Aug 10, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) celebrates with teammate Billy Butler (16) after hitting a two run home run against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

How did the Kansas City Royals suddenly become contenders?

There’s only one week left in August and, barring an obscene losing streak, the Kansas City Royals will have more than 70 wins before September opens.

Finally, the record has been reversed after what must feel like an eternity to Royals fans. We’re talking true ineptitude here. Let’s put it in perspective — since 1997, Kansas City has lost 90 or more games 12 times. In that time span, the team has also lost at least 100 games four times in the dark abyss known as the early 2000′s.

The Royals have managed to squeak out two winning records since 1997 (for a while, there was celebration of being able to win 83 games in 2003), but haven’t even been to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985.

But here we are, with the Royals locked in a tight competition with the Detroit Tigers for the lead in the AL Central. How in the world did this happen?

It’s pretty simple, really. With the second-ranked offense in the AL and the fourth-ranked pitching staff, the Royals are simply becoming dominant in every facet of the game. For once, it looks like sticking to the plan has finally panned out for the organization. That is, relying on homegrown talent supplemented by other acquisitions that actually bring value (or the ability to finally have an ace, as the trade for James Shields represented two years ago).

Offensively, the Royals have the fewest home runs in the AL with just 78, but rank second with a .265 team average and fourth with 226 doubles. To blow your mind even further, they don’t even have a single hitter with 60 RBIs. But does that really even matter when the entire team can contribute?

Alex Gordon, as he has done for most of his career, flies under the radar as one of the best outfielders in baseball, putting together a season in which he’s batting .284/.360/.450 with 14 home runs and 29 doubles. Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar have added speed on the bases, while Salvador Perez has continued to mature into one of the AL’s best young catchers. In Perez’s case, he’s an example of fortunes finally turning the Royals’ way. For so many years, highly touted prospects have come into Kansas City with much fanfare, only to leave a bust. And with years of high draft picks due to so many poor seasons, the Royals are finally cashing in.

Even Billy Butler, who has struggled for much of the season, is beginning to turn it on. In the month of August, he is batting .338/.380/.500 with two home runs, 11 RBIs and six doubles.

It’s the pitching staff that really shines for the Royals, though. Three starters — Shields, Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura — have sub-4.00 ERAs, while Danny Duffy has surprised everyone with a 2.53 ERA in 20 starts. Who would have thought that Duffy and Ventura would step in and play such big roles? But that’s exactly what a contending team needs.

Performances that come seemingly out of nowhere are really the make-or-break elements of teams trying to make the postseason, and in Kansas City’s case, it struck gold in 2014. It’s the best-case scenario teams always hope for, but try not to expect because it really so rarely happens. And for the Royals, with their recent history, they would have been forgiven for having tempered expectations.

And, like any great team, the Royals are bolstered by a dominant bullpen. Greg Holland has 39 saves and a 1.82 ERA. Wade Davis (also a part of the James Shields trade with Tampa Bay) has a ridiculous 0.81 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 55 1-3 innings. In other words, if the Royals have a late lead, you can pretty much bet they’re not going to give it up.

The Royals have had their streaks this season, both good and bad, but since July 22, the team has gone 22-6 and firmly cemented itself as a contender in the AL. With a little over one month to go in the baseball season, it seems as though Kansas City is here to stay, ready to battle the scuffling Tigers for the division title. It’s uncharted territory for the Royals, but this is the moment they’ve been waiting for since, well, forever.

And with the way the team is currently built, they might want to get used to playing meaningful games this late in a season.

Tags: Alex Gordon Billy Butler James Shields Kansas City Royals MLB Yordano Ventura

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