Perhaps playing their best baseball of the season, the Kansas City Royals have suddenly climbed to within three and a half games of the division leading Detroit Tigers after reeling off wins in five of their last seven games.
The Boys In Blue couldn't have found a more opportune time to hit their stride, as they now get set for a critical nine game stretch where they play nothing but divisional opponents.
You can call it coincidence but the Royals offense has suddenly began to come alive a bit after the hiring of Hitting Coach Dave Sveum. Since Sveum has taken over, Kansas City is 7-4. In fact, over the Royals past 11 games they have scored nearly 4.3 runs per game after only scoring at a 3.8 clip prior to Sveum's hiring
A large part of the Royals recent success has come from the play of Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez.
Escobar is hitting a sizzling .407 in June while continuing to make defensive gems, such as the one he made to rob a hit away from future hall of famer Derek Jeter.
Gordon has seemingly been impossible to get out lately, with an on base percentage of .531 over his last eight games. Gordon and Perez have also tallied a combined 12 runs batted in over that stretch.
Kansas City will certainly be tested during their next series as they welcome the Cleveland Indians into Kauffman Stadium for a short two game set. The Tribe are the hottest team in baseball right now with wins in nine of their last 10 games.
Cleveland currently sits only two games back of Detroit for the American League Central lead. The Indians have found success in large part by scoring a blistering 65 runs in their past 10 games, including a 17 run performance against the Texas Rangers on June 9.
The Royals will also have to deal with Cleveland third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall who currently leads the league with a .385 batting average. Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas will be facing Chisenhall a day after he turned in a five for five night with three homeruns and nine RBI.
After facing off with Cleveland, the Royals will hit the road for a three game series with the Chicago White Sox and then a long four game set with the Detroit Tigers.
If the Royals want to stay in the AL Central race, they will have to turn their fortune around against these three division foes. The Boys In Blue are 4-11 on the season versus these opponents, including an 0-5 record against Detroit after finishing 10-9 against them only a year ago.
The Royals can look on the bright side and see that Chicago is only 4-6 in their last 10, while Detroit is playing even worse with a 3-7 record over that span.
Although the Royals have began to come around offensively, I would like to see how they could perform with the lineup jumbled up a bit.
I would like to see Ned Yost exercise Lorenzo Cain in the number one or two spot in the lineup as he currently carries a .331 season batting average. A new look outfield including Gordon in left, Jarrod Dyson in center and Cain in right would be a nice look as well.
Norichika Aoki isn't producing enough spark at the top of the lineup with an on base percentage of .318. Dyson could certainly make his presence be felt at the top of the order with his bunting ability and speed on the base pads and tracking balls down in centerfield.
With only one and a half games separating Kansas City from second place and three and a half games in their way of first in the AL Central, these next nine games can be critical in determining which direction this team is going moving forward in the season.