2015 has not been the season that either the Kansas City Royals or Alex Rios were counting on when Rios signed a 1 year, $11 mill dollar contract on December 19th of last year. The Royals might not have expected 2012 Alex Rios(where he hit .304./.334/.516 with 25 home runs, 91 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 126) but was hoping for a bit more production than the Texas Rangers got from Rios in 2014(4 homers and 54 RBI’s with a 97 OPS+). Instead, Rios was hit by a pitch the first week of the season and hadn’t rebounded from it since. That is until Rios came down with a case of the chickenpox(yes, that is still a thing) and has been lighting the ball up since his return on September 8th. In fact, Rios has probably gone from a man just on the outside looking in for a spot on the ALDS roster to the very probable starting right fielder when that game gets underway on October 8th.
As late as one week ago it appeared that Rios wasn’t going to be on the Royals Division Series roster, as he had been struggling all year and the team had the likes of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, both better defensively than Rios, and Jonny Gomes, a solid bat off the bench that kills lefties. Royals manager Ned Yost was continuing to play Rios every day, for a couple of reasons. For one, he had just gotten back from his bout with the ‘pox’ a week earlier and deserved at least a chance to get back into a rhythm. The second reason is in that same vein, as the team was hoping Rios would hit a hot streak and take off, earning himself a spot on the roster, as the Royals would love to go with the hot hand(funny choice of words there) headed into October. There is also that bit about the Royals paying him a decent amount of money; we can act like that isn’t a reason but I would be shocked if it wasn’t. Now, to say Rios has been hot in the last two weeks might just be an understatement.
Since Rios’ return on September 8th, he has a line of .366/.386/.610 for an OPS of 996 and a BAbip of .394. The part of this that illicited a ‘Wow’ out of me was his slugging, a robust .610 in that span. Over the last few years, Rios lack of power has been a major concern since throughout his career he has shown he can accumulate a decent amount of extra base hits which is what the Royals were hoping for when he was signed. Problem is that Rios has dealt with hand and wrist issues over the last few years which seem to have sapped his power. Rios dealt with an ankle and thumb injury last year with the Rangers, then seemed to be battling a re-occurrence of that thumb inury in Spring Training earlier this year. Then there was the fractured hand he received thanks to a wild rookie on the Minnesota Twins that halted his good start to the season during the second week of April. Hands and wrists are very important to batters, as that is where a lot of the power a hitter shows comes from. Rios can probably blame the regression of his career on these injuries, as they seemed to have sapped most of his power he showed even as recent as 2012.
But you wouldn’t know that his power numbers have dipped these last couple seasons if you have watched him in September. Like I said, his slugging this month is .610, as he has 4 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI’s. Throw in a couple walks, a stolen base and 8 runs and you are looking at a man who might have realized his chance of getting to the playoffs might be slipping through his own fingers. What is really great about these numbers is how far they have jumped in just a few short weeks. Rios’ slugging percentage is up 30 points while his OPS is up over 40 points. Even his on-base percentage is up 10 points while he has doubled his home run total, all this in just a few weeks. Breaking it down even farther, just within the last week Rios is hitting .375/.400/.583 with 3 of those extra base hits during that span. I have to believe that Rios has leapfrogged Orlando for a spot on the Royals playoff roster, a spot that would break a streak you don’t want to be a part of in baseball.
If Rios makes the Royals Division Series roster, he will have broken a streak that no player wants to be a part of; he has played the most games of anyone active in baseball right now without playing in a playoff game. Rios’ streak of 1679 games over 12 seasons is the most in baseball at the moment, with the next man also looking to break his streak this season, 1392 games by Jose Bautista of Toronto. If Rios plays in just one playoff game he will fall off this list, as the next two players look to disappear off this list as well(Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion). Chase Headley follows them 1109 games, but that could fall as well with the Yankees possibly making the Wild Card game. If that happens, Adam Lind of Milwaukee would become the active player without a playoff appearance with over 1100 games by that point. As much as there are some great names on this all-time list(Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and George Sisler just to name a few), as a player you want no part of this. That is yet another incentive for Rios to keep up his hot hitting.
There is no guarantee that Rios will 100% be on the playoff roster, but with only two weeks remaining in the season it looks like a good bet that he will be and start in right field for game 1 of the ALDS. The Royals really haven’t gotten what they expected from Rios this season(and I wouldn’t expect him back in 2016) but he has gotten hot at the right time. There are a lot of choices for the motivation, whether it be being left off the roster, wanting to break his streak of avoiding October baseball or even the threat of shingles, but what can be said is the Royals need Rios to hit like he has lately to help them next month. Many players have come out of nowhere to become October darlings, guys like Mark Lemke. I wouldn’t have any problem with Rios’ name being added to that list, even if it means negating what the previous five months have shown us about his production. At this point, it appears Alex Rios is awake and making pitchers pay for it. Let’s hope this Rios sticks around for another month.