starter, which hopefully does not remain true for the rest of the year, but his success from last season has carried over (he has been even better this year), and he has credited Dave Eiland with helping him continue his improvement and Salvador Perez for his pitch selection. He is mainly sinker/fastball with a knuckle curve and a changeup that has pretty sharp dip to it (essentially a slower-moving version of his sinker). He will be the most difficult starter that Minnesota faces, if not the most annoying one (See: Young, Chris).

Thanks, guys!