Exhilarating as last October was for the Royals and Kansas City, skeptics wondered if the whole spectacle really was a transformative crucible or a mere quirk, a twist of fate furnished purely by the Twilight Zone madness of the American League wild-card game against Oakland.
Safe to say that as the Royals enter the All-Star break this week, they at least have terminated any notion they were a fluke and reframed any discussion about them.
With a staggering seven All-Stars and the best record in the AL (51-34), the only question now is are they or are they not the best team in baseball … and can they sustain it without Alex Gordon for weeks to come?
Neither has anything but a theoretical answer in the moment, of course, with the true proving grounds of the season lying ahead.
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Still, the prologue says the Royals established something substantial in these first few months of the season, especially since it was despite a rash of injuries and wobbly starting pitching.
And what they’ve created is something that punctures any thought that last year was a mirage and suggests another postseason adventure not only is viable but probable.
"We’ve got the best winning percentage in the American League; what more do you want?" manager Ned Yost said. "We’re doing fine. We just continue to do what we’re doing.
"We don’t have to do anything more, we don’t have to do anything less. Just keep doing what we’re doing."
Pausing so long another question came before he got the words out, Yost managed a thin smile and added, "And stay healthy."
Even before Gordon suffered the groin injury on Wednesday, the Royals had not been particularly healthy — or had much stability overall:
The season was only a week old when outfielder Alex Rios was hit by a pitch that broke his left hand and kept him out for seven weeks, and six other Royals since have been on the disabled list a total of seven times.
To say nothing of a spree of suspensions and Mike Moustakas missing eight games because of the illness of his mother.
Considering all that disruption, and that the Royals only recently are getting production from second baseman Omar Infante and Rios, and the volatile starting pitching that had produced the 13th-best ERA (4.35) in the AL entering the game Saturday, the Royals would have seemed hard-pressed to 51 games by the break for just the third time in team history and be second in the AL in run differential (plus-62).
Weathering turbulence and ruts is an issue for any team, but it’s a particularly instructive point about this one and the depth, resilience and resourcefulness it’s had cultivated.
The basis for this identity started with the 2014 postseason, which steeped in true belief a youngish team seeking traction as it won eight straight playoff games to get to the World Series.
Despite the momentous loss of pitcher James Shields, the Royals in many ways only got more complete and deeper with offseason additions like designated hitter Kendrys Morales (58 RBIs at the break; Billy Butler had 66 all last season) and pitchers Edinson Volquez, Chris Young and Ryan Madson.
The Royals still play with a run-manufacturing mentality, dropping sacrifice bunts in the first two innings on Saturday, and they’ve demonstrated the ability to grind out wins.
But they’ve also hit 65 home runs in 85 games, a dimension of power absent last year when they mustered just 95 home runs all season.
Meanwhile, the defense remains stellar in ways the eye test tells you more than metrics do, and the bullpen is so unfairly good that setup men Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are All-Stars and the Royals are 41-2 when they lead after six innings.
"Another year of experience, and especially postseason experience with us," first baseman Eric Hosmer said, "and we learn different ways to win."
They may have to learn more ways yet, of course, with Gordon likely out until September (being replaced by a platoon of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando) and no assurance that starting pitching will stabilize.
Maybe a blockbuster trade looms, but the Royals generally are reluctant to mess with attractive core players or appealing prospects.
Then again, if Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy get their arms and mindsets right and merely approximate their presences of a year ago, the rotation goes from a question mark to an exclamation point.
The season remains to be defined, of course, and what the Royals established at the halfway mark won’t be part of the final grade.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results, either, as general manager Dayton Moore reminded the other day while he touted tirelessly seeking to improve.
But these months have provided a bridge of continuity from October to the present, a span that confers credibility and a certain sense of promise that the magic wasn’t fleeting but sustainable.
"Between last year and this year’s first half … I think everyone knows it wasn’t just a run we went on, that this is a team that is one of the better teams in baseball …," Hosmer said. "I think we’re very respected throughout the league now."
No matter what skeptics thought.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com