Have The Royals Made Progress?

May 8, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals outfielders Alex Gordon (4) and Jarrad Dyson (1) and Jeff Francoeur (21) celebrate after the game against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 6-4. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

The Royals have played close to .460 baseball since the All-Star Break. Not great, by any stretch of the imagination. But it's an improvement over the .440 they played in the first half.

Maybe it just feels impressive considering the stinker of July they posted, where they won just seven of 26 games. After Sunday's loss at Boston, the Royals are now 56-70. Simple math says that's 14 games under .500.

If they stay at their current pace, that would be good for 72 wins. That would be a one game improvement over 2011. And it would represent the second highest win total of the Dayton Moore Era.

I'd make a joke about this being Year Six and all, but the Royals aren't that far off from where I thought they would be. They've just taken a different route to get here.

In a post back in April, I pegged the Royals as a 74 win team and had them finishing fourth in the Central. For them to hit my prediction, they have to play .500 over the last month-plus of the season. That's possible. They've had stretches where they played close to that level. Take May and June combined... The Royals record was 29-26. If only we could cherry-pick the months that counted, right?

An interesting development has happened on the way to another under .500 season. The Cleveland Indians are doing a spectacular impression of the Hindenburg. They have won just 11 games since the All-Star Break while being outscored by 102 runs. That's amazing. Breathtaking, really.

Anyway, with the Indians barely able to compete, they have slid in the standings of the AL Central and are on a collision course to challenge the Twins for the division cellar. It's too soon to call, but unless Cleveland can do a remarkable turnabout, it looks like third place is going to belong to Kansas City.

How do you feel about this?

The Royals moved into third last week, and I noticed my Twitter feed was somewhat... celebratory. That felt kind of strange.

To me, success is measured in championships. That means first place. That means paying attention to the standings. However, when the Royals aren't competing for a division (again) and are in The Process of rebuilding (again) it makes sense to measure success by wins and losses. I guess it all depends on perspective.

One thing I'm not worried about: A third place finish fooling the Royals brain trust into thinking they are closer to the division than they really are. Kind of like how some fans bought into "Our Time" as something it wasn't. The Facebook gang will probably look at a third place finish and buy into progress being made. That will set the stage for another winter of heightened expectations. Which will be followed by another summer of disappointment. (I'm not writing off 2013 yet, but let's just say I'm thinking 2014 is the first opportunity at challenging for a division. Hope I'm wrong.) It seems weird to write this, but I trust the front office will figure their proper place in the baseball universe as measured by wins and losses.

(Remember 2003, and how we all thought they were so close to winning. Our heads told us they overachieved, but our hearts told us they were a move or two away from contention. Allard Baird made some moves that, in retrospect, look insane and probably derailed any kind of progress that was actually made in '03.)

Since the strike in '94, the Royals have had one second place finish ('95 when they were four games under .500) and two third place finishes. ('98 when they were 17 games under .500 and the aforementioned '03. Our one winning season in 18 years!)

To me, 2012 feels like a wasted opportunity. Injuries have something to do with that, but it doesn't seem like a single key player took a step forward. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have performed well, but they were expected to. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have regressed. Alcides Escobar's bat has been a surprise but as we saw on Sunday his glove work seems like it hasn't been as good as we thought it would be. Sal Perez and Lorenzo Cain missed a chunk of the season. The bullpen has been good and the rotation has had it's positive moments, but overall still needs a massive overhaul.

In other words, the Royals record feels about right.

But about third place... This seems like we've been here before. Solid Septembers where the management talks about momentum. When the season wraps and if the Royals are in fact in third place I guarantee you there will be the requisite articles about the Royals finishing strong and how they will use this third place finish as a springboard to future domination of the Central. But I won't buy it.

Third place... Fifth place... It doesn't matter to me. Wins matter. And this has been another season where we haven't seen enough of them.

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