Close is contagious. A fan's logic might go something like this ...they're a game-and-a-half behind the third-place Detroit Tigers ... and only ... a game-and-a-half away from being able to tie for the division if they sweep a three-game series. Even the Royals seem to believe if they can just keep it close, they'll pull it out in the end. The team is 11-3 in its last 14 ball games decided by one run. With seven wins in their last 10 games, it's easy to feel that if they could just stay close, maybe they could win this thing after all.
What's perhaps most tantalizing - and likely why critics would argue that this is the Royals' peak - is that the team is on an upswing before they've really managed to play complete baseball. The Royals are 11-20 at home this year. In 2011, a season in which they finished 20 games under .500, they were 40-41 at home. They've played five more games on the road this year, where they have a division best 20 wins and 16 losses (the White Sox are 19-13). Even if they only matched last year's performance at home, that would still get them over the .500 mark. The team is just five games away from erasing the 12-game losing streak that threatened to torpedo the season before it even started.
And help is close to arriving. Felipe Paulino and his 1.67 ERA is close to coming back. After last night's start in Double-A Northwest Arkansas (eight strikeouts but three runs allowed in four innings), he's slated to return to the rotation next week. His potential battery mate is also close. Catcher Salvador Perez caught nine innings and had four hits to raise his average to .340 in Triple-A Omaha.
As managers will tell you during mid-inning interviews on air, it is the close plays that often decide baseball games. The runner who is out at the plate after the ball is thrown away at second and third base. Mike Moustakas throwing out a runner from his knees in the bottom half of the ninth inning last night. And the close plays have lately have been going the Royals' way.
The Royals were 15-13 in May and are 10-8 in June. The Royals are close to .500. They are close to competing. Now the only question is whether they can close that gap.
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