23 January 2016

Royal legacy -- the new #2 -- the 2014 Royals (89-73)

Royals fans had held out hope season after season for 'the year' that the prospects gelled and long-awaited success was back. Season after season the hope fell flat. Key players would get injured. The defense would falter. Short hitting funks turned into crippling slumps that turned into demotions. Simply put, no breaks were caught in Kansas City. Frustrations mounted as 'Trust the Process' turned into a joke. Then, 2014 saw it happen. No one player really carried the team, but nobody was a big drag either. Fans packed Kauffman Stadium (yet KC still finished 11th in the AL in attendance) and the team and fans created a lasting bond. A wild playoff run would end up etching this team into the #2 spot in Royals history, second only to the 1985 World Champs.

1. 1985 Royals
2. **2014 Royals**

3. 1980 Royals
4. 1977 Royals
5. 1976 Royals
6. 1978 Royals
7. 1984 Royals
8. 1981 Royals
9. 1975 Royals
10. 1982 Royals
11. 1989 Royals
12. 1979 Royals

13. 2013 Royals
14. 1973 Royals
15. 1971 Royals
16. 1994 Royals
17. 1988 Royals
18. 1987 Royals
19. 1993 Royals
20. 2003 Royals
21. 1991 Royals
22. 1972 Royals
23. 1995 Royals
24. 1974 Royals
25. 1983 Royals
26. 1990 Royals
27. 1986 Royals
28. 1992 Royals
29. 2000 Royals

30. 2011 Royals
31. 2012 Royals
32. 2008 Royals 

33. 1996 Royals
34. 1969 Royals
35. 2007 Royals
36. 1998 Royals
37. 1999 Royals
38. 1970 Royals
39. 1997 Royals
40. 2009 Royals
41. 2010 Royals 

42. 2001 Royals 
43. 2002 Royals
44. 2006 Royals
45. 2004 Royals
46. 2005 Royals

"Be Royal" was an apt slogan for the 2014 Royals team. They took home the AL 'crown' in shocking fashion, just 4 years removed from the sixth worst season in franchise history (by my count), and hearkened back to the days of the late '70s juggernauts. No, there was no George Brett tearing the league apart like 1980 (now relegated to #3 among Royals seasons), but much like those teams there was a solid core of players who had spent years together. Original Royals GM Cedric Tallis had made shrewd moves to assemble George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Hal McRae, John Mayberry and Freddie Patek, and Tallis's replacement, Joe Burke, added Whitey Herzog and others to the mix to build those teams. The 2014 Royals owed a small debt to former GM Allard Baird (mainly Billy Butler and Alex Gordon -- as ugly as Baird's tenure was, it's nice that some good came out of it) but mostly belonged to GM Dayton Moore. When the Royals made their first trip to the World Series in 1980, it was more a culmination of Tallis's and Burke's work and celebration of a squad that had gotten so close in the past getting over the hump. The Royals' third trip to the World Series in 2014 was more of a bolt out of the blue. It felt like lightning in a bottle that you hoped would last (and thank God it did for another 12 months and counting). It's hard to think of the sensationalism that would surround a player, say if Alex Gordon had made a run at .400 in 2014 and ended up at .390 like George Brett in 1980, but even lacking that rare form of legendary player production, 2014 was a thing to behold for Royals fans. The fact that the team was maybe one-sent-runner-from-third away from taking Game 7 of the World Series to extra innings just cemented it in franchise history.

In line with the unexpected nature of the Royals' 2014 season, there were no earthshaking 'We got that guy!' pick-ups in the offseason. It was more addition of pieces that you wouldn't necessarily expect to fit when the puzzle was more complete than you knew. Jason Vargas was signed in November 2013 to replace 2012 bounceback starter Ervin Santana. The next month reliever Will Smith was sent to Milwaukee for OF Nori Aoki, who would get a chance to fill the Royals' open RF spot. A couple weeks later IF Omar Infante was given a 4-year deal coming off a .318 batting average/.795 OPS 2013 with Detroit. Fourth OF David Lough, who had been solid in 2013, was shipped to Baltimore for IF Danny Valencia. The Royals rolled into the 2014 season with much of the same crew from 2013 in tow. 

