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Young and fun Royals on verge of ending franchise's postseason drought

Norichika Aoki of the Kansas City Royals follows

Norichika Aoki of the Kansas City Royals follows through on a third-inning RBI base hit against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was a few hours before Saturday's game and Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson decided he had heard enough from catcher Salvador Perez.

The playful back-and-forth argument between the two had lasted too long for Dyson's taste. So he made his move when Perez, who had taken a seat on the couch in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, appeared most vulnerable.

Dyson, wearing a huge smile and standing at his locker a few feet from the couch, catapulted himself onto Perez. That prompted laughter throughout the clubhouse.

"That sort of thing," third baseman Mike Moustakas said with a smile, "somehow happens every day."

These sorts of antics, Moustakas and others said, have played a big role in keeping the clubhouse loose while the Royals attempt to end one of the most unwanted streaks in sports.

They reached the postseason seven times in 10 seasons from 1976-85 but have not made it that far since winning the World Series in 1985, the longest active run of futility in baseball. But they are in prime position to change that this season.

Even after Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Yankees, the Royals (78-62) lead the AL Central by two games over the Tigers, three in the loss column.

This group insists, however, that there is no added pressure to deliver playoff baseball to Kansas City. There is no burden, they say. As the significance of each game increases by the day, there is little feeling of anxiety or stress, they say.

"Not at all," Moustakas said with a laugh. "Not one bit. We just have fun."

It shows.

"I remember when I first got called up, we were kind of a quiet group," said Moustakas, who began his major-league career with the Royals in 2011. "We didn't really do too much, but as soon as guys like James Shields came over here, they changed the whole culture of this clubhouse and made it a lot more loose and more fun. Then that's kind of how we go out and play every day -- just loose and fun. It's translated to wins."

It's a nice narrative, but that's not the entire story behind the Royals' success.

"It's great we all get along, but that's not exactly why we are winning, though," starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie said.

Guthrie is part of one quantifiable reason: great starting pitching. Shields (13-7, 3.23 ERA) is the staff ace, but Guthrie (10-10, 4.31 ERA) and Jason Vargas (11-7, 3.14 ERA) also have performed well. Danny Duffy, who left Saturday's game after throwing one pitch because of shoulder soreness, and rookie Yordano Ventura have been even better. Duffy owns a 2.42 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 141 2/3 innings and Ventura is 11-9 with a 3.38 ERA.

Then there's that bullpen. Kelvin Herrera (1.37 ERA), who pitches the seventh inning, setup man Wade Davis (0.72, 92 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings) and closer Greg Holland (1.60, 42 saves) have been superb.

"We know that we don't have to score 15 runs a night," Moustakas said. "As long as we got a one-run lead heading into the seventh, we feel completely content with that."

The offense is playing a key role, too. All-Star leftfielder Alex Gordon has blossomed into one of the best all-around players in baseball, and after a slow start, the Royals' bats have come around. They scored the sixth-most runs in baseball in August and finished the month 19-9. They took over first place in the AL Central on Aug. 11.

"We've filled whatever deficiencies we had and we've become more of a complete team," Guthrie said. "And that's credit to and his staff. It's a compliment to the coaching staff as well."

The moves -- especially the acquisition of Shields and Davis from the Rays for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and two prospects, which many Royals point to as a turning point for the organization -- are mostly panning out.

What's left to find out is if this team will become the team.

"We feel the history. It's no burden. We know we're not the 1985 Royals -- we're the 2014 Royals," Shields said. "And we know we have a good shot."

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