Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City
Can the Royals’ rare ‘late’ first-place run hold up?
06/17/2014 11:03 PM
06/18/2014 1:11 AM
Halley’s Comet last was visible from Earth in 1986, a year after the Royals’ most recent playoff appearance and their subsequent plummet into the longest postseason drought among MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL teams.
At times since, maybe it’s seemed the comet would return to view around about 2061 before they made their way back in the playoffs.
But on Tuesday in Detroit, the Royals continued their surge from out of nowhere to create a rare phenomenon of their own: They blistered Detroit 11-4 for their ninth straight win to move into sole possession of first place in the American League Central.
So it’s only mid-June, yes, but it now passes for a milestone.
To some degree, that’s a sad statement about the recent past.
But the point is really about the precious present.
It marks just the second time since 1993 that the Royals (38-32) are in first at least this "late" in the season and the first time since 1980 they’re atop the standings exactly 70 games into the season.
So it’s worth appreciating the moment delivered by 14 wins in their last 18 games, which one way or another has coincided with Dale Sveum being promoted to hitting coach of a meek offense that had hit 21 home runs in 52 games and has mashed 17 since.
Now the real question is whether it’s safe to embrace it or whether it will be a fleeting tease that only leads to more torment later.
There’s no way to know how this plays out, of course, especially because the Royals can ill-afford any injuries.
It’s also hard to believe they can keep up this kind of hitting, which has produced six runs or more 11 times in 18 games with the same players who managed to do that 11 times in the first 52.
But even as they were treading water, and even when they were starting to sputter after the humbling sweep by Houston left them 24-28, there was this:
Strong pitching and defense were always going to give them a chance … if they could just manage not to be, you know, horrendous at the plate.
And while it’s not reasonable to think they can stay this hot, it’s also not obligatory that essentially the entire team will go into a slump all at once again.
Meanwhile, it’s also encouraging that the Royals have largely done this against substantial competition.
AL East leader Toronto had won nine in a row before the Royals got this surprise started by winning the first two games there.
Then they took three of four from St. Louis, which otherwise was 37-29 entering its game Wednesday.
Then it was two of three against the New York Yankees before a two-game sweep against a Cleveland team that had won nine of 10.
That set up this pivotal road swing, which began with clobbering the Chicago White Sox 22-6 over three games.
Finally, the Royals amassed back-to-back season-highs of 11 runs against Detroit … the former AL Central leader, the team that started former Cy Young Award winners each night, the team that had been 5-0 against the Royals.
This could all look a lot different in September. Shoot, with two more games in Detroit, this could start to look different by the time the Royals come back to Kauffman Stadium on Friday night.
Just the same, you don’t have to squint to see some stars aligning, either. It’s been a long time coming just for that, and who’s to say that won’t hold up?
A look at the Royals’ latest forays into first place since 1980
2013: May 2
2011: April 16
2009: May 15
2008: April 14
2007: April 2
2004: April 5
2003: Aug. 29
2000: April 15
1998: March 31
1997: May 19
1995: April 26
1993: July 6
1991: April 8
1989: May 16
1988: April 17
1987: July 5
1986: June 1
1985: Oct. 6
1984: Sept. 30
1983: May 3
1982: Sept. 19
1980: Oct. 5