CF Lorenzo Cain has been a pleasant surprise for the Royals in 2013.
The Kansas City Royals have gotten off to a 19-16 start to their 2013 campaign. And while that puts their record just three games above .500, that is four games better than where the Royals were at the same point last year.
While manager Ned Yost's bunch have played well enough to be just 1.5 games back of first place in the American League Central, there are still some things that the Royals could be doing better.
As baseball begins to enter into the dog days of summer, here's the best and the worst of what Kansas City has done this season so far.
Alex Gordon is looking like an AL MVP candidate.
In the early part of Gordon's career, it looked like the former third baseman would be another blue-chipper to fizzle out in the majors.
Then in 2010, the Royals moved Gordon from third base to left field, and he's taken off ever since.
Now in 2013, he's looking like an MVP candidate in the early going. He's sixth in the AL with 28 RBI and 11th in batting average with a .322 mark.
Not only is Gordon hitting well, but he is the best defensive left fielder in the AL too. He leads the AL in putouts with 68, has a 1.000 fielding percentage, and has two outfield assists.
Perhaps what has been most impressive about Gordon is that he has two walk-off hits this year to give the Royals plenty of momentum.
If Kansas City wants to make 2013 the year it finally turns things around, riding Gordon is the way to do it.
Ervin Santana (left) gave up back-to-back homers against NY.
Kansas City started the season 17-10 and had a strangle hold on first place in the AL Central. Since then, the Royals have gone 2-6 to fall to third place in the division.
The skid was punctuated last weekend when the New York Yankees went into Kaufman Stadium and swept the Royals in a three-game series.
On Monday though, the Royals started a 10-game road trip on a very positive note with an 11-4 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. That gave the team just its second win in over a week.
The blessing in disguise for Kansas City during this skid is that the Detroit Tigers have only been able to get 1.5 games ahead of the Royals in the division. So with the season still being in its adolescent stage, there's plenty of time for Kansas City to recover from this setback.
Lorenzo Cain leads the team in batting average.
At the beginning of the season, Lorenzo Cain was not at the forefront of most people's minds when it came to analyzing the Royals.
However, Cain has forced himself to be noticed this year with his play at the plate. He leads the team in batting average and is ninth in the AL with a .328 mark. He also leads the Royals in on-base percentage at .386.
Base-running has also been a specialty for Cain this season, as he is second on the team with four stolen bases. He only trails backup center fielder Jarrod Dyson, who is primarily used as a pinch runner.
Cain usually hits out of the five-hole, so he has been a tremendous end to the heart of the order for Kansas City. If he keeps it up, he could be in contention for a Silver Slugger by year's end.
The Orioles beat the Royals 2-1 in a three-game series.
If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
And the Royals haven't done that yet in 2013.
The AL East is the best division in the league with three teams with 20 or more wins. The Royals have played every team in that division and have a 6-8 record.
The Royals dropped a series 2-1 early against the Toronto Blue Jays, something that is inexcusable in hindsight considering how poor the Blue Jays have played this season. Kansas City also got swept by the Yankees at home this past weekend, and dropped a series in Baltimore 2-1 just prior to that.
There have been some bright spots in the Royals' performances against AL East opponents. They beat the Red Sox 2-1 in a three-game series that included a sweep of a double-header. They also "swept" the Tampa Bay Rays in a two-game series, but the third game was postponed due to rain.
One team from the AL East traditionally grabs a wild card playoff bid in the league. And while it's a little premature to think about playoff implications, these early series losses certainly don't help the Royals' postseason aspirations.
It's going to be tough enough to try and catch Detroit in their division, but losing these games to AL East teams takes away the possibility that the Royals might snag a wild card berth.
2B Chris Getz (left) has been a quality middle infielder.
While beating the best teams in baseball are important, winning games within your division will make or break your season.
That's why Kansas City's 9-6 record within the AL Central has carried the team through the early part of the season.
What's probably most disappointing about this record is that it could be even better. The Royals have let some games go against division opponents, most recently an extra-innings game against the White Sox where James Shields threw eight shutout innings.
As Kansas City looks to regain ground in the division, their record against Central teams is certainly something they can hang their hat on.
James Shields has struggled to get support from his team.
James Shield is hands down the best pitcher in baseball with a losing record in 2013.
Despite a 2-3 mark, he's maintaining a 2.48 ERA and has a team-high 53 strikeouts. But his team has given him little to no support almost all year.
Shields has started eight games this year, and the Royals have scored four or more runs in those games only three times.
What's really astonishing is that Shields should have two wins against divisional rival Chicago. Against the White Sox this season, Shields has pitched 14 innings and given up just ten hits and one earned run. The Royals have lost both those games.
In the first game against Chicago on Opening Day, Shields went six innings and only gave up one run. But Chris Sale of the White Sox threw a complete-game shutout to beat the Royals 1-0.
Then on May 6, Shields threw eight shutout innings before Ned Yost put in closer Greg Holland. Holland blew the save and the Royals lost 2-1 in extra innings.
Another game Shields should have won came on April 13 against the Blue Jays. The Royals' ace threw a complete game and only gave up two hits. However, one of them was a two-run homer, and the Royals lost the game 3-2.
The Royals went all in on Shields this offseason when they traded for him. So far Shields has delivered, but Kansas City's bats have to start supplementing Shields' good starts.
Eric Hosmer (left), Billy Butler (middle) and Jeff Francoeur (right).
The Royals are certainly looking good as the 2013 season has started. But surprisingly enough, they could be better.
The starting pitching has been great, which is something that Kansas City was starving for last season.
Offensively, the Royals have been pretty effective too, especially with Lorenzo Cain hitting like he has.
Billy Butler, last season's Silver Slugger at DH, hasn't hit for the average he'd like to with just a .261 mark. But his on-base percentage is great at .373 and he's second on the team with 25 RBI.
The Royals are trying to shake off a bad week last week where they went 1-6 against the Orioles and Yankees. They got off to a great start in Anaheim, beating the Angels 11-4 on Monday.
This 10-game road trip the Royals are on right now will certainly tell a lot about where this team truly stands.