It is tough to explain what has happened to the Kansas City Royals in the 19 days since they were swept by the Houston Astros. Whatever it is, I don’t want it to stop. The window is open for the Royals to make a run at a postseason appearance, and it’s open wider than it’s been in a very long time.
Billy Butler is driving in runs and hitting the ball hard. The same can be said for Eric Hosmer. Alex Gordon was seemingly the first player to bust out of the team wide slump that lasted two months, and remains hot. Dale Sveum appears to be the greatest hitting coach ever, with the Royals winning 13 of 17 since he took over for Pedro Grifol.
Ten days ago, this team was in last place. Now, they sit just half a game behind the Tigers in the race for the American League Central, and sit in a tie with the Angels for the first Wild Card spot. It’s remarkable.
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That being said, it’s only June 17th, and this team is perfectly capable of losing eight in a row just as quickly as they won eight in a row. But this isn’t the time to look at the glass half empty. This is the hottest team in baseball and the team they’re chasing is reeling, and has been for nearly a month, winning only nine of its last 27 games.
The Royals were treading water for so long, barely keeping from drowning. When the Astros left town on May 28th, the Royals were a season worst four games below .500. It felt like the season was lost, like the previous eight years were just another lost era of Kansas City. But something changed. The Astros were apparently just what this team needed to snap it out of its funk.
Now it gets really tough. While the Tigers have played very poorly in recent weeks, the Royals still won’t challenge Detroit without finding a way to beat them. And beat them they did on Monday night. The Royals beat the Tigers 11-8, and it wasn’t as close as the final line score indicates.
Before Donnie Joseph entered the game in the ninth inning and wet the bed, surely punching his bus ticket back to Omaha, the Royals had a nine run lead. It was an embarrassing performance from the Tigers perspective, but an ideal performance if you’re a Royals fan.
Outside of Mike Moustakas taking a bad hop off of his forehead, everything went the Royals way. Everyone in the lineup but Moustakas and Nori Aoki had a multi-hit game. It was the fifth time in the last six games the Royals had scored six or more runs. The 11 runs was a season-high, as were the 17 hits and the Royals now have the best run differential in the division.
But it was the first time this season they’ve won a game over the Tigers. Now 1-5 against Detroit, the Royals were a dismal 6-15 in games against AL Central teams a week ago, but have ripped off six straight and sit at 12-15. That’s a trend that needs continue, especially when the calendar flips from June to July.
Obviously, the next three games wildly important. They face reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer tonight, who they haven’t beat since August 29th, 2011. But they’re only games No. 70, 71 and 72. There will be 90 games remaining when the Royals return home for a nine-game home stand against Seattle, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, with the Mariners and Angels being teams that will compete with the Royals all year for the Wild Card spots.
But if the Royals are to become what we all want them to be, the month of July provides the best opportunity to make a serious move.
At first glance, the schedule in July can look a bit daunting, with 14 of the first 18 games away from Kauffman Stadium. But of the 25 games the Royals will play in July, 19 of them come against teams in division, and only 11 of them come against teams with records currently above .500.
The remaining 13 games in June and the aforementioned games in July will go a long ways to determining the success of the 2014 season in Kansas City. Games against divisional foes are important for obvious reasons. Winning games against marginal or bad teams is just as important.
Playoff teams in 2012 and 2013 had a .630 winning percentage against teams with a record below .500. The Royals in that time were just 67-71 against losing teams, and thus, they haven’t sniffed the postseason. This year, the Royals are 17-12 against losing teams, which is decent, but not good enough. The next six weeks will afford them plenty of opportunities to pad their record against losing teams and in turn, their standing in the playoff race.
It’s easy as fans to live and die with each game. It’s hard to remain even keeled because when the Royals lose a game, it feels like they’re miles away from where they need to be. When they win, and they’ve won a lot in the last three weeks, we start to get the taste of what could be. The Kansas City Royals are the hottest team in baseball.
It would be nice if it could stay that way.
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