Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Eric Hosmer was an invincible monster on Wednesday night. In a 16-2 drubbing of the failing Detroit Tigers, Hosmer provided five runs, five hits, and six RBI, most of which came from a demoralizing seventh-inning grand slam that stretched the lead out to 13-1. He even stole a base for only the fifth time all year. And thanks in part to Hosmer, the Royals have now scored 59 runs in their last seven games.

This win was the Royals’ eighth in a row, and after a medicore start to the season, they’re back in the playoff picture. More than that, this team is legitimately scary—a hustling, untiring beast that can smash, pitch, and defend their way through games with the familiar Royals spark that made them such frustrating opponents in 2014 and 2015. (See: Lorenzo Cain still sprinting home during garbage time last night in Detroit.)

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Chief among KC’s top talents is the generally little-known Whit Merrifield, a 28-year-old second baseman who has yet to play a full MLB season. Despite that lack of experience, he’s been one of the team’s top all-around hitters, with a .294 average and solid power. Merrifield is supported by the usual suspects—sluggers and Royals’ lifers like Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez, all of whom are enjoying much better years than in 2016.

On the mound, the Royals are a team that makes up for the lack of an ace by minimizing weaknesses. The starting trio of Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, and Jason Hammel don’t exactly strike fear into anyone’s hearts, but they’re all, at worst, solid, and if Ian Kennedy can build momentum from his six-inning, one-run win Wednesday, they’ll be even better. Meanwhile, Joakim Soria, Scott Alexander, and reinvented reliever Mike Minor keep the leads locked down from the bullpen. Beating this team usually just involves hoping one of these guys catches a bad day.

The Royals’ current streak makes a previously underachieving AL Central suddenly thrilling, as both they and the Indians have turned on the heat. Cleveland still owns a two-game lead on Kansas City, because they’re on a little seven-game winning streak of their own in which they’ve outscored opponents 52-19. It’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for Cleveland, but the fact that they were meant to run away with the division has made their still-strong year look worse than it is. 55-45 with the fewest runs allowed in the AL is still nothing to play down, and KC is going to have to keep up its stellar pace if they’re going to win the Central.

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The Royals and Indians have 10 games remaining against each other, though none until August 18. With the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox all crashing and burning, it’s now up to the Royals to challenge Cleveland’s supremacy. Who knows if this level of play is sustainable, or if the “real Royals” are more like the ones from the beginning of the year or right now, but over the past week, this team has been scary as hell.