Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Royal Revival: KC Looks to Break Playoff Drought

The Royals had big expectations this year after finishing with their best record since 1989 last season. This was going to be the year they finally end their playoff drought. Kansas City hasn't made the playoffs since they won the World Series in 1985. The Royals have had several talented young players emerge in recent years like Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Greg Holland, and Yordano Ventura. They added Omar Infante, Jason Vargas, and Nori Aoki in the offseason. However, the Royals entered the All Star break six and a half games out of first place. They lost their first four games after the All Star break, and sat at 48-50. The division seemed out of reach, and the Royals fell behind several teams in the wild card race.

Since the four game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, the Royals went on a surge. They have won 22 out of the last 28 games, and have baseball's best record since that period. Players credit a players only meeting with veterans Raul Ibanez and Scott Downs talking to the team. They told them there was a lot of talent on this team. It seemed to click, and the Royals find themselves a game ahead of the Tigers in the AL Central race. The Tigers made a big splash acquiring David Price at the deadline, but this team believes it can compete with Detroit. They might be right, and here is a few reasons why.

Improved Offensive Production

The Royals are similar to the Cardinals in that they don't hit for a lot of power. They also are in the bottom half of the AL in OBP. Perez leads the team with 15 home runs, and only two other players are in double digits (Gordon and Mike Moustakas). Moustakas hits for power, but has a putrid .202 average and .262 OBP. That is actually a vast improvement from what is was earlier in the year, which led to his brief demotion to the minor leagues. With Hosmer out hurt and no other options at third base,  the Royals need Moustakas to keep improving. Billy Butler's power has declined this year, which led the team to pick up Josh Willingham to add a power bat.

What the Royals do well is hit doubles and steal bases. They are fourth in the league in doubles,and  first in stolen bases. Despite being last in home runs, Kansas City is ninth in the league in runs scored. Their speed has helped compensate for their lack of power. Four players have double digits in steals with Jarrod Dyson leading the pack with 27. The team's offense was good during May and June, but struggled in July. The Royals offense has came alive in August, and that has been without Hosmer, who will be out until mid-September.

Very Good Defense

Gordon is a multiple Gold Glove winner, and Perez won his first (of probably many) last year. Alcides Escobar is considered one of the slickest fielding shortstops in the game. Infante has solidified second base, which had much turnover last year. The team's other outfielders, Lorenzo Cain, Dyson, and Aoki; are all fast and athletic. Moustakas is well thought off defensively. Butler has been filling in at first base for Hosmer, who won a Gold Glove last year. This certainly helps a very good pitching staff

Good Starting Pitching

Dayton Moore has been questioned on his December 2012 trade of Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and two other prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis. Myers won the AL Rookie of the Year, but has been hurt much of this year. Shields is a free agent at season's end, but he has given the team a workhorse with a big game reputation. The team replaced Ervin Santana with lefty Jason Vargas, and it has worked out well. Jeremy Guthrie has been inconsistent, but is second on the team in innings pitched. The team was worried about the back end of the rotation before the season, but two youngsters have stepped up.

Danny Duffy had been the Royals top pitching prospect back in 2011, but underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. The lefty started the season in the bullpen, but moved into the rotation to replace the struggling Bruce Chen. Duffy tops Royals starters with a 2.60 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Despite that, Duffy has had tough luck going 8-10.  Duffy is still only 25 years old and a big part of the Royals future plans. They also have a 23 year old flamethrowing rookie in the rotation. Yordano Ventura has had a very good rookie campaign, and leads the team in K per 9 innings. If the Royals make the postseason, these two pitchers will be a big reason why.

Dominant Bullpen

The Royals late inning mix of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera remind some of the 1990 Reds when they had Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton. Holland leads the AL with 39 saves, and has a 1.82 ERA. Davis has been even better as the set up man, and has 85 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched. Davis also has a microscopic 0.81 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. Herrera is the seventh inning guy, and has a 1.53 ERA. Besides those three relievers, the team also has 2011 All Star and Mizzou alum Aaron Crow in the bullpen.

The Royals have 36 more games left this season. They are neck and neck with the Tigers for the division. They cannot not afford to let up and need to keep grinding out wins to stay ahead. Kansas City obviously doesn't want to fall back into the crowded wild card race, and potentially not even have a home playoff game.  Royals management seems optimistic and  have even put potential playoff games tickets on sale. The Pirates showed it was possible to reverse years of losing, when they ended a long playoff drought last year. The Royals are looking to do the same this year.

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