Over the past two calendar years nobody has played better baseball than the Kansas City Royals. Since their late season playoff push in 2014 the franchise's postseason success has changed how MLB front offices view and assemble defense and bullpens. In 2016, in addition to dealing with the usual championship hangover, the team has overcome offseason losses of Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist as well as injuries to 2015 all-stars Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon. Despite all this the Royals are once again right in the middle of the American League playoff race.
As a team the Royals are continuing to play to their strengths of putting the ball in play, playing defense, and dominating the late innings. However, it is clear that the offseason losses and injuries are affecting the offense. After ranking fifth in baseball last year with 4.56 runs per game the team is now 22nd in the league and scoring just 4.00 per game. To combat this the Royals have been slightly more aggressive on the bases, increasing their stolen bases per game from 0.64 a year ago to 0.74 in 2016, which ranks fifth in baseball. The pitching staff is benefiting greatly from the addition of Ian Kennedy as the team ERA has only risen from 3.77 in 2015 to 3.80 this season.
Although the Royals are not built on any one superstar it is clear that Eric Hosmer has become the team's best overall player. After winning gold gloves in each of the past three seasons Hosmer is having a breakout season offensively. Through 50 games he leads the team with 10 home runs and 33 RBI. He is also posting career highs with a .323 batting average and a .370 on base percentage. If he keeps carrying one of the league's best teams like this it is not out of the question to see him enter the MVP conversation come September.
One of the biggest strengths of the Royals is having a relief pitcher who has finished eighth and sixth respectively in each of the last two Cy Young votings. While he does not get talked about the way Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman do, Wade Davis has been just as effective since becoming a full time reliever. In addition to leading the American League with 14 saves he has posted a 0.96 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18.2 innings pitched in 2016. He is still one of the best closers in baseball but Kansas City has to be careful not to overuse him as his strikeout to walk ratio has now decreased each of the past two seasons.
After winning four straight games this weekend the Royals moved into first place in the AL Central with a 28-22 overall record, which is 1.5 games ahead of the Indians and two in front of the White Sox. Chicago looked to be like the dominant team in the AL for a while but have lost eight of their last ten. After starting 11-5 the Royals overcame a rough 5-13 stretch to finish May by going 12-4. With no AL team separating themselves from the pack this could be the start of a third straight pennant for Kansas City.