Each of the past two Augusts, I’ve written about a Royals series against contending teams that came in front of big, loud crowds and wondered if that would be the high point of the season. It likely was in 2013. Last year, though, things got about a kazillion times better over the next two months.

I mention that because I can’t help but wonder if last night was as good as it will get for this year’s version of the Royals. The crowd wasn’t as big or boisterous as those crowds for the Red Sox and Giants series. It was a cool Wednesday night against Tampa, who are good, but not exactly a big draw, even with Chris Archer on the mound.

But the Royals were coming off a dramatic sweep of a double header on Tuesday, and won Wednesday with flair and mid-innings drama. At the end of the night, they were 16 games over .500 and 4.5 games up in first place. When you consider just that, it seems like a pretty great moment in a season that has been mostly very good since Opening Day.

Ahhh, but there is always a rub. And the rub last night was Alex Gordon going down with a fairly serious injury that will cost him, at minimum, a month of games, and likely multiple months.

I don’t know if Alex is the best player on the Royals. Lorenzo Cain can make an awfully good case for that over the past 12 months. And Eric Hosmer, despite his terrible slump, probably has more raw talent than Alex.

I don’t know if Alex is the most indispensable player on the Royals. He’s definitely in the conversation, but given his streaky bat at Jarrod Dyson’s defense, it feels like you can find a way to fill Alex’s talent void better than if Salvador Perez was to miss a month.

I don’t know if Alex is the clear leader of the team. Again, I think that’s a role he shares with Perez.

But if you think about all the ways that Alex contributes, about how he gives the team great at-bats even when he’s scuffling, about how anything hit to left field is likely an out, about how he shows up every day even when nicked up, I think he becomes the toughest guy to lose.

It’s not insignificant that he is likely the most popular player on the team, too. Losing him is a psychic blow to the fan base that has watched him go from brightest prospect in the game, to complete bust, through the process of totally overhauling his game, to becoming one of the most well-rounded and valuable players in the game.

Oh, and there’s the specter that, if this is a three-month injury, he may have played his final game for the Royals. Even with a nasty injury, he’s almost certainly priced himself out of the Royals budget. Unless he’s a way better guy than everyone thinks and willing to give up $4–5 million/year to stay in KC. And he’d be an idiot to do that.

The Royals are already fighting injuries and slumps all over the diamond. There’s always the hope, though, that the other injured guys will be back soon, and the guys who can’t hit their weight over the past month will get it turned around. Alex being out until the late part of the season, though? Man, that feels like almost too much to overcome.

Given the Royals place in the standings, and how many injuries, suspensions, and poor performances they’ve had to dodge this season, it’s kind of a miracle that they are still in the lead in the division and have one of the best records in baseball.

No, you know what it is? It’s a testament to Ned Yost and Dayton Moore and how they’ve managed and constructed this team.

Wow, things I never thought I would say for $400, Alex!

No one in the majors wanted Christ Young. He’s been the Royals best starting pitcher over the first half of the season. Joe Blanton may be turning back into a pumpkin, but he filled in nobly a couple nights, including the evening he out-dueled Felix Hernandez in Seattle. Kendrys Morales has been fantastic when everyone else thought his career was over.

Yes, Alex Rios has been a complete bust. And Omar Infante looks like a terrible signing with two-plus years left on his contract. But not everyone is perfect.

The Royals are in first place despite big, consistent holes in their lineup and three-fifths of their Opening Day rotation spending significant time on the DL.

Props to the guys who are running the team.

Now comes the real test. Can Dayton find someone to plug into Alex’s hole. The Royals already needed another bat badly, and were apparently looking (smartly) at adding one over going after another arm for the rotation. Now they need two bats.

The good news is Mike Moustakas should be back soon. The odds are that Eric Hosmer isn’t going to be a disaster at the plate the entire second half. Get Moose back and get Hosmer going, and that helps the offense a lot. But I think it’s going to take more than Ben Zobrist to give the Royals a chance to not only get into October, but keep it going deep into the playoffs. Be bold, Dayton!

The rest of the American League Central has been kind of awful this year. Everyone keeps saying the Twins are going to fall back to earth. But they haven’t yet and, honestly, feel a little like last year’s Royals. Detroit will likely spend some money and make an effort to get back in the race. Cleveland still has better starting pitching than anyone in the division, and will always be a threat even if they field about as well as my daughter’s softball team. And I can’t believe the White Sox are as bad as they’ve been through the first half.

In other words, the Royals are going to have to win this thing rather than coast through the second half assuming the rest of the division is garbage.

Losing Alex doesn’t kill that dream. But it sure as hell makes it a lot tougher.