Kansas City Royals winning big but nobody's sure how

With 38 saves thus far in 2014, Kansas City Royals reliever Greg Holland has plenty to be happy about. (©GettyImages)

The Kansas City Royals are fooling everyone. The Royals are the hottest team in baseball in mid-August when few teams have shown the kind of season-long excellence that pays dividends in the post-season. Even the Oakland A’s have experienced a mini-slump lately.

To a large degree the Royals defy logic – and resemble the A’s of the previous couple of years, winning with virtual no-names with potential. When you study the season hitting and pitching statistics and study the names of the players on the roster it is difficult not to think that the Royals are playing over their heads.

What's the secret?

There is a certain amount of “How are they doing it?” thinking that must be attached to Kansas City’s first-place location in the American League Central standings accompanied by a record as of Tuesday that was 14 games above .500. Still, no wonder people in Kansas City believe they are watching the first Royals playoff team since 1985.

The Royals had a two-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the Central, something that does not figure at all, considering it is Detroit that many believe will be the American League pennant-winner. The Tigers’ shaky status contributes to Kansas City’s lofty one, mostly because of injuries, but the Royals put themselves into the race all by themselves.

Kansas City does not have a .300 hitter in the lineup. There is just one hitter amongst the semi-regulars in the .290s. So the Royals are not clubbing people to death with a barrage of big hits. Amongst the five pitchers in the starting rotation only two have winning records, plus one is at .500.

Manager Ned Yost has a young team – one that was seen to be coming along for a couple of years now because of the strength of the farm system – but he also has no established stars putting the franchise on their shoulders and leading the way. James Shields (11-6) is the best-known starting pitcher.

Big time bullpen

The bullpen has been spectacular, though. There’s nothing like having the goods to choke off rallies. Closer Greg Holland has 38 saves and a 1.84 earned run average. And he has only pitched 49 innings. Talk about giving your all in small bursts. There might be a tendency to think that if Holland faltered or got hurt everything would fall apart, but the set-up guys in the bullpen (even if you have never heard of them) are pitching at just about the same level as Holland.

Wade Davis is 6-2 with a 0.83 ERA in 52 appearances spanning 54 innings. Aaron Crow is 6-1 in 57 appearances spanning 49 1/3 innings and Kelvin Herrera has a 1.56 ERA in 52 innings. The message to opponents is clear: Better score on Kansas City early.

Good timing

Between July 22 and Monday night the Royals had only lost five games while winning 21. Coming at the same time as the Tigers’ woes mushroomed, that enabled Kansas City to shoot past Detroit in the standings.

Can the Royals keep it up? Tough to know since it’s hard to explain how they have done it so far. There is no question, though, that the Royals are providing a treat for Kansas City fans for the first time in a long time.

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