Here come the champs.

Make it eight straight for the Kansas City Royals, who beat the Minnesota Twins 2-1 on Sunday to continue their winning ways and creep closer in the American League wild-card scramble.

After struggling for much of the season and looking like the victims of a championship hangover, the Royals are officially back in the mix.

“We’ve got everything going for usstarting pitching, the bullpen has been spectacular, our defense has been good and we’re starting to swing the bats well,” manager Ned Yost said after K.C. pounded the Twins 10-0 on Saturday, per’s Jeffrey Flanagan and Rhett Bollinger. “That’s a good combination.”

Let’s start with the bats. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain, a top-three AL MVP finisher in 2015, has been on a tear, tallying 16 hits in his last eight games. First baseman Eric Hosmer has 10 hits and eight RBI over the same stretch. Left fielder Alex Gordon has hit five home runs since Aug. 14 and hiked his OPS more than 70 points in the process.

That’s a hefty chunk of the Royals’ offensive core, the same one that carried them to an AL pennant in 2014 and a confetti-strewn parade last November.

Oh, and toss in catcher Salvador Perez, the club’s heart and soul, who got the day off Sunday but launched a two-run homer Saturday. 

“I hope it lasts the whole year,” Gordon said after Saturday’s victory, per Jeff Deters of the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We’ve got a good thing going right now, and we’re winning games and having fun. Hopefully the team can keep it up, and I can keep it up, too.”

On the pitching side, Royals starters still hover just above the bottom third in MLB with a 4.55 ERA. During their winning streak, however, they’ve yielded one run or fewer six times.

Mercurial right-hander Yordano Ventura gave up one earned run in 6.1 innings with seven strikeouts in his most recent outing on Aug. 17. Ian Kennedy has scattered nine hits and one earned run over 14.2 innings in his last two starts. Dillon Gee fanned seven in seven innings while surrendering one earned run in a win on Aug. 18.

Danny Duffy, now officially the staff ace, won his 10th straight decision Sunday and lowered his ERA to 2.66, second-best in the AL.

The bullpen, meanwhile, remains the Royals’ steady strength behind the dynamic duo of Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. Overall, Kansas City’s relief arms boast an MLB-best 3.19 ERA.

Entering play Monday, the Royals sit at 64-60, 3.5 games off the wild-card pace and eight games behind the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians.

They’ll have to leapfrog the Seattle Mariners (66-57) and division rival Detroit Tigers (65-59) to challenge the Baltimore Orioles (67-55) and Boston Red Sox (69-54) for the wild-card lead. The Houston Astros have an identical 64-60 mark. And the rebuilt, reborn New York Yankees (63-60) won’t go away.

It’s a muddled mess in the Junior Circuit. This thing could go any number of ways.

That might benefit the Royals. This is an October-tested roster, accustomed to the rigors of a postseason battle. They’ve been here. They’ve done this.

FanGraphs’ still foresees a perfectly mediocre 81-81 finish for K.C., behind both Cleveland and Detroit in the Central. 

The projection systems, though, can’t measure the intangibles. They can’t always gauge heat.

Kansas City has six games left against both the Tigers and Indians, including a season-ending series against the Tribe at Kauffman Stadium that may be teeming with playoff implications.

Throughout their recent run of trophy-snagging success, the Royals have been an enigmatic club, perennially talented and perpetually doubted. 

“The Kansas City Royals are the sort of team you find yourself trying to come up with excuses for why they just beat you, because you can’t make sense of it otherwise,” Will Leitch wrote at Sports on Earth in October 2015. “Everybody always thinks they’re better than the Royals.” 

For yet another season, everyone might be wrong.

Here come the champs.


All statistics current as of Aug. 21 and courtesy of unless otherwise noted. 

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