Underdog Royals blessed with Latino leaders

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Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera and Alcides Escobar are helping the underdog Royals continue to be a postseason surprise. (H. Darr Beiser/USA TODAY Sports)

I know Los Angeles-area fans are still in mourning over the fact their beloved Angels and Dodgers, despite enormous payrolls, both made early exits from the 2014 postseason. Me? I couldn’t care less.

What’s relevant is that two of baseball’s most successful franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, are still in the tournament. And it’s no mystery why the Baltimore Orioles crashed the party. Buck Showalter is the game’s most scholarly skipper and he has taught his team how to persevere. But the Kansas City Royals? Come on, man.

Actually, I think it’s pretty cool that the underdog Royals have cultivated talent, a lot from Latin American countries, and those “seeds” are starting to mature. It’s a great blueprint for small-market teams that hope to have a reasonable amount of success. It’s remarkable, though, that such a product would remain in the hunt approaching mid-October.

The kids from Kansas City are obviously playing with house money. They are a loose bunch who are having a blast, and watching them play their brand of ball has had me on the edge of my couch. I love it when “rabbits” like Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore drive an opposing pitcher nuts. It’s a privilege to observe Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon perform miracle catches in the outfield. And while this is a young club, there’s enough of a veteran presence to keep things glued together.

The Royals also have the largest starting Hispanic force among the remaining teams, although the Giants have a well-stocked Latino bullpen. Alcides Escobar is a marvelous shortstop who has become even better under the guidance of Omar Infante, his experienced double-play partner. Combined with rock solid Salvador Perez behind the dish, Kansas City is stronger up the middle than Baltimore, their championship series rivals. Then there’s Cuban-American Eric Hosmer, who leads the cheering section and has done plenty of damage with his bat throughout the playoffs.

Pitching-wise, Yordino Ventura has emerged as the staff ace, although James Shields technically holds that distinction. Royals manager Ned Yost made a bonehead move when he asked the Dominican rookie to bail out Shields in the Wild Card game against the Oakland A’s. Failure during that rare relief appearance could have shook Ventura’s confidence. But the flame-throwing, right-handed string bean bounced back to throw a gem in a pivotal outing that put the Angels on life support. He held his own against the Orioles, too, until shoulder stiffness sent him to the trainer’s table.

I also like the way cagey lefty Jason Vargas, a Southern California resident of Mexican heritage, bends but doesn’t break in yeoman mound duty. Among the relievers, it was a stroke of luck that Kelvin Herrera recovered from a recent forearm injury. A seventh-inning specialist — part of the Royals “three-headed monster” — the 24-year-old Dominican induced the double-play grounder that kept the opening game against the Orioles deadlocked.

So, it would seem like the Kansas City Royals belong in the playoff fraternity. Winning four extra inning games and leading Showalter’s men 2-0 tells me this team has the ability. Whether they can stay hot enough to propel them into the World Series is another matter. If Ventura’s injury is serious, that would be problematic.

All I can tell you is the underdog Royals can throw and catch the ball, run like deers and, yes, they can hit. The leadership factor is there. Most importantly, their confidence is soaring. And when you believe you can win, you always have a shot.

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