And as June marched on, its oppressive, triple-digit heat gripping Kansas City by the balls and roasting the flesh of the inhabitants therein, a curious thing began to happen to the city’s baseball team: they began to play decent baseball.
Despite pitcher Felipe Paulino’s groin strain that somehow morphed into an injury requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery, and despite the glaringly evident fact that Jonathan Sanchez is a useless pile of crap that needs to be jettisoned—and now—the Royals find themselves 6 games under .500 and only 5.5 games back in the lousy American League Central.
After April’s miserable origins, and an up and down May, the ROYALS ARE 5.5 GAMES BACK IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL. It seems improbably, but I assure you, it is not.
And though Sanchez is as exciting as making out with your stepmom at the lake, and Jonathan Broxton will almost certainly begin to finally, spectacularly implode, finally losing his luck in the 9th inning heart-attacks for which he is so mystifyingly fond (a man of his stature can only wiggle for so long), there are players on this team who have made all of this winning possible. They are June’s Heroes, and they shall not go unnoticed.
Until Butler stops crushing the ball like a fat guy in a rec-league softball game and reverts back to the singles hitter with occasional doubles power that he has been for most of his career, he will continue to make this monthly roundup.
Billy Butler is on a season long tear, and miraculously, shows no signs of stopping.
In the month of June, Butler hit five homeruns, drove in 13 and while hitting .315. He is on pace to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 on the season. These are all-star numbers. Billy Butler is an all-star. A LEGITIMATE all-star, at that. I don’t CARE that he can’t play a position defensively; he is huskily asserting himself as one of the best hitters in baseball, at the tender age of 26.
It’s hard to not be excited about the long-term prospects of B-But as a Kansas City Royal.
And now for something completely different.
Escobar—who came to the Royals as part of the Zack Greinke deal—was primarily acquired for his defensive supremacy at shortstop. He’s a tall, lithe Ozzie Smith whose adolescent skin and braces make him look 15. The initial report was that the offensive potential was there, and now the delicious report-tree is beginning to bear sweet, sweet fruit—to the tune of LEADING THE MAJOR LEAGUES IN BATTING AVERAGE FOR SHORTSTOPS. Say what? Say THAT.
A career .264 hitter, “Esky,” as he is often annoyingly called, is hitting .309. And though he’ll never have Butleresque power potential, he’s on pace to hit 40 doubles this season.
Couple his recent offensive output with his continued defensive wizardry, and you’ve got yourself a fine ballplayer on the cheap ($1mil this year).
If only all of Dayton Moore’s acquisitions could be as great as Escobar.
But then how about this?
“El Lobo,” as I’d like him to be called, has quietly had an amazing June, and only studying his stats paint the full picture of his surprising success.
He started off the month by going 5 innings against the Twins, giving up 5 hits and 2 earned runs. Meh. Decent, but not great.
In his next start, something amazing happened. POSESSED BY THE SPIRIT OF A WILD WOLF, he went 6 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, giving up ONE HIT and ONE RUN. The hit? That sonofabitch didn’t come until the 7th inning. No fucking kidding.
(I was watching that game with my wife, screaming at the television as though it was the 7th game of the World Series and I had some sort of rooting interest. I was thinking, “if he pitches a no-hitter, I am OBLIGATED to buy a Luis Mendoza jersey, right? Will I be the only person in the history of the world to own a Luis Mendoza jersey? You know, aside from Luis Mendoza?” I decided that I probably would be.)
His only hiccup on the month was his June 23rd start in KC against the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals—I was there, it was awful, trust me—but last Friday night’s effort at Minnesota was easily his best of the season: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 5 K, 0 BB.
Those are ASTOUNDING numbers, especially from a scrap-heap pickup who is making under $500K this year. And though his history tells us that this success isn’t likely to live forever, it’s nice to get it when the team is so desperate for even ADEQUATE starting pitching.
Full disclosure: Yuni and I are like, practically best friends. See, in his last KC go-round, he lived in my building. The last time I saw him, we were riding the elevator down to the ground floor. I was going somewhere—probably to beg for spare change, or whatever—and he was meeting the Subway guy for his delivery order (that’s right—when you’re a big star, you get perks like “Subway delivery”). And though we didn’t speak, our silence spoke volumes. So to me, Betancourt will always hold a place in my heart as a quiet, polite Cuban with an affinity for avoiding eye contact and eating turkey on wheat with lite mayo.
(And yeah, I know I’ve told this story before, but aside from my dad drunkenly pissing in front of Terry Shumpert in the exit-tunnel that leads from the bowels of the stadium to the player’s parking lot when I was a youngster waiting patiently to procure Storm Davis’ autograph, this is my favorite Royals’ encounter. [BTW—Shumpert? Great guy. My dad said, “good game, Terry!” and Terry said, “thanks, man,” without missing a beat, OR calling security on the dude pissing in the tunnel]).
Look, Yuniesky is a martyr. He was (and is) the symbol of everything that is wrong with this team: poor talent evaluation, overpaying a mediocre ballplayer to come to this shit-water burg, elusive hopes of a better tomorrow riding squarely on the shoulders of someone ill-equipped to provide such a tall order.
But the thing is, he comes through.
Though he only hit .243 in the month of June (and .252 on the season), he hit four of his five homeruns within the month. He drove in 22 runs within this period, leading the club by a good margin.
And he’s been doing it when it counts.
An RBI double giving the Royals the lead in the 14th against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Then, a two-out, two-run homer in the 15th to win it.
A two-run homerun in the third inning of the June 26th game against the Tampa Bay Rays that gave the Royals the lead, and eventually, the win.
Betancourt has inarguably been the best clutch performer the Royals have had all season (or at least, tied with Butler), and though he’s not the long-term answer as a starter at SS or 2nd, I’ll just never understandthe vehemence from Royals fans that curse him as the source of all ills.
Used properly—as a utility guy/spot-starter to spell a regular—he’s a nice piece of ANY winning team.
(and my best friend)
So there you have it. Four players who made this month fun to watch. The team is winning (mostly), .500 is within reach, and although Glazer wants to incessantly bitch about how Eric Hosmer is a failure, there are some bright spots on which to hang our hats.