KANSAS CITY, Mo. It seems strange to write this, but the upcoming Royals homestand may be the most important homstand for the team since 2003, the Royals' last winning season.
The Royals, as you probably know, have sunk to last place in the American League Central, eight games under .500, yet only 6 out of first.
The season isn't over.
And after a somewhat non-favorable schedule the first two months, the Royals finally transition into the part of their schedule where they theoretically can make a move.
My friend Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star has referenced this point of the season often, saying that if the Royals can stay somewhat in contention through June 3, they might then be able to make a move into relevancy.
So here we are. The Royals open with three games against the Twins, who a month ago looked very beatable. But the Twins have won seven of 10 and have vaulted into third. Still, this is a team the Royals should match up with very well. The Twins are 12th in the league in pitching with a 4.44 ERA maybe, just maybe, the Royals' slumbering offense wakes up for the first time this season.
The same goes for Houston, the league's worst team, which comes in for three games starting Friday. The Astros have the worst staff in the league with a 5.12 ERA and an ugly 1.58 WHIP.
But caution: The Astros took two of three from the Royals in Houston, and they have won five straight.
After that, the Royals play 16 of their next 21 games against division opponents. If the Royals are to salvage the season, they must make their move now.
SINGLES TEAM: We all know the problems the Royals are having in terms of the home run ball: They are last in the league in homers with 29, and if not for the punchless Marlins (28 homers), they'd be last in baseball.
But even more disturbing is that the Royals aren't getting extra-base hits like they did a year ago. The Royals were third in the league in doubles last year. This year they are 11th in doubles with just 91, which is also why they are last in slugging percentage at .368.
In the last seven games, the Royals have just one homer and 10 other extra-base hits. They have digressed into a singles-hitting offense, which makes it immeasurably more difficult to plate runs (obviously).
Until the Royals began driving the ball and the hope is that George Brett will have that influence as the new hitting coach they will continue to struggle to score. And to win.
MISSING HERRERA: If there ever was a time the Royals were missing an effective Kelvin Herrera, it was Sunday when manager Ned Yost was forced to use right-hander J.C. Gutierrez in a high-leverage situation in the eighth inning a 1-1 game with Texas.
Gutierrez served up the go-ahead homer in what ultimately became a 3-1 loss.
But that eighth-inning spot is normally reserved for Herrera, whose struggles (eight homers in 18 innings) got him a trip back to the minors. Herrera, though, has had five shutout appearances since his demotion to Triple-A Omaha and could be headed back to Kansas City soon.
NO HELP: Royals right-hander Ervin Santana has about the best disposition of any pitcher I've talked to in years. Santana never seems to get rattled during the game, or afterward when he must reflect on his many tough losses or no-decisions this season.
That's a good thing, because Santana could be the first to complain: He is getting the least amount of run support of any starter in the league at just 2.45 runs per game. James Shields is only a few notches up the ladder in that category, getting 3.50 runs per start.
Santana is only 3-5 despite a 3.03 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.
MAJOR TURNAROUND: Looking for a bright spot to the 2013 Royals? That's easy: Royals pitchers are finding the strike zone far more frequently than a year ago, and that is the primary reason their ERA is the fifth best in the league at 3.77.
Last year, the Royals were 12th of 14 teams in walks issued. This year, only three teams have walked fewer hitters than the Royals.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.