It’s no longer the baseball preseason. Time to get your ass fired up for the regular fall season of America’s Pastime. Read all our playoff team previews here. Today, you’re getting to know … THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS.
Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals, a team that somehow managed to follow up its surprising postseason run in 2014 with an even better season in 2015, winning 95 games and running away with the AL Central.
The Royals are the team that refused to come crashing back down to earth. Last year’s run to the World Series, which they very well may have won if not for a godlike performance from Madison Bumgarner, was so strange and unexpected—the team couldn’t score any runs, and yet it got to Game 7 of the Series!—that it was easy to imagine the Royals regressing to the bad old days this season. Instead, the Royals went right on kicking ass.
This year’s version of the Royals might actually be even more dangerous than last year’s. In 2014, the team got by almost entirely on the strength of its run prevention. They won games by playing great defense, relying on an unhittable trio of relievers, and scratching out just enough speed-and-small-ball runs to squeak past their opponents. The 2015 Royals can still pitch and play spectacular defense, but now they can hit a little bit, too.
It’s all about the hitters this year. The biggest breakout star has been center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who has always been a defensive maven, but this year became a legitimate five-tool star. Cain hit five homers and had 28 steals to go along with a .751 OPS last year, but this year he’s clubbed 16 homers and 34 doubles, raising his OPS to .838 while still managing to steal 28 bases and be a top-flight defender. That’s a tremendous step forward, doubly so because Cain didn’t even learn the basics of the game until his junior year of high school.
Cain’s been supported by career years from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, two former blue-chip prospects that are now making good. Hosmer hit .297/.363/.459 with 18 homers, and posted a career-high OPS+ of 122. Moustakas made an even bigger leap forward, posting career highs in each section of his slash line (.284/.348/.470), and bumping his OPS (.817) up by almost 200 points from last year. These are the two guys who, along with Alex Gordon, were tagged as the future saviors of the franchise back when the Royals were garbage. It may have taken them a little longer to develop than fans in Kansas City would have liked, but they are raking now.
Gordon had another good season despite missing some significant time with injury, and the Royals even got a boost from Kendrys Morales, whose .290/.362/.485 line and 22 homers constitutes one of the more surprising bounce-back seasons in recent memory. Kendrys Morales! Who would have thought?
The pitching staff is where things start to get a little dicey for the Royals. Edinson Volquez has been a solid ace-like replacement for James Shields, but Yordano Ventura regressed quite a bit, and had a tumultuous season that included him trying to fight everyone and a stint in the minors. The Royals went and got Johnny Cueto at the deadline, and although his first few starts for the team were sparkling, he has struggled throughout September.
The Royals’ unbeatable bullpen hydra has lost some of its invincibility, too. Kelvin Herrera has been more hittable than usual, and closer Greg Holland had to be shut down for Tommy John surgery. Wade Davis is still very, very good, though, so he’ll slide into the closer role for the playoffs.
The Royals would have a pretty good shot at beating the Cards, but I’m not so sure that’s something we should be hoping for. Royals fans are close enough to Cards fans, both spiritually and geographically, that they could become just as annoying if the Royals win it all. On the other hand, a reprise of the Don Denkinger call would be a truly wonderful thing ...
Johnny Cueto’s baseball chin is pretty good:
His baseball dreads are also quite nice. Everything going on in his head region is cool and good.
Because they refused to let last season be a fluke. It’s easy for a Cinderella team that doesn’t quite make it to the end—and, man, the Royals were sooooo close last year—to lose heart and settle back into mediocrity the following year. Nobody would have blamed the Royals if they had wilted this year, especially after losing ace James Shields, who had as much to do with their miraculous season as anyone.
Instead of going down like chumps, the Royals re-armed and got stronger. The front office made enough key signings and trades to keep the team competitive, and all the players who needed to get better did so. It’s always fun when an upstart pops up in the playoffs, but the enjoyment that comes from watching those teams is often dampened by the knowledge that it’s a one-time thing, that they aren’t equipped to hang with the big boys for very long. But the Royals are doing everything they can to stay at the dance, and it will be more fun to watch them stick around than fade away.