The Kansas City Royals' Offense Is Fueling Their Hot Streak

The Royals' pitching has been among the best in baseball all season, but an improved offense has helped fuel their ascent to first place in the AL Central.

Uh, some things are happening with the Royals right now.

Yes, there are big doings afoot in Kansas City, where our new Royal overlords just took three of four games from the best team in baseball, the Oakland Athletics. They've won 18 of their last 22 games, and they're in first place by a half game in the AL Central over the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers.

The Royals appear to have a good shot at sustaining this hot streak, thanks to a favorable schedule the rest of the way. Oakland was the last team Kansas City will face this season that currently has a better record than them, and they are about to embark on a nine-game road trip that will take them through Minnesota, Colorado and Texas. Not exactly a murderer's row.

Kansas City hasn't made the playoffs since "Wham!" had the number one song in the country (yes, feel free to click on this video of the "Careless Whisper" video and then come right back here) and "Back to the Future" was the summer's big blockbuster. That was 1985, when they beat the St. Louis Cardinals in a thrilling seven-game World Series. So yeah, it's been a while.

They've been led by their pitching, with a starters' ERA of 3.73 (fourth-best in the American League) and a bullpen ERA of 3.25 (tied for fourth in the AL). Their defense has also been critical to their success, third in the American League in Defensive Runs Saved (+25) and tops in both Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive fWAR.

But it's the turnaround by the offense that has really helped Kansas City overtake Detroit in the AL Central.

Season72 (15).114 (15).300 (7).263 (2).312 (13).377 (13).305 (13)92 (12)
Last 14 Days11 (T-7).128 (10).305 (3).277 (3).315 (6).404 (4).317 (4)99 (6)

Comparing their season rankings in all the important major offensive categories to their numbers over the last 14 days, there has been a big improvement in virtually every category. They've hit the 7th-most homers in the American League over the last two weeks, their batting average is third, their weighted on-base average (wOBA) and slugging percentage is fourth, and their weighted runs created (wRC+) and on-base percentage are both sixth in the AL during that time.

Designated hitter Billy Butler has been particularly blazing since the team's hot streak began 22 games ago. For the season, Butler's nERD of -0.03 means he's been no better than an average player over the course of this season. But since July 22, he's hit .325/.350/.571 with 4 homers, 7 doubles, and 14 RBI, with a wOBA of .401 and a wRC+ of 158, which means he's accounted for 58% more runs than an average player in the same number of plate appearances. But he's not alone.

Since July 22, Norichika Aoki has hit .338/.410/.459 with a .386 wOBA and a wRC+ of 147. Alex Gordon is batting .304/.356/.468 with a .355 wOBA and a 126 wRC+. Lorenzo Cain is hitting .311/.358/.393 with a .333 wOBA and a wRC+ of 111. Mike Moustakas hasn't hit much for average over the last 22 games, just .233, but does have four home runs and 12 RBI and has slugged .466, with a .327 wOBA and a 107 wRC+. And despite a mostly down season so far this year for first baseman Eric Hosmer (-0.29 nERD this season, -0.4 fWAR), the Royals should get a boost from him when he returns from the disabled list as well.

And as mentioned previously, the schedule favors the Royals the rest of the way, too. That's reflected in our projections of Kansas City's playoff chances, which stand at 58.2%, just below Detroit's 60.8%. And while we still give Detroit a 48.6% chance to win the AL Central, it's a virtual coin flip, with the Royals at 46.2%.

Kansas City's pitching and defense will keep them in the hunt, but continued improvement by the offense is crucial to their ability to stave off the Tigers, who have more talent top-to-bottom on their roster than the Royals.

And while the smart money is still on the Tigers to pull this thing out, Kansas City's four-game series win against the A's this week was certainly eye-opening, and has put them in position to snag their first postseason birth since Ronald Reagan's first term in the White House.