Kansas City, Mo. Look who’s leading the AL Central. It’s none other than the Kansas City Royals, the youngest and poorest team in the majors.
After a wacky week that included four wins in their final at-bat, the surprising Royals are 4-2 and feeling cocky. They’ve stolen more bases than any other team in the majors, and they’ve already eclipsed their longest winning streak (three games) since September 2009.
A one-time phenom that many people were about to give up on — Alex Gordon — is batting .379 with six extra-base hits. A couple of rookies in the bullpen have been nearly unhittable. A young shortstop who came over from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke trade made a spectacular defensive play that probably saved one of their come-from-behind wins.
And please do not say it’s early. To long-suffering fans who’ve endured losing records 16 of the past 17 seasons, it’s late.
At the very least, it’s about time.
“We’ve been coming out to about 15 or 20 games a year for I don’t know how long,” said Sal Luper, sitting in the right field bleachers at a recent game, a big “K.C.” on his cap. “Finally, it looks like they’re going to start creating some real excitement. Finally. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I like the way this team plays.”
So does Ned Yost, their tough-minded manager.
“They were playing great baseball all through the spring and they’ve brought it up here with them,” Yost said.
A former Milwaukee manager, Yost believes in being aggressive. It’s an attitude that seems to align perfectly with the spirit and mettle of a team whose opening day average age of 27.2 makes them the youngest in the majors.
The Royals took Thursday off before heading for Detroit with a major-league-leading 14 stolen bases. Nobody else was even close.
Their record was a half-game ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central entering Thursday’s play.
Their confidence, in spite of a 12-inning, 10-7 loss to Chicago on Wednesday, was soaring.
“I’ve never had more fun playing baseball than I’ve had this week,” said Billy Butler, the designated hitter who’s also off to a good start with a .364 average and two home runs. “This team just feels like it will find a way to win. We never give up.”
The Royals are not just young. Their payroll of a little more than $36 million also makes them the lowest-paid. But that seems only to add to a never-say-die attitude that’s already produced two walkoff home runs.
If they had managed to bring in runners in the 10th or 11th inning on Wednesday, the Royals would have set an American League record with five straight wins in their last at-bat to start a season.
“The guys here know they can play at this level,” said catcher Matt Treanor, who came over from Texas in the final days of spring training and brings valuable World Series experience to a fuzzy-cheeked clubhouse. “Young guys know they can pitch and compete and the guys who have been around a little bit help them feel comfortable at this level.”
It was Treanor and first baseman Kila Ka’aihue who treated hope-starved fans to those walkoff homers in the season-opening series against the Angels.
“We’re not going to be intimidated by anybody,” Treanor said. “If we go out and play our game every day, we’re going to have a lot of wins.”