For the first 100 games of 2014, the Royals were in neutral. They exited April 2 games over .500, endured another losing May to drop to 3 games under .500, ripped off 10 straight wins in June to move to 7 games up on .500 and surge into first place in the AL Central, then had an up-and-down remainder of June and July to settle at 50-50 on July 23. As July turned into August, the Royals began to come alive. A 14-2 spurt moved their record to 67-54 on August 15 and back into first place. Losses to Texas and the Yankees on Aug. 24 and 25 were the team's first two-game skid since July 20-21. From Aug. 11 to Sept. 8 they were either tied or up on first place in the division. Back-to-back losses to Boston in September dropped the Royals out of first place for good but the Royals would win 6 of their last 8 to cash in the top wild-card slot in the AL playoff race. They finished one game back of the Tigers for the AL Central division title. The most remarkable Royals season in a long time ended with the team 13 games over .500 on the road and with a 41-27 second half record. 

The Kansas City offense was pretty average overall in 2014 but excelled in speed and contact once more, much like 2013. The .263 team batting average was 2nd in the AL (and 4th in the majors) as the team racked up 1,456 hits (3rd in the AL). However the Royals walked a majors-least 380 times but also struck out a majors-least 985 times (119 times less than any other team). They were top 5 in the AL in doubles (4th) and triples (5th) but dead last in the majors in HR with only 95 (the only team with less than 100 homers). Their 153 steals were the most in the majors. The team scored 651 runs (9th in the AL), posted a .314 OBP (9th in the AL) and slugged .376 (11th in the AL) for a .690 OPS (10th in the AL). The difference, again, was pitching as the Royals posted a 3.51 team ERA (4th in the AL) and 1.25 team WHIP (7th in the AL). KC allowed only 624 runs in 2014 (4th in the AL) and gave up 128 HR (3rd in AL). They weren't racking up the Ks (4th least in the league) but also didn't give bases away either as they allowed the 4th least walks as well. The defense also was a stalwart with a .693 defensive efficiency and top 10 franchise-history defensive WAR seasons from Alex Gordon in LF and Lorenzo Cain in CF. 

Gordon was the all-around team leader with his stellar play in the outfield and also had the best plate performance for KC. He hit .266/.351 (led team)/.432 (also led team) for a .783 OPS (led team, obviously), 150 hits, 34 2B, 19 HR (led team) and 74 RBI (led team). His 65 walks were also 22 more than any other Royal regular. He picked up a 2nd consecutive All-Star nod and 4th consecutive Gold Glove. His CF neighbor Cain was no slouch either as he posted his first full season over .300 at .301 BA with a .339 OBP and .412 SLG for a .751 OPS. He had 142 hits, 29 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, and 28 SB but accolades would elude him until his further emergence in 2015. Other than Gordon and Cain the Royals had a lot of hitters around the MLB average at the plate. Hosmer took a small step back from his 2013 production but hit .270/.318/.398 for a .716 OPS, with a team-leading 35 doubles but only 9 HR and 58 RBI. New addition Aoki was solid for KC (but may be remembered more for this play) as he hit .285/.349/.360 for a .710 OPS (rounding up), a team-leading 6 triples, 17 SB and 43 BB compared to only 49 Ks. DH Billy Butler was playing out his contract in KC and was also solid at the plate in hitting .271/.323/.379 for a .702 OPS with 32 2B and 9 HR. SS Alcides Escobar made a big bounceback at the plate in posting a .285 batting average with a .317 OBP and .377 SLG for a .694 OPS that was more in line with his 2012 production for the team, and also played in all 162 games. His 165 hits lead the team and 34 2B put him among the team leaders, and he led the team with 31 SB. C Salvador Perez snagged his second straight All-Star selection and Gold Glove but took a step backwards at the plate with a .260/.289/.403 line for a .692 OPS, but did post 28 2B, 17 HR and 70 RBI. Valencia came off the bench to post a .710 OPS in 36 games and midseason pickup Josh Willingham hit for a .732 OPS in 24 games. Christian Colon was a late call-up and posted solid early numbers with an .864 OPS in 21 games. The 2014 strugglebus seats belonged to Infante, who got a nice FA contract and responded by hitting .252/.295/.337 for a rough .632 OPS, 21 2B, 6 HR and 66 RBI (notice the Number of the Beast there, appropriate as he's been demonized for his production as a Royal so far); and Moustakas, who struggled early and earned himself a reset at Omaha. He would finish the season with a .212/.271/.361 (.632 OPS) line and was the only regular with less than 100 hits on the season. He did sock 15 HR and redeemed himself a bit with his playoff hitting (see below) but it was far from a landmark season for the Moose. Former Royal Raul Ibanez was brought back midseason as more of a clubhouse leader and that was about all he contributed as he hit for a .603 OPS and sub-.200 BA in 33 games. IF Johnny Giavotella got one last chance at second and struggled with a .593 OPS in only 12 games. 

