Amid 7-game winning streak, Kansas City Royals’ revival feels real and boundless

Since the sensory overload of the 2015 World Series, an increasingly dimming memory, Royals fans have been grappling with a franchise that was 184 games under .500 in its last seven full seasons (not including the pandemic-shortened 2020 schedule).

A club that entered 2024 having lost 100-plus games three times in that span, matching a team record with 106 losses in 2023, and that more often than not was incapacitated by the end of May, if not April.

Along the way, it sure became much easier to embrace skepticism than faith — not unlike during the generation-plus of the Royals’ postseason absences between 1985 and 2014.

Even the offseason spending spree that reeled in the likes of starting pitchers Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, reliever Will Smith and slugger Hunter Renfroe — part of an opening day roster that featured 19 players not on the team a year ago — still might only have felt intriguing to a certain degree.

Sure, maybe the Royals could win 10 or 15 more games. Heck, if the youngsters led by Bobby Witt Jr. also took another step forward, perhaps they could be 20 or 25 games better. With a little luck in the frail American League Central, maybe the Royals could even … hover in the race for a while?

But if fans feel the constraints of recent context and the apparent forces of gravity that would seem applicable to how far a team might rise all at once, the Royals themselves diligently scrubbed away any association whatsoever with the distressing recent past.

A few weeks ago, it would have been natural to scoff that off as mere denial as they’ve treated it like a taboo topic from spring training on. Or maybe even to have dismissed the way Smith put it:

“Why not us?” said Smith, who last year with the Rangers became the first player to ever have been part of winning three straight World Series with three different teams. “We could surprise some people. We could do some stuff.”

But the point of it all was that the culture of this group wasn’t willing to be defined by any preconceived boundaries. It was going to assert a fresh narrative, independent of the weight of what might be considered the Royals’ “before times,” and create on a blank canvas.

Presto, that’s been punctuated by their seven-game winning streak as of Thursday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals blasted Houston 13-3 to extend the longest active winning streak in MLB and complete just the third sweep of a seven-game-plus homestand in franchise history.

With the victory, the Royals improved to 9-4 a year after it took them 35 games to notch that ninth win.

Best of all, it comes out of a highly sustainable framework — a force that, dare we say, seems safe to believe in.

It’s not just that through Thursday Royals starters have a 1.96 ERA, allowing the second-fewest runs (17) in MLB, and that the bullpen had yielded just two runs in 23.1 innings in the last seven games.

Or that the Royals as of Thursday were tied for third in baseball with 17 home runs (led by Witt with four after his two on Thursday) and were well on pace to break the club record of 193.

Or that they’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the game, matched only by Detroit in Defensive Runs Saved Above Average (12), and lead the American League in stolen bases (17).

It’s all of that fused together by the little things, like what manager Matt Quatraro observed amid the nine-run, 11-hit, 15-batter first inning on Thursday: the repeated alertness to take the extra base.

That speaks both to largely playing the game right but something else, too.

“The best part about it,” Quatraro said, “is more the attitude.”

To his point, this team is crackling with a sense of purpose right now. Even a certain fire.

“There definitely is,” starter Brady Singer said Thursday, “and there should be.”

It’s as if it can’t wait to play every day and embrace whatever challenge awaits.

That’s illustrated in Sam McDowell’s column about their eagerness to wait out a five-hour rain delay to play in Baltimore on getaway day and signified by such moments as back-to-back rallies from 3-0 deficits to beat the White Sox and Astros.

“We’re not going to win every single game, every single time,” said first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, who amassed his first eight RBIs of the season on Wednesday and Thursday. “But we’re going to give it a shot.”

Since no one involved wants to talk about last year, no one wants to say how different it feels to come to work every day.

But merely a week or two into last season, there would have been no reason for anyone to have conviction about that kind of statement.

Now, you can sense the melding of a young core coming of age with an infusion of veterans with winning pedigrees and becoming more than the sum of their parts — through an energy that Pasquantino noted is one of the few things that’s under their control.

Certainly, you can see that capacity in every facet of their play so far.

All of which has changed the essence of what it means to take it one day at a time this year: working to keep building “step by step, brick by brick,” as Witt put it, instead of to hoist themselves out of a bottomless pit.

None of which means this team is immune to an abrupt comeuppance or the ever-lurking trapdoors of slumps and injuries. The pendulum could abruptly swing wildly the other way. And, well, maybe I’ll want some of these words back later in the season.

But it feels like something real and substantial is happening here.

Something that leaves us eager to see every chapter unfold and that says our imaginations shouldn’t be any more limited or attached to those bygone days than the Royals have allowed themselves to be.

Something that also says ... why not them? They could do some stuff.