Royals love to run — and they’ve raced to MLB’s top mark

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Kansas City Royals Whit Merrifield, left, steals a base behind Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien, right, during the first inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Whit Merrifield made his big league debut for Kansas City in 2016, the season after the Royals won the World Series.

Five years later, he’s trying to lead another resurgence for a team whose identity should be pretty familiar by now.

The Royals are still trying to beat teams on the basepaths. Merrifield already has eight stolen bases, tied for the major league lead. As a team, Kansas City has 22 steals. Only San Diego has more. That’s despite the fact that Adalberto Mondesi, last year’s major league leader in steals, hasn’t played for the Royals in 2021 because of an oblique injury.

That’s not to say the Royals can’t hit for power. Carlos Santana and Salvador Perez have six homers each. Jorge Soler is off to a slow start this year, but he went deep 48 times just two seasons ago.

Kansas City (16-10) has the best record in baseball, although that note comes with a word of caution: The Royals have been outscored by three runs on the season. They won their first six one-run games before finally dropping one Tuesday at Pittsburgh.

But even if Kansas City eventually falls from its perch atop the AL Central, the Royals seem to be moving in the right direction — and quickly.

STUCK IN NEUTRAL

The Washington Nationals (12-12) made it to .500 by winning four straight games, and that’s enough to put them in a first-place tie with the New York Mets. The NL East doesn’t have a team with a winning record at the moment, and the only team with a positive run differential is actually last-place Miami, which is at plus-4 in that department but has an 11-16 record.

The Atlanta Braves, division champions the last three seasons, are barely above the Marlins at 12-16 — but they’re also not that far from first place.

TRIVIA TIME

Name the only non-Kansas City player to lead the American League in steals since 2017.

HIGHLIGHTS

Minnesota’s Bryon Buxton put on quite a show in center field Friday night — at the expense of Kansas City’s Andrew Benintendi. In the fifth inning, Buxton made a diving catch on Benintendi’s flyball to shallow center. Two innings later, Benintendi sent a drive to deep left-center, and Buxton made a leaping catch at the wall.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit three home runs, including a grand slam, in Toronto’s 9-5 victory over Max Scherzer and Washington on Tuesday night. The 22-year-old Guerrero is beginning to live up to the promise that made him one of the most celebrated prospects of the past few years. He’s hitting .337 with seven home runs and is fourth in the AL in OPS.

COMEBACK OF THE WEEK

Down by two runs in the bottom of the 11th, the Milwaukee Brewers faced a tough task against the Dodgers on Saturday night, even with the help of the automatic runner to start the frame. But two walks loaded the bases, and after a sacrifice fly and a strikeout, Avisaíl García singled home the tying run. Then Travis Shaw won it 6-5 with a single of his own. Los Angeles had a 95.1% chance to win in the top of the 11th, according to Baseball Savant.

The Dodgers have been on the wrong end of some big comebacks lately. They blew a 7-1 lead in a loss to San Diego the previous weekend.

Philadelphia nearly topped Milwaukee’s big rally after trailing the Mets by four heading into the bottom of the ninth Sunday, but replay overturned what would have been a tying homer by Rhys Hoskins, and the Phillies fell a run short in an 8-7 loss.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Mallex Smith of the Seattle Mariners topped the AL with 46 steals in 2019, beating out Mondesi by three. Merrifield led the AL the two years prior to that.

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