We're all familiar with the popular saying and song lyric "What a difference a day makes." In the case of the Kansas City Royals, they may look back on the 2012 season several months from now and lament what 12 days and a dozen losses, seven of them by two runs or less, can do to dampen an otherwise promising season.
Of course, I'm referring to the horrendous stretch between April 11 and April 24 when the Royals embarked on a 12-game losing skid that included opening the home part of the schedule by losing a team-most 10 consecutive games at Kauffman Stadium. That surprising nose dive, which came after opening the 2012 season with a 3-3 record on the road, left Kansas City with a highly disappointing record of 3-14 and had many fans questioning if they were witnessing déjà vu all over again.
If you eliminate the nearly two weeks of consecutive losses in the middle of April, the Royals record since the beginning of the season is a highly respectable 24-19 (21-17 since the 12-game losing streak and 3-2 before it). In fact, Kansas City's 15-13 record in May was the first time in 12 seasons the Royals have ended the month of May with a winning record. The Royals were 14-12 in May in 2000 and finished that year eight games under .500 with a record of 77-85. The team was 12-13 that season at the end of April, so they ended the first third of the 2000 season and began June at 26-25 overall.
If you are one of those people who believes numbers can say anything you want them to, and like it that way - and you're a devoted fan of the Kansas City Royals, to boot - here's an analysis that will make your day: If you were to just eliminate all MLB games played between April 11-24 and not count those games in the standings, the Royals would be leading the AL Central Division with a record of 24-19. The Chicago White Sox, the actual division leader as of Tuesday's games, would be a full game back of the Royals with a 23-20 record, followed by the Cleveland Indians (22-22), the Detroit Tigers (19-24), five games back, and the Minnesota Twins (17-25), who would be seven and a half games behind division-leader Kansas City.
Oh, wouldn't that be nice, but unfortunately that's not the way things work. You can't just count the games you want to and throw out the bad games. You have to take the good with the bad, and because of that, Kansas City trails the White Sox, Indians and Tigers in the standings, but holds a three and a half game advantage over the last-place Twins. But the Royals have won seven of their last 10 games, including two shutouts in the last three games, and have moved to within a half a game of third-place enigmatic Detroit in the AL Central.
The Tigers were the preseason favorite to win the AL Central and considered a top contender to make it all the way to the World Series this season, but the Boys of Motown have failed to live up to those high expectations so far.
It is to the Royals' advantage that they are playing in easily the weakest division in all of baseball, where they will play nearly a third of the games (52) they will play all season. With Detroit not playing well to this point, the division crown appears to be literally up for grabs.
After Wednesday night's game with Minnesota, which closes out the current home stand, the Royals enter a two-week period of inter-league play against red-hot Pittsburgh, Show-Me State rival St. Louis and Houston, all away from Kauffman Stadium, where Kansas City seems to play better this season than at home, and a three-game series at The K against Milwaukee. St. Louis also will make a visit to Kansas City before the Royals return to American League action on June 25 against Tampa Bay.
The good news about the Royals' upcoming inter-league schedule against NL Central teams is that only one of the four teams has a record above .500 at the present time, and that team, surprisingly, is the Pirates (28-26 and 8-2 in their last 10 games), who Kansas City opens up with in a three-game series this weekend at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are managed by former Kansas City Royal Clint Hurdle.
The point here is that no one, not even the most fickle and demanding of Royals' fans, should give up on the Boys in Blue this early in the season and write it off as just another in a growing list of "I told you so" years for our local major league team.
The Royals' are actually playing very good baseball right now. If we could ever get our pitching strengthened and stabilized and do a better job of closing out games in which we are leading late, this team could actually be an exciting team to watch for an entire season, and not just for a couple of months, here or there, during the course of the season.
Something to which we can all still look forward.
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