Richard Justice

Royals will be tested by Gordon's absence

Deep club should be able to endure latest speed bump

Royals will be tested by Gordon's absence

Maybe the Kansas City Royals will pass this latest test, too. This certainly isn't their first speed bump of 2015.

On the other hand, outfielder Alex Gordon's absence could have more of an impact than any of the other disappointments the Royals have dealt with during these first three-and-a-half months.

Gordon is a proven offensive contributor -- .809 OPS the past four seasons -- and one of the best defensive outfielders on the planet. He has had a hand in everything Kansas City has accomplished the past two seasons.

Gordon will be sidelined around two months with a groin injury, and while the temptation is to say we're about to find out a lot more about the Royals, maybe we already know enough.

Since last July 22, they're 101-64, including the postseason. That's eight more victories than the next National League club (Cardinals) and 15 more than the next American League club (Orioles).

In a 2015 season dotted with injuries, absences and disappointing performances, Kansas City has sailed to the best record in the AL (52-34) and a 4 1/2-game lead in the AL Central.

When a club has won that much over a significant period of time -- and especially when it has excelled on baseball's biggest stage, going 41-23 down the stretch and 11-4 in the postseason -- it gains a confidence that it surely didn't have before.

Beyond that, a club develops a belief that it can overcome almost anything. While the Royals appreciate how good Gordon is and what he has meant to them, good teams believe no single player's loss can derail a season.

Answers will come quickly. The Royals and White Sox are the first teams back on the field after the All-Star break Friday afternoon. For Kansas City, the doubleheader begins a stretch in which it plays 15 of 21 games on the road.

The Royals endured plenty of disappointment to get to this level, and that disappointment may have helped this group develop its toughness. General manager Dayton Moore was hired in 2006 with a blueprint based on a constructing a great farm system.

Moore built his club one brick at a time, and when his best kids began arriving in 2011, it was easy to think the worst was over. Instead, Kansas City endured two more seasons out of the postseason before taking off last season.

The Royals were 48-50 last July 21, and at that point, it was easy to wonder if Moore's blueprint was going to work. Now a year after winning the AL pennant, Kansas City would surprise no one by winning the World Series.

In Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas, they have a core four that's among baseball's most productive. And there are those three shutdown relievers -- Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland -- lined up for the final nine outs.

No general manager had a better efficient offseason than Moore, who lost staff ace James Shields and designated hitter Billy Butler to free agency. He spent smartly and took some chances, which is what the clubs without an unlimited budget always do.

Moore filled the DH job by signing Kendrys Morales and then got Alex Rios for the outfield and Chris Young and Edinson Volquez for the rotation. Then, to an already deep roster, he added even more depth.

Moore signed reliever Ryan Madson, who hadn't pitched a game in the big leagues in four seasons and got a reliable arm for the middle innings (38 appearances, 2.02 ERA). He also took a chance on right-hander Kris Medlen, the former Atlanta ace recovering from a second Tommy John surgery.

Only Rios hasn't matched Moore's expectations, and now with Medlen on the verge of returning to the big leagues, the Royals have the kind of pitching depth other teams are attempting to acquire.

(We haven't even mentioned two of Kansas City's prized kids, both left-handers, Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb. But they add to a the pitching depth that gives Moore all kinds of flexibility.)

Here's the interesting part: Despite all that pitching, Moore is checking to see if there are top-of-the-rotation arms available. His shopping list surely includes Shields, Johnny Cueto and David Price, but it's unclear if any of them will be moved. Moore also has the depth to add a bat, and if the Padres decide to trade Justin Upton, the Royals almost certainly will be interested.

The Royals were a long time getting to this point, and there was plenty of frustration along the way. Now, though, they're clearly capable of making another deep October run.

Moore's challenge between now and the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline is to think big or small. Or maybe to stay the course. The Royals are in a good place, even without a single addition.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.