Pitching-wise, the most important letters for KC were H and D, in the chemical formula of H-D-H, signifying the bullpen troika of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Herrera took the 7th inning slot normally and ended up with a 1.41 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 59 Ks in 70 IP. Davis was shifted full-time to the bullpen and responded in major fashion. He was next as the set-up man in the 8th and was lights out with a 1.00 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 9-2 record, 3 saves and 109 Ks/23 BB (a team best 4.74 K/BB) in 72 IP. Holland followed up his record 2013 with a similarly great 2014 as he posted 46 saves, a 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 90 K in 62 1/3 IP. Danny Duffy led the way among starters with a 2.53 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 113 Ks in 25 starts/149 1/3 IP but was shifted to the bullpen for the playoffs. Yordano Ventura posted his first full big-league season and went 14-10 (co-leading team in wins) with a 3.20 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 159 Ks in 30 starts/183 IP. Shields's 2014 season didn't quite shine like his 2013 did but he was decent at a 14-8 record, 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 188 Ks/44 BB (a 4.09 K/BB, best among KC starters) in a team leading 34 starts and 227 IP. Vargas was an adequate addition to the rotation as he finished his first season in KC with an 11-10 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 128 Ks/41 BB in 30 starts and 187 IP. Jeremy Guthrie was serviceable in the back of the rotation with a 4.13 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 124 Ks in 32 starts and 202 2/3 IP. Bruce Chen picked up 7 starts once again but faltered with a 7.45 ERA and 1.75 WHIP and couldn't recreate his 2013 success before getting cut in September. Beside H-D-H out of the pen, Aaron Crow was 6-1 with a 4.12 ERA and 1.28 WHIP but didn't really dazzle, and Louis Coleman had a rough 34 IP with a 5.56 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. Francisley Bueno and midseason pickup Jason Frasor chipped in with solid numbers (especially for Frasor) and Tim Collins was doing well before injuring his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery. 

The Royals' 2014 draft was immediately fruitful for a change as 1st rounder lefty Brandon Finnegan got a crash course in high-A ball and AA then got a late call to the majors and pitched fairly well in the postseason (he was since a key part of the Johnny Cueto trade with Cincy in 2015) . Later in the 1st round, KC picked HS lefty Foster Griffin, who struggled in low-A ball in 2015. A third 1st rounder, C Chase Vallot, has posted promising peripheral numbers in low-A ball in 2015; 2nd rounder HS righty Scott Blewett worked his way thru low-A ball in 2015; 3rd rounder big college lefty Eric Skoglund was good in high-A ball in Wilmington in 2015; 4th rounder HS SS D.J. Burt posted decent numbers in the Pioneer League in 2015; and 5th rounder college righty Corey Ray struggled in the South Atlantic League low-A ball in 2015. Otherwise, Ibanez was added in late June, RP Scott Downs was added for bullpen depth in July as the team also traded for Frasor, and Valencia was shipped to Toronto in late July for more roster help in RP Liam Hendriks and UT Erik Kratz. A waiver-wire deal in August sent prospect P Jason Adam to Minnesota for Willingham and that was the last piece the Royals would take with them into the playoffs. 

