DENVER -- It's been 29 years since the Royals last enjoyed baseball's postseason.
No sense getting in a hurry right now.
Manager Ned Yost certainly isn't. He is enjoying what has happened in the past month, but he knows better than to start thinking about what could transpire in the next month.
"I am extremely happy with where we are," Yost said.
He should be.
The Royals fell 5-2 to the Rockies at Coors Field on Wednesday night, but they have still won 22 of their past 28 games. And they are still sitting atop the American League Central. They are just a game in front of the Tigers, but just a month ago, they were in third place, eight games back of the Tigers.
The Royals also are two games up on the Mariners, who are mixed up with the top two AL Central teams in a battle for the second AL Wild Card.
On paper, it would seem that Kansas City has an edge in claiming at least one of the postseason spots.
"I don't think too much farther than our next game," said Yost. "Anybody can [beat] you at any time. You better stay focused on the task at hand."
OK, so for Yost, all that matters is that after taking Thursday off, the Royals play three games in Texas against the Rangers. Right now, the Rangers and the Rockies share the distinction of the worst records in the big leagues. They are both 49-77, and, well, Colorado did just knock off Kansas City thanks to a Matt McBride grand slam.
But what fun is the anticipation of a mad dash to the postseason without taking a peek at where the primary contenders for the October opportunities stand?
And from afar, the early edge goes to the Royals. They have a slight edge in the schedule, both in terms of opposition and the home/road breakdown, and their roster seems to be in better shape in terms of injuries.
After the three-game visit to Texas this weekend, Kansas City plays 20 of its next 26 games at home before a season-ending road trip that includes three games with Cleveland and four with the Chicago White Sox. The Royals have 20 of their final 36 games against teams with losing records, and the only serious contender they have left to face is the Tigers, who they play three times at home and three times in Detroit. The Tigers did win the first five games the two teams played this season, but they have split the past eight.
Detroit not only has 19 games remaining at home and 19 on the road, but it has makeup doubleheaders on the road the next two Saturdays, at Minnesota this weekend and at Chicago against the White Sox on Aug. 30. The Tigers have 19 games remaining against teams with winning records, and in addition to the home-and-away series with the Royals, they also host the Giants for three games Sept. 5-7.
The Mariners, meanwhile, play 21 of their remaining 36 games on the road, and before they close the regular season by hosting the Angels in a three-game series at Safeco Field, they have an 11-game road trip that takes them from Seattle to Anaheim (four games) to Houston (three games) and to Toronto (four games). The Mariners have 20 games against teams with winning records, including home-and-away three-game series against the A's, three games at home with the Nationals, and seven games remaining with the Halos -- four in Anaheim and the three in Seattle.
The Tigers have reason for concern. Fingers are crossed that right-hander Justin Verlander not only will benefit from a 12-day layoff because of a cranky right shoulder and return to the rotation in one of Saturday's two games against the Twins, but also that he can snap out of a season-long funk that has him 10-11 with a 4.76 ERA.
Verlander did play catch on Tuesday, threw long toss on Wednesday and will have a limited bullpen session on Thursday before an official decision is made, but he doesn't leave much doubt in telling the media during Detroit's current visit to Tropicana Field to face the Rays, "We need to make the playoffs. We need to get back in that routine, the starting routine. So I'm going to be out there."
Unfortunately for the Tigers, there is less certainly about reliever Joakim Soria (left oblique) and Anibal Sanchez (right pectoral), both of whom can only hope they will return by the start of September. Their time on the disabled list, along with the 12-day stretch between starts for Verlander has had Detroit mixing and matching, including signing and then calling up former Baltimore bullpen ace Jim Johnson, who was released by Oakland last month.
To fill recent rotation voids, they brought Robbie Ray up from Triple-A Toledo to start twice in place of Verlander. And to fill in for Sanchez, they brought up Buck Farmer, who has made 18 of his 21 Minor League appearances this season at low Class A West Michigan.
While the Royals were forced to move designated hitter Billy Butler to first base because Eric Hosmer suffered a broken hand, general manager Dayton Moore did find needed lineup protection with the July additions of Raul Ibanez and Josh Willingham, who will platoon in the DH role. The added bonus is that Butler, in a four-month funk, has returned to a middle-of-the-lineup force due, he said, in part to the fact that playing in the field doesn't allow him the time to dwell on his offensive struggles.
Mariners rotation ace Felix Hernandez did have his streak of 17 consecutive starts of at least seven innings and with no more than two runs snapped Saturday at Detroit, taking a line drive off his hip, but all indications are he will make his scheduled start at Boston on Friday. Seattle also addressed concerns about a lineup filled with too many left-handed hitters with the July additions of center fielder Austin Jackson, outfield swingman Chris Denorfia and switch-hitting DH Kendrys Morales.
Kansas City is the hottest team in baseball. The Royals have won 22 of 28 games thanks to an offense that has taken pressure off a pitching staff that has been among the game's elite. The Mariners are 17-13 since the All-Star break -- winning 15 of their past 23. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 15-18 since the All-Star break and have scored two or fewer runs in 12 games.
Postseason spots aren't won on paper. They are won on the field.
And Yost knows that.
"It comes down to doing our job at hand," he said.
Lately, the Royals have been able to handle that challenge.
Tracy Ringolsby, the 2005 recipient of the Hall of Fame's Spink Award, has covered Major League Baseball since 1976.This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.