22 March 2007

Royal legacy #16 -- the 1987 Royals (83-79)

Death again had a hand in the Royals' season in '87, as it would six years later. Really, it was the best of times and the worst of times for Royals fans. The best of times was being two seasons removed from a world title and battling the Twins to the end for the AL West title in '87 -- the worst was seeing manager Dick Howser battle brain cancer, as diagnosed over the '86 all-star break. He tried to come back in spring training '87 but couldn't, and passed away in June '87, just 20 months after guiding the team to the pinnacle of the game. Howser's number, 10, has since become one of only three numbers retired for Royals along with George Brett's 5 and Frank White's 20. Mike Ferraro had taken over the team for '86's second half and Billy Gardner started '87 as KC's manager. Gardner went 126 games before John Wathan took over for the final 36 games and remained into '91.

The Gardner-Wathan tandem watched over a team richer in pitching than hitting as the '87 Royals batted .262 (eighth in the AL) with a .326 OBP (ninth) and .412 SLG (13th of 14). The team was dead last in runs scored at 715, 12th in doubles and HR, 10th in walks, and also in the bottom half of the league in hits (ninth). The hallmark speed of the successful teams in the stadium was present in triples, as KC's 40 was good for third in the AL, but not in steals as the team's 125 total there was good for only seventh. The mixture of Danny Tartabull and Bo Jackson was n
ot good for the team's K total as KC racked up 1,034 Ks for fourth in the league. The team was in the top half of most categories, however, on the pitching mound as a 3.86 ERA was good for second and the team finished second in complete games with 44, third in shutouts with 11, third in hits allowed at 1,434, second in runs allowed at 691 and first in HR allowed at 128. The bullpen notched only 26 saves for 12th in the league, and walks and Ks were not the staff's forté, as KC finished ninth in both categories.

GM John Schuerholz's biggest deal heading into '87 was the December '86 trade that sent P Scott Bankhead and OF Mike Kingery to Seattle for OF Tartabull. Tartabull was brought in to fill an OF hole created when the team decided to let Rudy Law go in free agency. Tartabull would pay immediate dividends with the first of three .500 slugging seasons in a Royals uni. In a trade that didn't work out for Schuerholz, and perhaps his biggest misstep, he made the first David Cone deal in March '87, shipping Cone and another player to the Mets for C Ed Hearn and two other players. Those three players played 26 games for KC. In '88 Cone would win 20 games and kickstart a great career. Nauseating. Jim Sundberg, the catcher for the '85 title team, was also shipped out soon after in a deal with the Cubs as Schuerholz handed the catcher's job to Jamie Quirk. With the retirement of P Dennis Leonard, more ties would be cut to the recent Royals' past as Jorge Orta and Hal McRae were released midseason and no-bat SS Buddy Biancalana was traded to Houston. Schuerholz made a big hit in the June draft by getting P Kevin Appier in round one. He also grabbed utility guy Terry Shumpert in round two and OF Jeff Conine in round 58 as two other players who would factor into team history. Shumpert went ahead of Albert Belle in round two, the Royals missed out on RP Mike Timlin in round five and players like OF Steve Finley and Scott Brosius
went by the boards in later rounds. No big losses were made by KC anywhere.

It was pretty much a three-man show for the Royals on offense in '87 as Tartabull proved his worth by hitting .309 with a .931 OPS, hitting 27 doubles, tying for third on the franchise charts with 34 HR, and leading the team with 101 RBI. He also K'd 136 times, which came along with the Tartabull package. Kevin Seitzer, whose emergence in '86 moved George Brett to first, lived up to the hype in '87 with 207 hits (tying for the league lead with Kirby Puckett and placing him fifth on the team's season record chart -- just one of six Royals 200-hit seasons), a .323 batting average and .869 OPS, 33 doubles and 8 triples, 105 runs scored, 15 HR, 83 RBI and 12 SB. That's a well-rounded season. Brett kept up his production at his new position by hitting .290 with an OPS of .884. He also chipped in 18 doubles, two triples, 22 HR and 78 RBI in 115 games. OF Bo Jackson also got his first full-blown taste of MLB with 116 games played in which he hit .235 with a .751 OPS (only a .296 OBP), 17 doubles, 22 HR, 53 RBI and 158 Ks in 396 AB. Bo stole 10 bases. He never saw a pitch he didn't like. The other regulars weren't as steady as Willie Wilson posted a .697 OPS and hit 15 triples for the fourth time in his career -- he threw in 59 steals and finished second to Seitz with 97 runs scored, so had his usual good points. Frank White hit 32 doubles and 17 HR while posting a .708 OPS, Steve Balboni hit 24 HR as part of his .273 OBP, .700 OPS and 97 Ks, and C Quirk hit for a .652 OPS in 109 games. SS Angel Salazar played steady D at short but hit .205/.219/.246 for an OPS+ of 23 in 116 games. The bench didn't provide much relief, either, as McRae hit for a .905 OPS in 18 games before his release, Bill Pecota hit for a .721 OPS in 66 games and Lonnie Smith hit for a .714 OPS in 48 games while playing a shaky LF. Other guys like Juan Beniquez, Larry Owen, Thad Bosley and Ross Jones didn't carry much weight. In an under-the-radar move that would be more of a payoff in coming years, OF Jim Eisenreich also started his comeback from Tourette's Syndrome in '87 and provided some pop with a .467 SLG in 105 AB.

