Royals manager Mike Matheny has experienced ups and downs in baseball, both as a player and as a manager. His managerial résumé includes three division titles and a National League pennant; it also includes a multi-season stretch of missing the postseason entirely.
In a packed division, the Royals are starting to set themselves apart from the competition after a bit of a rough start, sitting atop the American League Central with a 6-4 record entering play Thursday. The wins are stacking up for a starting rotation and lineup that is still trying to figure out how to fire on all cylinders.
"When we celebrate these wins, the guys have the crazy music playing after. I love that stuff, because they need to embrace it,” Matheny said. "I've been guilty in the past of never embracing each win enough and suffering the losses too much. It's good to see we got guys that are appreciating that any Major League team is hard to beat."
Kansas City has already faced tough opponents in the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels, but the Royals were able to come out on top. They have yet to lose a series this season.
Battling through inconsistencies with postponements and scheduled off-days gives the Royals all the more reason to celebrate when they get in the win column. Celebrations have long been part of the Royals’ culture -- they just haven’t been this elaborate.
"Every game you can win in a big league stadium, in a big league season, it should be celebrated,” third baseman Hunter Dozier said. “Years in the past, we've done celebrations, but nothing to this extent. I love it. I was definitely one of [the players] who was pushing to get all that stuff.”
A championship belt will soon be incorporated into postgame celebrations that already consist of a fog machine and blaring music in the clubhouse. However, the belt will also be used to celebrate any feat a player accomplishes, whether the team wins or loses.
“Anything for celebration, really; it doesn't mean we win the game,” catcher Salvador Perez said. “It's just a crazy thing for us in the clubhouse.”
The Royals’ schedule over the next week will not ease up as they match up against the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. But given how the Royals have been playing as of late, it’s expected there will be more use of the fog machine in the future.
"This is a team that's been playing really well,” Matheny said. “And fortunately, we were able to just go in there and see little glimpses of what we would like to see for the rest of the way."
Offense coming together
The Royals' offense started the season on a hot and cold stretch, scoring 25 runs in their first two games, then combining for eight runs over their next four games before picking back up with 16 runs in the four games after that. Such streakiness is the result of the lineup not quite finding its tempo yet.
Among the top producers are Perez, who went 8-for-12 in the three-game set against the Angels with a home run, two doubles and four RBIs. It was the second time in his career where the slugger notched at least eight hits in a three-game series. There's also second baseman Whit Merrifield, whose .375 average through 10 games ranked eighth best in the AL heading into Thursday. Center fielder Michael A. Taylor, in his first year with the club, is one of three Royals hitters batting over .300 (.324). But slowly but surely, other Royals batters have been collecting hits as well.
That now includes Dozier, who had been looking for his first hit of the season after starting out 0-for-16. He snapped that with two singles in the final game of the series against the Angels, making him feel more like his Spring Training self.
"That was probably my best Spring Training,” Dozier said. “For me, personally, the way I was feeling at the plate, the way I was driving the ball to all parts of the field.”
Despite starting the season without a hit in five games, Dozier didn’t put pressure on himself to press at the plate.
“We still have 150-something games left. It's a long season,” Dozier said. “It's not like last year where we're only playing 60 games and I missed the first 20, or whatever it was, and now the window shrinks. This is a long season, you're going to go through these stretches.”