Move over Detroit Tigers. There is a new sheriff in town. And there is only room for one.
The Kansas City Royals are hot. After beating the Detroit Tigers again today, the Royals have won 10 games in a row. They lead the American League Central by 1.5 games and look determined to make a postseason run for the first time in nearly 30 years. It seemed like just yesterday when people were making fun of Jose Abreu having more home runs than the entire Royals team. It practically was. In the Royals first 61 games, they hit 26 home runs. In their past nine, however, they have 12.
On Friday, June 6, the Royals were a respectable 29-31. They were sitting five games out of the then first-place Tigers, who were 32-25. The Royals were in last place. Since June 6, the Royals have leapfrogged everyone (quite literally). On June 18, merely 12 days later, the Royals lead the American League Central by 1.5 games. This has been quite a run.
The one thing that had been haunting the Royals has finally coming alive. Their position players have provided nearly an entire fWAR point ahead of the second-highest team, providing 3.1 wins over the past week (coming into today's game). Their wOBA (weighted on-base average) is sitting at .400, 17 points ahead over the second-place team. The Royals have scored 48 runs and have posted a .351/.403/.516 triple-slash line. This torrid pace is just amazing, and the Royals are getting ready to make a run.
While I keep praising the Royals' hitting, their pitching has made huge strides over the past couple of weeks or so. During the beginning of the season, their pitching was just keeping the Royals alive and near contention, but now it has thrived. In that same seven day span, the Royals ERA ranks sixth-best in baseball, while still allowing the seventh-highest BABIP. They did it by keeping the ball down in the zone and getting ground-ball outs, posting the fifth-highest ground-ball percentage in the majors.
The Royals offense has taken a big step. A giant step. A humongous step. But, can it keep up this pace? Or even a pace similar to this? Using advanced metrics, the only alarming thing about the Royals run is that a ton of balls in play are falling for hits. Just over 38% of balls put into play are falling for hits for the Royals team, far above the 30% that is considered average, or normal. They, in short, are ridiculously lucky right now. But at the pace they are playing at, it is expected.
Their hottest hitter right now is by far Billy Butler, although he is having an overall down season. But over the past week, Butler is on fire, just like the rest of the Royals, posting a .455/.536/.682 line with one homer and eight runs batted in. Butler has a wRC+ of 234, 46 points higher than his teammate Alcides Escobar, who has "only" a 188 wRC+. When Butler has a hit, the Royals are 32-15, when he doesn't, the Royals are 6-17. If he can play well for the rest of the season, the Royals may just be able to take the American League Central crown.
The Royals recorded a record better than .500 for the first time last season. They wanted to take that momentum into a postseason appearance this season. While there still is a long way away from making the playoffs, the Royals are on fire, and should enjoy their moment in the spotlight. Because right now, they are the only sheriff in town, leading the American League Central.
**All stats through June 17, 2014.**