8/19/2014 11:08 P.M. ET
Royals' newfound confidence prompted streak
Players-only meeting sparked an attitude change in young team
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
DENVER -- The Kansas City Royals had lost their first four games after the All-Star break. Swept by the Red Sox in a three-game series in Boston and then beaten by Chris Sale and the White Sox, they slipped below .500 and fell into third place in the American League Central, eight games back of the division-leading Tigers.
Enough was enough. A players-only meeting was called the next afternoon.
Raul Ibanez and Scott Downs -- veterans who had been released by the Angels and White Sox, respectively, and signed by the Royals -- delivered a message.
"They said, 'I don't think you guys know how much talent there is in here,'" remembered Billy Butler. "Nobody wants to face this team. The only thing holding this team back was us, ourselves. We didn't have that mentality.
"And they told us it was time to get it."
Kansas City won 7-1 that night in Chicago. And four weeks later, the Royals are still going strong. With a 7-4 victory against the Rockies at Coors Field on Tuesday night, they have won 22 of their past 27 games. They have moved atop the AL Central, two games ahead of the Tigers.
"After that [meeting], you could see our focus and accountability go up," said Butler.
There wasn't room for excuses in Kansas City's clubhouse anymore. The players wanted results. They haven't wavered.
Twenty-nine years removed from the only World Series championship in franchise history -- and the last postseason appearance the Royals made -- this is a team that has gone from wanting to claim an AL Wild Card spot to a team that feels it can win a division.
"We want to have the home-field advantage, too," said Butler. "Why not?"
Outsiders moaned when they saw the Tigers swing July deals to strengthen their rotation (adding David Price from the Rays) and their bullpen (picking up Joakim Soria from the Rangers), while the Royals merely added bit parts, like backup catcher Erik Kratz, Ibanez, Downs and reliever Jason Frasor.
Kansas City's front office had made a statement -- they thought the club had a strong enough front line to win the division and merely needed some bits and pieces added. The players took it as a compliment.
"I give them credit for showing confidence in us," said Butler. "Give Dayton [Moore, general manager] credit for not disassembling what we have here. We have the talent.
"It was up to us, as players, to take that next step. There is a time to develop and get experience, but at some point, you flip the light switch and can't just be happy to be here. We've reached that point."
"That's something they have to learn for themselves," said manager Ned Yost. "You can tell them how good they are, but until they believe that and come together as a group and believe in each other, it doesn't matter what you say or how much talent they have."
The Royals have reached that point.
A win in Wednesday's finale of a two-game visit to Coors Field and Kansas City will have won nine consecutive series for the first time since July 17-Aug. 14, 1991. With a 70-55 record after Tuesday's win, the Royals are 15 games over .500 for the first time since Aug. 6, 1994.
Twenty-one of their remaining 37 games are against teams without a winning record -- the Twins (three), White Sox (seven), Rangers (six), Red Sox (four) and Rockies (one).
But among their 16 remaining games against teams with a winning record, six are with their division-rival Tigers and Indians, and four against the Yankees.
Not that they are worried.
"You can see a confidence in this team," said Butler. "We realize we know how to win. … We had been going in spurts, but right now we are playing extremely well. The big thing is the offense has picked up. We also had good pitching and defense. We have the best bullpen in baseball. We give them a lead and it's over."
Kansas City leads the AL with an 80.4 percent save success ratio, converting 41 of 51, including 39 of 41 by closer Greg Holland, who has a 1.82 ERA.
Getting those leads was a challenge for the first part of the season. Ninety-eight games into the season, the Royals had scored only 389 runs. Only the Astros had scored fewer runs in the AL.
During their 27-game surge to the top of the AL Central, however, the Royals have led the Major Leagues with 131 runs scored. And it's been a team effort. With Eric Hosmer on the DL, having been limited to 12 at-bats during the surge, Kansas City has had seven players drive in 10 or more runs, including 17 by catcher Salvador Perez, despite a .221 average, and 16 apiece from right fielder/leadoff hitter Nori Aoki and Butler, who has moved from DH duties to first base in Hosmer's absence.
The timing for the resurgence was perfect.
"We've had this nucleus together for a while, and if we did not start to play better, this nucleus might not have been together much longer," said Butler. "We like what we have. We don't want to have it broken up."
And the Royals' players have been doing what they need to do to make sure the core of this team can stay together.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.