It's not often that the Royals can be referred to as "winners" in any context. They've posted only two winning seasons since George Brett retired in 1993, and they haven't been to the playoffs in 22 years. Last winter they "won" the Gil Meche free-agent derby, only to be called losers for blowing $55 million on a pitcher with a mediocre (at best) track record.
The last time the Royals had so much as a winning month, Dubya was still in his first term as president. That is, possibly, until now. By beating the Angels 12-4 on Tuesday night -- the third time this month that K.C. has scored more than 10 runs in a game -- the Royals' record for June stood at 13-11 with three games remaining. Keep in mind that two of those games are against the freefalling White Sox and you'll see why this is a golden chance for the Royals to post their first winning month since July 2003, when they went 15-11 en route to an unlikely -- and lucky -- 83-79 record. (Their pythag that year was 78-84.)
While it's true that interleague play has something to do with the Royals' recent reversal of fortune -- they are 8-7 against the NL in June -- there are several legitimate signs that more good things lie ahead for K.C. For example:
• Alex Gordon, after a miserable start to his career, is starting to hit like many thought he would as the heir apparent to the title of "Royals' best hitter since George Brett." Gordon ended the month of May with a .185 batting average but is hitting .341 with a .923 OPS in June.
• Right-hander Brian Bannister displayed promising stuff with the Mets before hurting a hamstring last season. Traded to K.C. in the offseason, he has settled into the rotation nicely. The 26-year-old has allowed only 11 earned runs in his past five starts and has displayed the type of control (18 walks in 66 2/3 IP) that made him successful in the minor leagues.
• Catcher John Buck, also 26, already has a career-high in home runs with 14, and he's four walks away from tying his career mark in free passes.
• David DeJesus, 27, is a serviceable leadoff hitter and plays an above-average center field. He ranks third in the AL in Zone Rating among center fielders, according to The Hardball Times' new-and-improved defensive metrics.
• Mark Teahen, 25, came into his own in the second half of last season, slugging .582 after the break, and has been steady again this year after a slow start. He's versatile in the field, too, having come up as a third baseman before getting switched to right field. His future might be at first base if Ryan Shealy doesn't shake out of his season-long slump and the emerging Joey Gathright can claim an everyday spot in the outfield
• Shortstop Tony Pena has been a pleasant surprise as the replacement for the failed Angel Berroa. Though Pena doesn't hit much, his glove justifies his spot in the lineup every day.
• The Royals have a replacement ready for DH Mike Sweeney in the form of rookie Billy Butler, an all-hit, no-field slugger who belted his first career home run on Tuesday after killing minor-league pitching the past couple of years.
Of course, a team is only as good as its pitching. With the suddenly impressive Meche (he beat the Angels last night) in tow for the next four years, prospect Billy Buckner (son of Bill) knocking on the door and Bannister coming of age, the Royals have the makings of a solid top of the rotation. In a perfect Royals world, those fourth and fifth spots would go to Zack Greinke (who's in middle relief now) and Luke Hochevar, with Rule V gem Joakim Soria as the closer.
I'm not saying the Royals are going to win any AL pennants anytime soon, but respectability isn't too far around the corner, especially if they draft wisely and make the right free-agent signings. Selecting highly touted shortstop Mike Moustakas, a Scott Boras client, with the second overall pick in the draft this year looks like another positive step.
The key question will be whether they will spend the money to keep the talent that GM Dayton Moore and Co. have worked so hard to cultivate.