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Tracking the Royals' Rapid Transformation from 2014 Darlings to 2015 Punks

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2015

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (3) argues the last out with home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth (25) following a baseball game against the Texas Rangers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, June 6, 2015. The Rangers defeated the Royals 4-2. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

This year, the Kansas City Royals have traded beanballs and engaged in on-field fracases with the Oakland A's, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and, most recently, Toronto Blue Jays.

You can argue the particulars of each incident and assign blame accordingly. In the end, though, the common denominator is the Royals, baseball's bad boys.

Or not, if you ask manager Ned Yost.

"We're not the bad boys of baseball," Yost said after the encounter with Toronto, during which Jays sluggers Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki were plunked, per Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. "We didn't do anything that was wrong. We just played the game."

Major League Baseball apparently agreed; the only suspensions handed down after the Jays-Royals donnybrook went to Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez and skipper John Gibbons.

Again, though, a club can only be in the midst of so many benches-clearing incidents before it starts to gain a reputation.

So where is this coming from? What led Kansas City—which last year streaked to the World Series as America's underdog darling—to turn heel?

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First off, this is nothing especially new. I wrote about Kansas City's shift from Cinderella to Wicked Stepsister back in April, after they racked up nine ejections over a six-game span. And I wasn't alone. ESPN's David Schoenfield, among others, also noted Kansas City's about-face:

David Schoenfield @dschoenfield

The Kansas City Royals, no longer the little small-market team everyone was rooting for last October.

One of the most visible culprits has been young, hard-throwing right-hander Yordano Ventura, as Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star outlined:

In the news business, as the saying goes, twice is a coincidence but three times is a trend.

So after either igniting or escalating tiffs with the Angels and Mike Trout, the A's and Brett Lawrie and now the White Sox, it no longer can be doubted that Ventura has developed an issue with self-control.

And it's an issue that’s tainting the image of the Royals, whose demonstrative style of play is abrasive to some to begin with.

Ventura was in the thick of the latest bad blood with Toronto as well. After Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista took a shot at Yost on Twitter, saying he'd "lost a lot of respect for that man," Ventura fired back, per McCullough:

In a series of Twitter posts that were subsequently deleted, [Ventura] called Bautista a "nobody" and threatened to retaliate the next time the two teams played. Ventura later apologized to Bautista, also on Twitter. ...

Yost had little to say about Ventura’s latest outburst. "Whatever," Yost said. "I'm not a big Twitter fan."

OK, fair enough—Yost can't be expected to police, or explain, all of his players' words and conduct. In the end, though, a manager is charged with setting the clubhouse tone.

It's entirely possible, even plausible, that Yost isn't the source of the collective chip that seems to permanently reside on the Royals' shoulder. But as the man on the dugout's top step, it's his problem.

Hard-throwing right-hander Yordano Ventura has been at the center of Kansas City's various feuds.
Hard-throwing right-hander Yordano Ventura has been at the center of Kansas City's various feuds.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Unless, of course, it isn't a problem. You can turn your nose up at Kansas City's antagonistic antics, but you can't argue with the results.

Entering play Monday, the Royals sit comfortably atop the American League Central with the best record in the AL. After adding ace Johnny Cueto and super-utility specialist Ben Zobrist at the trade deadline, Kansas City is primed for another deep October run.

Maybe the edge, attitude and bluster act as fuel. Perhaps they're an inexorable ingredient in Kansas City's chemistry.

This is, by all accounts, a tight-knit group, as outfielder Jarrod Dyson told Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star.

"We're all so close," Dyson said. "We joke around in here, but when it's time, we all want to go out and fight for each other."

Sometimes, that also involves fighting the other team, or coming close to it. That may hurt the Royals' standing from a PR standpoint, recasting them as hot-tempered bullies.

Then againas the old saw goes—if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

All statistics and standings current as of Aug. 9 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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