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MLB Standings Reveal The Hopes And Challenges Before The Royals

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They won the series last month against the Blue Jays. They split with the Red Sox. They held their own against the Rays and dominated the Orioles. The Yankees? Well, not so much. Still, the signs of life for the Royals are there against baseball's power division. Eleven out of 10 baseball experts would tell you the elite division that separates best the wheat from the chaff is the AL East. And it's against that competition that the Royals have the best record.

Proper analysis of a team's standing can tell you a lot about them -- beyond even the obvious wins and losses. And when looking closely at the Royals, it's clear that some things are undoubtedly broken. Others reveal reasons for optimism. And the AL East stretch is one piece of evidence that the Royals have the capability to step up their game when the pressure is on and the spotlight is bigger.

It's those games against the larger market teams that play on the East Coast that the usually under-covered players from the KC roster get a chance to show their stuff. Thus far, they're just under .500 against the East. That doesn't compare so well to the 16-22 record against their colleagues in the AL Central and the anemic 9-15 record against the West. And this points to the other fact that the standings also reveal: the Royals are a bit too young.

The Twins and ChiSox are finding their footing in the early days of August. And in doing so, they're separating themselves from the rest of the Central pack. That's not to say that things cannot change, but it's well-understood in baseball circles that the dog days of summer live up to their name and the younger arms and promising batters begin to falter under the heat (and under better scouting reports). Rookies have a hard time maintaining their success as the season grinds on and you begin to see certain youngsters shut down for fear of overworking them via high pitch counts.

It's also here that the coaching staff and manager becomes a real asset (or detriment) in his ability to keep the focus when a group of 25 guys know that they will spend October at home. Some know they won't be back in Kansas City. Others ponder retirement and even more realize that spring training will introduce a whole new set of competition next season and that the front office is waiting for the stud prospect to take their place. Imagine holding this together in what is already considered a "lost season."

As the team moves forward into August and September, the Royals have already staked their claim with Ned Yost -- making a confident statement that he is the man for the job of molding these young players and keeping their heads on straight through slumps and losses and a general low morale. Baseball is a mental game and the recently traded Rick Ankiel has an extreme story illustrating what happens when the mental side breaks down.

The Royals have proven tough and held their own against some much stronger opponents, showing there's some tenacity and talent to do some damage once the maturation process is further along. But that's the challenge before them now, to make good on these last two months and find meaning in the process.