One month ago, the Kansas City Royals sat at 48-48, eight full games back of Cleveland, and five games back from Toronto for the second Wildcard spot. They were fading fast, and the feeling around Kansas City was that of a season from the 2000s, though the Royals were still over .500. Exactly one month later, Kansas City is 64-60, and four games over .500 for the first time since late June, and suddenly, the thought of reaching the playoffs for three straight years wasn’t such an unfathomable idea.
How they got there, however, is the story.
Entering August on the heels of a 7-19 month – matching the franchise’s fewest wins in July in their history, there weren’t many people who believed that the Royals would turn things around. The starting pitching was a disaster, the offense was at time offensive and the bullpen had lost two prominent late-inning relievers in Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar. 18 days ago, things were the bleakest they have been in a long time. Sitting at 51-58, the Royals were a loss away from falling to 8-games under .500 for the first time since 2013. Then, the Royals won a game. And another, and before you knew it, it was 13 wins in 15 games, and a 15-6 record for the month.
Led by the re-emergence of Alex Gordon and pitchers Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura (joining the already ace-like Danny Duffy), the Kansas City Royals are looking to make another mad dash to the playoffs, just as they did in 2014, where they used an unreal 24-6 run into a 3-game AL Central lead exactly two years ago today.
When Gordon agreed to terms with Kansas City, it was a celebration. After getting off to a rocky start, which included a record number of strikeouts, breaking his hand in a collision with Mike Moustakas, and coming back even colder than he started, the World Series Game 1 hero is finally starting to look like himself again. In the month of August, Gordon is hitting .294/.377/.603, with 10 RBIs, and six home runs – including a 5 homer in five days stretch last week. Gordon has also seen an increase in defensive play, and finally doesn’t look like a player who is trying to “play through an injury.”
In the month of August, Kennedy has dominated opposition, firing 27 innings, and only allowing two earned runs in that span, which is good enough for an ERA of 0.67. Ventura has also been solid in August. He’s twirled 25 innings, allowing seven runs, and striking out 22 batters. The two, with Danny Duffy (1.18 ERA in August) have lead a very taxed group of pitchers down the stretch, and will look to contend for a playoff spot, which wasn’t even looking like a possibility a month ago.
Other players that have sparked this turnaround are guys like Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer. Cain, who had missed an extended period of time in July, is hitting .324/.346/.432 with 12 RBIs in August, and has regained his strength and speed in right field. Hosmer, who had been a human atrocity at the plate since the month of May (5 HR, 27 RBI), is showing signs of breaking out, hitting .333 over the last week, with two home runs. Of course, both have remained defensive juggernauts, but they are going to have to sustain offensively if the Royals are going to have a chance at closing the gap that remains between them and that second Wildcard spot. Hosmer has been clutch, too, where he is tied for the MLB lead in go-ahead RBI (27).
With the absence of Davis and Hochevar, the performance out of the bullpen has mirrored that of the starting rotation. Kelvin Herrera has settled into the closer’s role, after what seemed to be a rough start, and has held opponents scoreless in his last three appearances. Joakim Soria, who had his fair share of struggles – especially in April and July – has gone over 9 innings, while surrendering just three earned runs and has retired 15 straight hitters. Adding more stability to a shaky, overused bullpen is rookie reliever Matt Strahm. Strahm bursted onto the scene in late July, and has become the fireman of the group. Since his first outing, where he allowed a single and wild pitch to give up his first big league run, the lefty has thrown eight scoreless innings, and struck out 15. In all, the bullpen has tossed 29 consecutive scoreless innings and is again the AL bullpen leader in ERA (3.15), tied with Washington with the best mark in MLB.
Since August began, the overall team performance has improved significantly. Kansas City’s team batting average spiked from .226 in July, all the way up to .261 in August, and with a week left, they are only one shy of their home run total from last month. On the flipside, team ERA has dropped from 5.27 to 2.43, and has seen their ace ascend to second in the American League in ERA, at 2.66.
In 2013, the rallying cry was a barbecue sauce; in 2014 a living human being from South Korea, in 2015 it was Fetty Wap and #1738 and now an insect. So, be it the Rally Mantis, or just because this is the way everyone thought they would play in 2016, Kansas City, for the fourth year in a row, is right back in that playoff hunt, and approaching quickly. With 38 games to play, and a deficit of 3.5 from that second Wildcard spot, a playoff appearance for the third year – something that seemed like an impossibility just a mere three weeks ago, is obtainable.
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