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Central heirs: Royals claim division crown
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Royals Central Division champs - photo by

KANSAS CITY— The first order of business for general manager Dayton Moore’s 2015 Royals has been accomplished: With a 10-4 victory over the Mariners on Thursday, the Royals captured their first American League Central title, the last team in the Central to win the division crown.

And it’s the Royals’ first division title since they won the American League West 30 years ago.

“It’s something I’ve expected from the first day of the season,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It was kind of like ‘This is supposed to happen.’ Last year was tooth and nail every game. I just had a real confidence with this group from the middle of Spring Training on.”

The Royals will begin the postseason on Thursday, Oct. 8, most likely at home. If the season ended today, they would be the No. 1 seed and host the winner of the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser between the Astros and the Yankees in a five-game AL Division Series.

The Royals lost four of six in the season series to both the Yankees and the Astros, getting swept on the road in three games by each foe, thus making home-field edge critical.

But there is still work to be done for the Royals to maintain their edge over the Blue Jays for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, sitting two games ahead of Toronto with 10 games left in the season.

The magic number to clinch the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage in the first round of the postseason is five over Texas.

“We can’t pack it in yet,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “We got to keep playing hard. We want that home-field advantage.”

Yost has yet to name a Game 1 starter for the ALDS, though principally that is why the Royals acquired right-hander Johnny Cueto at the Trade Deadline -- to be an ace in October. Cueto, though, just emerged from a miserable five-game stretch in which his ERA was 9.57.

Cueto looked better last weekend against the Tigers, tossing seven innings of two-run ball, and he threw seven strong innings on Thursday, giving up just three runs while striking out five. He could secure that Game 1 assignment if he keeps trending upward in his final three starts.

“Oh, man, he was awesome tonight,” teammate and good friend Edinson Volquez said. “He’ll be ready.”

Yost’s front four for the postseason will be Cueto, and right-handers Yordano Ventura, Volquez and Kris Medlen, in some order. Wade Davis has taken over the closer’s role in place of Greg Holland, last year’s Mariano Rivera Award winner. Holland has been shut down for the 2015 season and likely faces Tommy John surgery.

The AL Wild Card race is still up in the air. The Angels and the Twins are still in the hunt. The Royals swept the Angels in the ALDS last year.

The Yankees and the Astros are still in their division races, with the Jays and Rangers, respectively. It’s not necessarily good news for the Royals if either the Jays or Rangers fall back to the Wild Card Game -- the Royals lost the season series to both those opponents, four games to three.

The Royals’ everyday lineup is pretty much set, with Ben Zobrist claiming the second-base job over the injured Omar Infante, and Alex Rios securing the job in right field with a recent offensive burst that included an 11-game hitting streak.

The Royals are not exactly storming into the postseason, having gone just 9-13 in the month of September. But they were just 10-10 heading into last year’s AL Wild Card Game before rallying to beat the A’s and ultimately becoming the first team in history to win its first eight games in the postseason.

“We’ve only had one other grind during the season,” Yost said. “We knew we could ride this out. When it came time, I knew they would get ready again. Now we got 10 games left, having clinched it this early, we can get some guys some rest. But we still have home-field advantage to get.”