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MLB.com Columnist

Matthew Leach

Royals close enough to make a run at AL Central

Royals close enough to make a run at AL Central

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Royals close enough to make a run at AL Central

MLB.com Columnist

Matthew Leach

NEW YORK -- It's getting late for the Kansas City Royals. But it's not too late, not yet.

Not while the Tigers refuse to run away with the American League Central. Not while the K.C. offense slowly, quietly starts resembling what it was supposed to be. Not while the rotation continues to churn out effective starts.

It's late. The season is more than half over, and the Royals still need another hot streak or two to put themselves in really good position. But they've gotten close enough that when and if that next surge does come, they can get right into the division race.

They're 19-12 over the last five weeks, moving out of the division cellar and into third place. And if they are going to make that run, earning the franchise's first postseason berth in 28 years, Monday night's win in the Bronx offered a nice template.

It's going to take all phases. The thing is, on the right night, they have all phases. The Royals' rotation makeover has worked as well as could reasonably have been expected, with James Shields and Ervin Santana both pitching extremely well. The bullpen is top notch. The offense has disappointed thus far, but the capacity is there. The defense is plenty good, if not quite elite.

On Monday, Jeremy Guthrie pitched his best game in weeks, overcoming a rain delay to last 6 2/3 strong innings. That deep bullpen, arguably the team's best asset, made it interesting but closed the game out without allowing a run.

But most of all, that slowly waking offense kept the pressure on all night. Seven players had at least one hit, and six had either an RBI, a run scored, or both.

Alex Gordon doubled and walked. Eric Hosmer kept up his strong play with two hits, including a double. And Mike Moustakas singled, doubled, and scored two runs.

This, they can work with. Hosmer has looked lately like the hitter the Royals expected to see. Gordon started strong, faded in June, but has heated up again. Moustakas, the most puzzling of all, has been decent or better since late May and excellent the past two weeks.

"I think our approaches are much better," said manager Ned Yost. "I see huge improvement in Moustakas swinging the bat, Hosmer swinging the bat really well. Alex Gordon's an All-Star and has swung the bat well all year long. But I still don't really feel deep down inside that we've hit our stride offensively. There's more in there."

They've scored 72 runs over their past 14 games, more than five per game. In that time, they've been held below three runs just twice, and below four runs four times. That's a good way to win games.

"We're getting big hits," Guthrie said. "It's a lot of confidence. We're a very confident team, and when you have that, you're dangerous."

In a related note, they haven't lost back-to-back games in the past 14 games. It's pretty simple: when the Royals roll out even a half-decent offense, they win. They're 31-7 when scoring at least four runs. Only the Rangers have fewer such losses among AL teams.

So, hey, it's simple, right? Get good starting pitching. Get good relief pitching. Catch the ball. Hit the ball. Just do all that, and this game's easy.

"We've won in all types of ways this year," said Billy Butler. "We've also lost in all types of ways. I don't know what a prototype win is. I just know we scored more than they did."

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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