Although not many will notice, the Kansas City Royals are one of the hottest teams in the American League. After completing a three-game sweep of the Mariners on Wednesday night, the Royals improved to 8-2 in their last ten games. The Royals are now 39-46, which however modest, is nevertheless their best record through 85 games since 2003.
The Royals remain eight games back in the AL Central, but if you happen to know a Royals fan on Facebook or Twitter, don't be surprised if you start seeing posts talking about a playoff run. While the season record still looks ugly, under new manager Ned Yost, the Royals have gone 27-23, leading to a wave of optimism. Under Yost the Royals have featured an average offense and pitching staff, which seems remarkable given what the team did in April... or in the seven years prior to April.
While it's easy to point to that shiny record under Yost and believe that there's a clear explanation for the team's turnaround, it's actually difficult to find just what Yost has changed. Mostly, it just appears that the same guys are playing better. Maybe the manager deserves credit, maybe it just happened. The Royals started last season 18-11 under Trey Hillman, then quickly fell apart. Bad teams do play well for short periods with some regularity.
The Royals don't actually have much of a shot of making the playoffs: they're chasing three teams who are all a) better and b) well ahead of them. It's one thing for the fans to dream, but the challenge facing the Kansas City front office is not to do the same thing. For this reason, the Royals are a team to keep an eye on this July. Just two weeks ago, everyone assumed the Royals would be big sellers at the trade deadline. Now, there's a real possibility that the Royals might believe that they have the makings of something that deserves to live on to fight another day, or in this case another season. This would in all likelihood be a mistake, but one the Royals might talk themselves into making.