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.
At the beginning of August, there weren’t many people who believed that the Royals would turn things around. The starting pitching was a disaster, the bullpen had lost two prominent late inning relievers in Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar, and the team saw just seven wins in the month of July. With several players emerging, such as Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, and Yordano Ventura, the Kansas City Royals are looking to make another mad dash to the playoffs, just as they did in 2014.
When Alex 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, Alex Gordon 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. 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.”
Among emerging players are righties Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura. 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. Yordano 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. Eric Hosmer, who had been a human atrocity at the plate, 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.
With the absence of Wade Davis and Luke 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, has gone over 9 innings, while surrendering just three earned runs. 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, he has thrown eight scoreless innings, and struck out 15.
Since August started, 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.
Be it from the Rally Mantis, or just because this is the way everyone thought they would play in 2016, Kansas City, for the third 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 in a row could become very likely for the Kansas City Royals.
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