The Kansas City Royals took over first place in the American League Central Monday night for the first time since June and at the latest point in the season since they led the division in July of 2003. The Royals have currently won 8 straight games and are winners of 11 of their last 12. With the Detroit Tigers on a recent skid and former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander having inflammation in his throwing shoulder, the next few weeks could be very promising for Kansas City.
How they got here
Since the All-Star Break, the Royals have the best record in the major leagues. Last year the Royals had the best record in the American League after the All-Star break, so it should be no surprise the team is continuing to play well in the hot summer months. The team’s bullpen has been huge during this winning streak and all season. Contributions from Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis have made closer Greg Holland‘s job very easy, as few runs have been given up all season by the three of these guys.
The resurgence of Billy Butler has been a key the past couple weeks as well, as he has been able to add more power to the lineup especially in a time where first baseman Eric Hosmer is on the DL. Butler has been solid in the field as well; Ned Yost and the team have not skipped a beat in the absence of Hosmer.
Will it last?
For me personally, I have never seen the Royals in first place this late in the season. Kansas City is not much of a transient town, so most fans who lived during the “glory days” in the 70’s and 80’s are still in the city, however there is a strong young fan base currently surrounding the Royals, so this feeling is new to a lot of people. The last thing anyone wants is to have so much excitement in August and then flare out in September and miss the playoffs once again.
There is a good chance this could be the year the Royals finally get over the hump and play in October. When you add up the injuries to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez for the Tigers, their ailing defense with the loss of Austin Jackson, and their recent slide in the standings, the Royals have the opportunity now to create a cushion that could last throughout the month and hopefully throughout the rest of the season.
At some point I expect the Tigers to bounce back and begin to play like the Tigers again, but Ned Yost made it clear that he and the ballclub are not playing for a wild card spot but are eyeing a division title.
Unrealistic? I don’t think so. The Royals starters are not as deep as Detroit’s, but has a very solid core, and if they can get to their bullpen with the lead, it’s pretty much been a guaranteed done deal at that point.
Obviously no team can win every game and with 45 games remaining including tonight, the Royals will lose again. However, it is not naive to believe that this team can in fact win the division. I believed at the beginning of the year that the Royals would get one of the two wild card spots, but I also did not envision them being where they are today, so with what I know now, I am setting the bar a little higher.
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