Wild-card berth in reach for Royals

James Shields has embraced the role as the Royals' staff ace. AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Call it early, call it April, tell me there are still 143 games left in the 162-game schedule, but the fact is that the Kansas City Royals have developed into a legitimate wild-card contender.

They’re off to a relatively fast 11-8 start. They sit perched atop the American League Central. Some might say they’re just keeping the seat warm until the Detroit Tigers figure out their closer situation and Victor Martinez starts to swing the bat.

Well, if the Royals aren't a first-place team yet, they sure can play with the second- and third-best teams in any division of the AL, which means they’re good enough for a possible wild-card berth.

Why am I so confident that this team, which has produced only one above-.500 season since 1995, can actually make the playoffs this season? They finally have pitching.

Amazingly, they’ve had this start while most of their top young hitters have struggled. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is hitting just .154. Both first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez have yet to hit a home run; designated hitter Billy Butler, a career .299 hitter, is batting an uncharacteristic .254.

The Royals’ offense has been here before to start a season. But their rebuilt starting rotation is the main reason the Royals are in first place.