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Confident Royals finishing with late-season kick

September 23, 2011

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— The focus of the major-league baseball world is trained on familiar themes this time of year. The Yankees have won another division title, a couple of pennant races are nearing a conclusion, and teams are still jockeying for playoff positioning.

It makes it easy to overlook what the Kansas City Royals are accomplishing.

Long since out of contention and still wallowing 20 games below .500, the Royals nonetheless are giving fans in Kansas City a reason to be excited for the first time in years.

They just wrapped up a 6-2 homestand against the White Sox, Twins and AL Central-champion Tigers, strung together an impressive seven-game winning streak and are heading out on a season-ending six-game road trip having won eight of their last 10 games.

Pretty heady stuff for the youngest team in baseball, brimming with talent if short on experience.

“A lot of teams tend to put it in cruise control a little bit and finish out the season, and this team hasn’t done that, not for one second,” manager Ned Yost said. “They haven’t, even when you go through little streaks and lose four in a row. They come to play, and they come every day ready to play.”

Chalk some of that up to youthful exuberance. The Royals are trotting out a lineup that includes a pair of 21-year-olds in catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer, a pair of 24-year-olds in second baseman Johnny Giavotella and shortstop Alcides Escobar, and 23-year-old third baseman Mike Moustakas — all but Escobar rookies who started the year in the minors.

The Royals’ three regular outfielders, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, are all 27, which makes them the elder statesmen of a team completely devoid of the elderly.

“It’s been a blast these past couple weeks,” said Moustakas, who got off to a miserable start after his promotion from Triple-A Omaha before raising his batting average to .250. “We’ve been playing great baseball, everyone’s hitting, so yeah, I guess you could say we’re hitting our stride.”

Kansas City is fielding much the same lineup it plans to bring to spring training, and the players taking the majority of the cuts at the plate are likely to be the same guys that fans will see when the Royals play their home opener next season.

While the positive feelings are palpable, even to Yost, the veteran skipper warns not to get too excited yet. The Royals’ starting pitching is still suspect, there are holes in the roster and only a handful of players have been around for a full 162-game schedule.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

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