Everything’s Looking Great In Kansas City

Amidst all the chaos surrounding the impending trade deadline, here’s something you may have missed: the Kansas City Royals have the longest active win streak in Major League Baseball, as they go for their eighth straight win tonight against the Detroit Tigers.

It’s been a seismic shift from the beginning of the season for the 2015 World Series Champs. After one month, they were in the AL Central cellar with a 7-17 record. Their offense had scored just 63 runs, providing just 2.6 runs per game. Members of the media were already speculating that GM Dayton Moore would sell off everyone and the kitchen sink before the July 31st trade deadline. But Ned Yost and the players in the clubhouse preached patience, insisting they would turn it around.

Another year, another All-Star nod for KC’s backstop Salvador Perez.

Now, as we near the end of July, the Royals are 5 games above .500, and sit just 1.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians for the lead in the AL Central. They’ve grabbed a hold of the second wildcard in what is sure to be a frantic race for the last two playoff spots in the American League. Thanks to a strong June (17-9) and July (13-8 to date), the Royals have gone from early-season also-rans to legitimate postseason contenders.

The Royals’ core of positions players is remarkably similar to the one that brought home the Commissioner’s Trophy two years ago. Six of the nine starters from Game 1 of the 2015 World Series are still everyday players for Kansas City. All-star Salvador Perez remains behind the dish, with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas at the corners and Alcides Escobar at short. In the outfield, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon remain everyday players.

Image result for eric hosmer
A .310/.369/.488 slash line? We see you, Eric Hosmer.

That won’t be the case next year. Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, and Cain all have contracts that expire at the end of the season, and the Royals have no way of keeping all four players on the payroll. Kansas City fans know that this season is their last chance to make any run at the World Series for the foreseeable future.

It’s little surprise then that Dayton Moore opted to buy at the deadline rather than break up his squad. He swung an excellent deal with the Padres, offloading Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and prospect Esteury Ruiz for relievers Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter and starter Trevor Cahill. The 2017 Royals bullpen doesn’t quite resemble the three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland that they had in 2015, but it does have more depth. Scott Alexander, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Minor, and Neftali Feliz all have ERAs south of 3.00, Joachim Soria has a 3.14 ERA through 45 games, and closer Kelvin Herrera has converted 21 of 24 save opportunities on the year.

Image result for mike minor royals
My reward for most under-appreciated bullpen arm of the year goes to Mike Minor, who has a 2.23 ERA in just under 50 innings and has given up just 4 runs since May.

The trade with the Padres also adds more depth to the Royals rotation. Cahill has a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts this season with San Diego, and should settle in nicely as a middle-of-the-rotation arm behind Danny Duffy and all-star Jason Vargas. Again, the rotation isn’t as fearsome as it was in 2015, when Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez, and the late Yordano Ventura were toeing the rubber for the Royals, but the Royals’ staff has a number of quality arms for a run to the postseason.

The 2017 Kansas City Royals is not stacked with superstars. They don’t have an Aaron Judge (though Mike Moustakas is second to Judge in home runs in the AL), or a hit-machine like Jose Altuve. They don’t have a pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff like Chris Sale, or a shutdown reliever the likes of Andrew Miller. But they have a roster full of talented players who put in the effort and play solid, fundamentally-sound baseball.

Their seven-game winning streak is a bit of a mirage, with all seven wins coming against AL Central cellar-dwellers Detroit and Chicago. The real test for this Royals team will come in late August, when they play two series against the Indians and host the Colorado Rockies and the Tampa Bay Rays, all teams with playoff aspirations of their own.

In what has become a crowded race for the wildcard, there’s no reason to bet against the Royals compared to other contenders like Tampa Bay, Seattle, or Minnesota. If they can make it to October, who knows–perhaps the core has enough magic left in it for one more miraculous run through the playoffs.

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