The second half of the season begins tonight, let's take a look at things we want to see in order to have confidence in this team having a shot at contention in 2012.
1. A strong second half from Alex Gordon. Obviously Gordon's first half has been the brightest spot for the 2011 Royals to date. For Royals fans and bloggers like myself who have defended Gordon and blamed his late blooming on injuries and bad luck, this season has come as a huge relief. But so far we have played just over half of the games on the 2011 slate. Gordon has come a long way, but a collapse in the second half could cause a similar collapse in fan's dreams for 2012.
2. Billy Butler finding his power stroke. Despite Butler walks being virtually unparralled by any other Royal in the last two decades, posting an on base percentage near .400. Butler has been a big disappointment for Royals fans in 2011. Whether or not this is fair is another discussion, but I think we can all agree that if Butler could start slugging the ball like he did in 2009, or even just like he did in 2010, we would be much more confident in his ability to be a middle of the order hitter.
3. An efficient Danny Duffy could go a long way. I'm not asking for Duffy to become a dominant pitcher in the second half (though if he did it would definitely go a long way), but if he can just be more efficient in controlling the strike zone and his pitch counts. This would allow him to go deeper in the games, reducing the strain on the bullpen and allow him to pound the strike zone even more with his great stuff.
4. Eric Hosmer developing into a Superstar. It may be unfair to ask so much of Hosmer, but in my opinion he warrants it. It takes times for hitters to develope and normally they don't fully hit their stride until year two or three. But I truly believe that Hosmer is going to be ahead of the curve. If Hosmer can continue to improve his numbers in the second half, maybe just post around a .300/.350/.450 line in the second half then Royals fans are going to be really excited about the first base position when they look toward 2012.
5. A good luck Felipe Paulino or really even just a not unlucky Felipe Paulino. Throughout his career Paulino has consistently posted head scratching era numbers considering the strength of his peripherals. He has knockout stuff and a dynamite fastball. His body type suggests he can handle a big time workload, so if Paulino's luck pendulum can swing in the opposite direction or even hang straight down the Royals will have found one/fifth of their rotation through 2014 for nothing at all.
6. Mike Moustakas driving the ball with power. Mike Moustakas hasn't looked overwhelmed in his time in the Majors and he has put together solid at bats on a consistent basis. However, he hasn't been the player that those of us that have seen in the minors have come to love. He doesn't appear to be swinging as hard and his power has been virtually non existent. A strong second half from Moustakas could be just what Royals fans need to really buy into Mission 2012.
7. Luke Hochevar has to be better. Luke Hochevar is beginning to transition into Kyle Davies territory and if he can't put together a strong second half then I wouldn't have any problem with the Royals trading him in the offseason even though it would mean selling low.
8. Alcides Escobar building off of his offensive outburst. I'm not going to ask for Escobar to become a .300 hitter (though I think it is possible). But if he can get his average up into the high .260s by the end of the year, Royals fans will recognize the value that he brings with his glove and an average bat for the position.
9. Continued dominance from the bullpen. The bullpen has a huge bright spot for the 2011 Royals and the best news is that every single pitcher is under team control through at least 2014. If this unit can continue to find success and dare I say even improve, it could be a tremendous asset for the Royals moving forward.
10. Mike Montgomery righting the ship and even finding time in Kansas City this summer could be huge for Royals fans expectations for 2012. The glaring weakness of this team is the rotation. The team needs a frontline starter. Montgomery has that potential and if he can continue to dominate like he did in his last two starters Royals fans should really start to have a lot of confidence for 2012.