It’s been nearly a month since Alex Gordon was last listed in the Kansas City Royals starting lineup. The outfielder was carted off the field after straining a groin muscle chasing a flyball in early July. Doctors said he’d be out for eight weeks, and as of last Monday, the team had spent more than three weeks without the three-time all-star.
“He’s one of the heart(s) and souls of this team,” Manager Ned Yost said after the injury. “So when something like that happens, it’s a little disturbing to everybody.”
Kansas City looked to mitigate the effects of losing one of the team’s most critical cogs, and Lorenzo Cain has unquestionably elevated his offensive game in recent weeks. As of Monday, the 29-year-old had a batting average (.314) and an on-base percentage (.371) that ranked in the top 10 in the American League, and he ranked fourth in the league in Wins Above Replacement (5.8).
It could be coincidental, but Cain stepped up to the plate after the loss of Gordon, whom most consider to be the team’s most potent offensive weapon. The center fielder posted the best batting average (.367), on-base percentage (.424), and Weighted Runs Created Plus (201) score, a metric that takes into account park and league effects on a player’s Weighted Runs Created score, of his season in July. Last month, he squared up at the plate, put the ball in play at a higher rate, saw regressions in strikeout percentage (10.1 percent of at-bats, a season low) and plated more teammates than in any month this season. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have Cain posting the third highest WAR (1.6) among center fielders the rest of the season, behind reigning MVP Mike Trout and 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen.
Yost has looked to Jarrod Dyson primarily to fill in for Gordon, though Ben Zobrist has started in left field each game since he was traded to the team. Neither provides a seamless replacement for Gordon in the long term, but the team can tread water until he returns.
The Royals, who were 4 1/2 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central Division at the time of Gordon’s injury, had the best record in the American League and a comfortable eight-game lead on the division as of Monday. Fangraphs gives them a 98.6 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason and a 96.4 percent of winning the division outright, the highest likelihood of any team in baseball. Kansas City is 13-9 since Gordon’s injury, but Cain has bolstered a volatile offensive unit and has the team anxiously awaiting what could be another deep postseason run.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.