Anibal Sanchez was finally able to halt the red-hot Kansas City Royals on Thursday afternoon, bringing an end to their win streak at 10 games. Despite the loss for the Royals, the end of the streak leaves them a half game up in the American League Central, with their 39 wins the third most in the AL to date.
Over the course of their recent success, many wondered if this team was for real. But coming off of a year in which they won 86 games, 64 of which came after the All Star break (most in Major League Baseball), it really shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. Had it not been for some early offensive struggles, this team might be in an even better position as we approach the end of June than the one in which they already find themselves.
The offensive numbers still don’t paint the prettiest of pictures for the Royals. They’re dead last in the entire league in home runs, with only 39 on the year, and are a middle of the pack team in terms of runs scored. They’re near the bottom of the league in getting on base as well. They are a top five team in terms of batting average, though, and are one of the top teams in the league in their ability to score with runners on, so there are some successes in there somewhere.
But it’s the success of their pitching staff that has this team in pursuit of its first postseason berth since 1985. This is the latest in the season in which they’ve even had a division lead since 2003, when they melted down at the tail end of the year to miss out on the playoffs completely. Though their recent offense has indicated that they could score runs with more regularity as their key players come out of whatever early season slumps had plagued them, it’ll be the pitching that will allow them to shake off the 30-year nightmare that the Royals have experienced.
When we look at the numbers for the pitching staff, there isn’t anything that’s going to blow anyone away. They’re in the top half of the league in a number of categories, but really lack the star power on their pitching staff to impress anyone. Even so, James Shields has been his typically consistent self, Jason Vargas has quietly been one of the better free agent pickups of the winter, and Danny Duffy has been solid as well. Not to mention the fireball stylings of young Yordano Ventura. Wade Davis and Greg Holland represent one of the better late inning combinations in all of baseball.
If the Royals can continue getting their formerly stagnant offense to produce regularly, something that should be possible given some of the names in this lineup (Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, etc.), and the pitching continues to be this steady, the Royals will have no problem remaining in the race. Their division is wide open at this point, only helping their cause. No one is ready to declare them a World Series title contender, but this Kansas City Royals club is very much a team to be taken seriously as we approach midway point of the year.