A quartet of starters posted sub-4 ERAs for KC in '87 led by Bret Saberhagen's odd-year wonder of an 18-10 record, 3.36 ERA, 15 CG and 4 shutouts in 33 starts and 257 IP. Charlie Leibrandt was again a stalwart in the rotation with a 16-11 record, 3.41 ERA and 3 shutouts in 35 starts and 240 IP. Danny Jackso
n and Mark Gubicza weren't as steady as those top two but made their impact, as both broke the team record for walks allowed with Gube's still standing 120 BB and Jackson's 109 BB. Gubicza finished with a 3.98 ERA, 13-18 record, 10 CG, and 14 wild pitches in 35 starts and 241 IP while Jackson posted a 4.02 ERA, 9-18 record (their loss totals are also on the franchise's top 10 season marks), and 11 CG in 36 games (34 starts) and 224 IP. Bud Black split time between the rotation and pen to appear in 29 games (18 starts) and go 8-6 with a 3.60 ERA and 1 save in 122 IP. There was no clear-cut closer out of the pen despite Dan Quisenberry's 2.76 ERA and 8 saves in 47 games and 49 IP. John Davis posted a 2.27 ERA in 27 games and 43 IP and Gene Garber picked up 8 saves and posted a 2.51 ERA in 13 games and 14 IP. Three other relievers -- Steve Farr, Jerry Don Gleaton and Bob Stoddard -- would post ERAs in the low 4s while combining to go 9-10 with 7 saves in 181 IP. Farr was the steadiest of the three with a 4.15 ERA and 88 Ks in 91 IP.

The home confines were especially nice to the Royals in '87 as Gardner and Wathan guided the team to a record one game worse than expected via pythagorean W-L. KC was 46-35 at home while going 37-44 in road games. The Royals got off to a 9-10 start through April to end the month 2 games back of the Twins in fourth in the AL West but a 6-game win streak in early May put them in a three-way tie for first with the Angels and Mariners by May 10. Another 5-game win streak in May gave KC a 3 1/2-game lead in the division race and the month would end with KC sitting at 27-19 with a 2 1/2-game advantage. June and July weren't as kind to the boys in blue as two 4-game losing skids in June dropped KC 4 1/2 games out of first but a 4-game surge closed the gap to 2 games soon after. The Royals went on a 6-game tear in early July to tie the Twins atop the AL West but followed it up by losing 11 of 12 games through and past the all-star break to fall 4 games back. KC ended July on a 4-game slide to drop 6 games out of first by August 1. Just as quickly the team took 8 of 11 games to cut the gap to 4 games and the season went into September with KC 3 1/2 games back of the Twins. The deficit stayed at that mark through mid-September but a crucial 4-game losing streak that included a 3-game sweep by the A's crippled KC's chances as they dropped to 6 1/2 games out on the Twins. Four straight wins late in the month, including 2 over Minnesota, got KC back within 5 games of the lead but, with only 7 games to go, time ran too short. Back-to-back losses versus the Twins and Mariners eliminated the Royals from contention and even with a 5-game surge to end the season, including a 3-game sweep of the Twins, the Royals could only manage to finish 2 games back. A then-record 2.39 million fans flooded Royals Stadium in 1987 (fourth in the AL) and that total remains the second highest in franchise history as only the 1989 team exceeded that attendance mark. After the season, Schuerholz would stick to reshaping the team as P Danny Jackson was shipped to the Reds for P Ted Power and SS Kurt Stillwell (perhaps a reaction to Jackson's wildness in '87 and the impotency of Angel Salazar at the plate), a package of players including RP John Davis went to Chicago for P Floyd Bannister, and the Royals picked up nondescript RP Jeff Montgomery from the Reds in another deal that worked out nicely for Schuerholz and KC. The moves would help keep KC in its winning ways but the rise of the Oakland dynasty would spoil the team's chances at a division title into the early '90s. By then, Schuerholz was gone to Atlanta.

1987 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Kevin Seitzer and Danny Tartabull. Can't beat that kind of production for a combined $200,000.

1987 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Juan Beniquez. $430,000 was more than several productive players and he hit for a .610 OPS.

Here's the '87 Royals.

No comments: