Although the Royals entered the All-Star Break coming off a rough 9-14 stretch, Kansas City is certainly alive and kicking as they only trail the Seattle Mariners by two and a half games for the final wild card spot.
The Boys In Blue have a lot of positives to take away from the first half of their 2014 campaign. Many individuals have took on the role they have been given and stepped up in a big way for this ball club to put the team in the position they are currently in.
Kansas City perhaps has the best back end bullpen setup in all of baseball.
Greg Holland is arguably the most consistent closer in baseball as he has converted on 25 of 26 save opportunities.
As good as Holland has been, Wade Davis has been even better in the setup role. Davis has been absolutely dominant. In fact, one can argue that he is one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball.
Davis currently ranks number one among all relievers with 35+ innings pitched in opponent's batting average (.112). His 1.13 ERA ranks him second in the American League among relief pitchers. Davis has also made his presence known by striking out a ridiculous 62 batters in 39.2 innings.
If there was an award for first half offensive breakthrough player on this team, it would probably go to Jarrod Dyson. In the limited opportunities Dyson received early this season, he made the most of them, turning himself into an everyday player. His .348 on base percentage is tied for the team lead with veteran Alex Gordon. His blazing speed has also helped him swipe 18 stolen bases, which only trails Alcides Escobar for the team lead.
Although this team has found success in surprising places, there are still some areas that need improvement.
The offense has been a complete mystery this season. During the 10-game winning streak the offense looked unstoppable. With that being said, for most of the season it has been very inconsistent.
The Royals have done a decent job of hitting themselves on base and advancing, for they are fourth in the AL in batting average and first in stolen bases. The problem instead has been driving in runners when they are in scoring position.
Kansas City has the most ground outs in the AL, meaning there is a lack of putting the ball where it needs to be when the situation calls for it. The Royals also have the fewest home runs in all of baseball, which shows a lack of clutch hitting.
The Royals discipline at the plate has also been a problem. Kansas City's offense has the fewest amount of walks in baseball. Drawing walks can be critical in two out situations.
Eric Hosmer and Omar Infante were two players with high expectations coming into the 2014 campaign. Both began the year struggling mightily with batting averages dipping down into the .240s. July has been a different story for these two sluggers though.
Hosmer has torn the cover off the ball in his past 12 games. Over that span he has 20 hits, including seven extra base hits and seven runs batted in. Infante has feasted on pitching lately with a .436 batting average this month.
The starting pitching staff has probably been the most consistent asset on the team, having four starters with a sub four ERA. With that being said, they are one of only three teams in the majors without a complete game on the season.
On the negative side, having no complete games could be a lack of dominant performances by a starting staff. But it may possibly work out in Kansas City's favor in that they may be saving arms better than most other teams. It could be why they haven't had but one starting pitcher go down this season due to injury. The argument could also be made that the Royals bullpen is so good, that starters don't need to finish the entire game.
As the season rolls on, there are a few players to strongly keep your eye on.
There aren't too many pitchers more consistent in the game right now than James Shields. Anytime he goes out to the mound, you pretty much know he will pitch seven solid innings. He typically isn't going to go out and have a dominant performance. With that being said, even when he doesn't have his best stuff, his performance usually gets better as the game gets deeper. Therefore, giving his team a chance to win almost every time he pitches.
Big Game James is the leader of this team. The season heavily rides on the performance of his right arm. Shields is someone who brings intensity to the game of baseball and his teammates will feed off of how he executes.
Hosmer is another x-factor on this team. He probably has a higher ceiling than any player on Kansas City's offense. Hosmer has proven that he has the potential, hitting .302 with 17 home runs last year. The Royals will continue to rely heavily on his bat, hitting out of the two hole.
Currently the Royals sit at a record of 48-47. In order to make the postseason this year, the team will need to finish in the neighborhood of 90-72. Therefore, Kansas City will need to achieve a record of 42-26 over the second half of the season in order to be serious playoff contenders.
In order to achieve 90 wins, the Royals starting pitching and bullpen need to continue what they have been doing. As for the offense, they must find a way to get clutch hitting more consistently with runners in scoring position.
General Manager Dayton Moore should be active in trade talks to improve the team's lackluster offense. An offensive improvement from right field, designated hitter, or third base; specifically someone with some power would go a long way to legitimize the Royals' postseason intentions.
With names like Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, the potential is there. With a few minor offensive improvements and an addition of a power bat in the lineup, the Boys In Blue should still be playing come this October.
Finish Prediction: (91-71)
Second Wild Card position