After lousy start, Royals slowly climb into contention

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Well, look at the Royals now.

After a 10-20 start, some looked ahead to trades and retooling. Following Salvador Perez's go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning Wednesday night boosted Kansas City to a 6-4 victory over Boston, the Royals are 35-36 and just 3 1/2 games back of AL Central-leading Minnesota.

''We're playing like we know we can and we're moving in the right direction,'' second baseman Whit Merrifield said, ''and hopefully we can keep that up and keep making progress.''

A third AL pennant in four seasons remains possible.

General manager Dayton Moore is in the most precarious positions as July looms, saddled with a club that has restored winning baseball to Kansas City but is poised to scatter into the wind after the season. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar are poised to hit free agency, all of them a crucial part of the 2015 championship team, along with left-hander Jason Vargas, who has bounced back from Tommy John surgery to tie for the major league lead in wins.

So it made sense when the Royals were scuffling that fans wanted a sell-off. Better to rebuild the farm system than get nothing from them should they sign elsewhere in the offseason.

But with the Royals back in contention, going unbeaten in their past six series, Moore must gauge whether this is merely a hot streak.

Should he begin formulating a plan for the trade deadline that involves dealing away what's left of his depleted prospect base to fortify a big league club with plenty of warts? Or should he keep the lines of communication with other clubs in case the Royals take another nosedive?

The reality is Moore will probably straddle until the last possible moment.

In the meantime, the Royals are focused squarely on the present heading into a three-game series against Toronto beginning Friday night.

Their pitching staff, despite losing ace Danny Duffy to an oblique injury and Nate Karns to some elbow pain, has been stifling. Their bullpen that struggled after trading away All-Star closer Wade Davis in the offseason has solidified. And their offense that had several players struggling to hit.200 has broken out with a vengeance, belting home runs at a rate unseen in Kansas City in years.

''We've been playing really well, having great at-bats later in the games - kind of picking each other up,'' starter Ian Kennedy said. ''Everybody is doing their job.''

The results have been there, too.

The Royals are an AL-best 13-6 in June and have not lost consecutive games to the same team in more than a month. They've won 12 in a row scoring at least four runs, and have become comeback artists - five times they've trailed in the seventh and won.

''We've got so far to go,'' said Royals manager Ned Yost, whose team hasn't been .500 since it was 7-7 in early April. ''I just focus on today, as dumb as it sounds. But that's how I'm built.''

Actually, that's how the Royals are built. They stayed the course when things were at their worst, and now they're trying to take the same approach that things are at their best.

''Guys just started playing well. That's really all it came out to,'' Merrifield said. ''It's part of baseball. Guys are going to go through tough times. Some guys got off to a slower start than they'd like, but they're playing better now and hopefully we can keep that going forward.''


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