While the Milwaukee Brewers are leading the National League Central division with one-quarter of the season remaining, a team in the American League Central is situated in the same position with nearly the same record–the Kansas City Royals.
To further expand on the parallel course being traveled this season by two teams that have not seen much success in recent years, a quartet of former Brewers are playing key roles in the Royal season unfolding in America’s Heartland.
The Royals have not participated in the playoffs since their ‘I-70′ World Series win over St. Louis in 1985. Heck, they have only posted six winning seasons in that time span, so to say they are overdue is an understatement.
This year’s 65-54 team is skippered by former Brewers manager Ned Yost, who is in his fifth year at the helm of the Royals. Last year’s squad compiled the best record in Kansas City since the strike-shortened 1994 season, when the Royals were on pace to win 90 games.
Escobar and Cain were part of the trade that brought Zack Greinke to Milwaukee in 2010. Escobar has been an ironman at short for the Royals, averaging 157 games the last three seasons and has not missed a game this season. He is batting .279, has stolen 24 bases, and is in the top five for A.L. shortstops in range factor/game (3.97) and fielding percentage (.977).
Cain missed the latter half of April when he landed on the 15-day D.L. with a groin strain. Since his return, he has played the majority of the games, switching between his normal center field spot and right field. Cain is hitting .300 and has stolen 16 bags in 91 games for the Royals, along with nabbing eight base runners trying to advance on his arm.
Aoki–not surprisingly–is a fan favorite in Kansas City with his ‘Midwestern-style’ work ethic. Aoki was sent to the Royals in return for southpaw Will Smith last off-season.
He also missed games (18) while on the disabled list in late June/early July. He is hitting .269 and has an OBP of .340, showing his normal propensity for drawing a walk every ten ABs. His 13 steals are down a bit from his previous larcenous years, but he is still a threat to take off if needed.
While in Kansas City this week, my family and I were able to visit Kauffman Stadium during a contest against the best team in baseball–the Oakland Athletics. The Royals put a 3-0 hurting on the A’s, and while only Aoki (2-for-3) got on base among the trio, each played well on defense and contributed to a nice win over a top-notch team.
Yes, the Royals are the real deal, with leadership from Yost and solid play from the three former Brewers. Maybe they will meet their former team this post-season.