Kansas City Royals.
New York Yankees.
One of those four stands out a little more than the other.
If you guessed Yankees, you are correct, as the famed “Bronx Bombers” are on the outside looking in for one of the two wild-card spots in the American League.
Instead of fighting with the Red Sox over the division crown, N.Y. is battling it out on a nightly basis with the Indians, O’s and Royals.
Texas and Tampa Bay are also in the mix, but those are playoff regulars.
Baltimore made a late-charge last year, but it has still been years since the Orioles were consistent contenders.
Cleveland and Kansas City? They’ve had long years of droughts, managerial changes, front office moves and failed free agency.
This year, it’s all come together, and they are right there…..on the doorstep looking to make it to the postseason.
Terry Francona and Ned Yost are willy veterans who have been on the bench for years putting together strong teams. The jobs they have done in the Midwest warrant honors, though that is likely to go to Boston manager John Farrell who turned the Sox from scrubs the studs overnight.
When it all comes down to it, the Rays, Rangers and Yankees will likely be the three teams vying for the two spots, but if you don’t have a horse in this race, you’ve gotta be rooting for K.C. and Cleveland.
It just seems right in the world of big-market, money-grubbing franchises when two teams like that can compete with the top dogs.
For the Royals, it’s all about building from within.
Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have all come up through the ranks and provide Kansas City with a nucleus for years to work with. Add in Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and closer Greg Holland, and these Royals have done it right.
Sure, did they look outside for an ace in James Shields? You bet, but they only got him because of the depth they had in the minors to work out a deal.
For Cleveland, it’s been a combination of things, but all signs point to Francona.
He was able to put all of Boston’s wild and crazy players together for multiple World Series runs, but one dreadful season led to his exit. After working with ESPN, Francona returned to the dugout and has proven his abilities.
Deals to bring in Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs may not look great on the outside, but you have to dig deeper to see their strengths.
All are great character guys who work hard and play defense. Swisher and Bourn are also seasoned vets who know what it takes to make late runs.
Don’t get me wrong, the Indians have also built from within like Kansas City, as Carlos Santana has turned into a top-flight catcher after his gruesome knee injury and hot-shot pitching prospect Danny Salazar has provided both a spark and future greatness in one.
Can either team pull off a final charge and advance? We’ll know within the next seven days or so…