Go ahead Royals fans, get excited

By Jeffrey Flanagan
July 8, 2010

I have to admit I like the fact that Royals manager Ned Yost rather boldly declared this week that the Royals are �in� the divisional race.

I also have to admit I�m starting to sip the Ned Yost Kool-Aid, now that the Royals have swept the Mariners and have won four straight series.

Why not? Why not believe the Royals could fight their way back into contention?

Yost�s comments predictably had many Royals observers around Kansas City rolling their eyes. And I�m certainly not going to bash these observers for being level-headed � some of them are correct and the truth is, the Royals do really need to focus on just getting back to .500 before they can start dreaming about contending for the division.

But Yost is trying to change perceptions in these parts. He�s trying to wash away a losing mentality that�s permeated the Royals (and this city) for far too long.

It has to start somewhere. And Yost is trying to start it now by cashing in on the momentum from the Royals� recent spurt.

And besides, is it really that unreasonable to think the Royals could go toe to toe with the Tigers or the White Sox or the Twins? Are those teams really that superior?

You can make the case that yes, the Twins are the best team in the division. But that may simply be because the Twins believe they are better than the rest of the Central, and especially the Royals, who have felt inferior to the Twins for years.

And Jose Guillen is right � the Twins do all the little things to win baseball games.

But, at least under Yost, the Royals are getting better at some of the fundamentals, at least enough so that they�re not simply giving away games night after night.

As for the Tigers and the White Sox, we have seen them graciously hand over games to opponents because of sloppy baserunning and horrendous fielding. I am convinced that under Yost, the Royals will have no problem competing with them over the second half of the season. And by the way, this will be a nice little test in Chicago this weekend.

Here�s another pleasant change we�re witnessing under Yost: The Royals are starting to believe they are not out of games just because they happen to fall behind early. Under Trey Hillman, the Royals� body language after falling behind early was quite evident: Game over.

Fans could sense it, and more importantly, players could feel it, too.

But in the last two weeks, the Royals have been fighting back from deficits. They�ve been displaying a will to win.

There is one other reason to believe the Royals could make things interesting in the Central Division in the second half: Under Yost, they�ve had the best bullpen in the league.

Now, to be fair, a lot can go wrong in the second half, too. The Royals, for all their nights of getting 10 or more hits, still struggle to plate those baserunners. They lack thumpers.

And the Royals absolutely have to get a healthy Luke Hochevar back. Getting a healthy Gil Meche back � it�s a long shot � would be a bonus, too.

Regardless, it�s fun � admit it � to even be discussing such matters as a divisional race in Kansas City in July.