Even with an August-September surge into the playoffs, the Royals' efforts earned them only a 1-game Wild-Card playoff game versus the Oakland A's in the friendly confines of The K. I settled in with friends at a West Des Moines bar and watched James Shields serve up a 2-run homer to Brandon Moss in the 1st to put Oakland up, 2-0, early. Billy Butler singled home Aoki in the Royals' 1st to cut the lead in half and Shields managed to settle in. Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer got back to back RBI hits in the 3rd off A's starter Jon Lester to put the Royals in front and that 3-2 lead held into the 6th. Shields allowed the first two batters on base in the Oakland 6th and Royals manager Ned Yost, who had made 'Yosted' a Royals-related term during the 2013-14 seasons for his knack for managing to make poor decisions at critical times, brought in Yordano Ventura from the bullpen. Ventura proceeded to run the count to 2-0 and then served up a 3-run homer to Moss as the A's grabbed the lead back, 5-3. Kelvin Herrera took over with 1 on and 1 out that inning and two RBI singles stretched the A's lead to 7-3. The Royals went down fairly meekly in the 6th and 7th and the 7-3 lead held into the bottom of the 8th, at which point, if memory serves me correctly, I headed home from said West Des Moines bar without much hope of a Royals comeback in mind. Needless to say, they proved me stupid. Cain and Butler hit 1-out RBI singles in the 8th and a wild pitch scored Hosmer to cut the lead to 7-6. The Royals left two in scoring position and it felt like a comeback was so close, yet so far away. Lockdown Royals closer Greg Holland loaded the bases in the Oakland 9th but managed to emerge unscathed and KC was down to its last 3 outs. With the bottom of the order up, Willingham batted for Mike Moustakas and led off with a single. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran and was sac bunted to second by Alcides Escobar, then stole third to put the tying run 90 feet away with 1 out. Aoki came through with a sacrifice fly off A's closer Sean Doolittle and the game was tied. The Royals left the winning run at third in the 10th and 11th and, meanwhile, June draftee Brandon Finnegan threw two scoreless innings. RP Jason Frasor entered the game with 1 on and 1 out in the 12th and gave up an RBI single to former Royal Alberto Callaspo, and KC was again on the ropes. Hosmer, however, answered the call with a 1-out triple in the 12th and Christian Colon (who would come through again in the clutch for KC) singled to tie the game. Colon stole second with 2 out and Salvador Perez would come through with the biggest single to LF in 29 years to give the Royals the walk-off win.

The win set up a best-of-5 Division Series with the Los Angeles Angels but the Royals had once again caught fire and the Angels were just kindling. Danny Duffy picked up the game 1 win, 3-2, behind a Moustakas homer; Finnegan pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings out of the pen in game 2 and Hosmer hit a 2-run homer in the 11th to help KC to a 4-1 win; and the Royals jumped all over Angels SP C.J. Wilson in game 3 to run off with an 8-3 series-clinching win behind Hosmer and Moustakas homers (and this Cain sequence). That brought on the 96-win Baltimore Orioles in a best-of-7 AL Championship Series. The Royals would not be cooled. A back-and-forth game 1 saw KC take a 4-0 lead, Baltimore tie it in the 6th, and then Gordon and Moustakas homer in the 10th to give KC an 8-6 win. Moustakas struck again with a homer in game 2 but it was Escobar and Cain RBIs in the 9th that got the Royals the 6-4 game 2 victory. Back in KC for game 3 the Royals gutted out a 2-1 win (highlighted by this Moustakas play), and then in game 4 Jason Vargas and the bullpen trifecta of H-D-H made 2 first inning runs stick for a 2-1 KC win and a series sweep. The whirlwind 8-game surge from the Royals would punch their first World Series trip in 29 years, this time versus the San Francisco Giants.

The postseason magic came to an abrupt halt in game 1 in Kansas City as the Royals couldn't figure out Giants SP Madison Bumgarner (an unfortunate motif for the series) and the Giants rolled to a 7-1 win at the expense of Shields, who got lit up for 5 ER over 3 IP. The Royals bounced back in game 2, however, as KC got to the Giants' pen for 5 runs in the 6th, capped by an Infante 2-run homer, to take a 7-2 win. The Royals would also emerge victorious as the series shifted to San Francisco for game 3, as Jeremy Guthrie stepped up and the Royals sealed a 3-2 win. Game 4 would end up a pivotal moment in the series as the Royals knocked around Giants SP Ryan Vogelsong to take a 4-1 lead but the bullpen couldn't hold it together. The Giants tied it in the 5th and Finnegan (the first player ever to play in the World Series the year he was drafted) gave up 3 runs in the 6th. Tim Collins allowed 4 more runs in the 7th and the Giants seized an 11-4 win that could have given the Royals a 3-1 series edge. As it is, the series went to game 5 tied at two wins each and that meant it was Bumgarner time for the Giants. This time he thru a complete-game 4-hit shutout with 8 Ks and a 5-0 SF win brought the series back to KC with the Giants up, 3 games to 2. The lone consolation for the Royals was that the series was back in Kauffman Stadium, and the team once again answered the bell as they pasted the Giants for a 10-0 shutout behind Ventura to send the series to the ultimate -- game 7. Guthrie and Tim Hudson got the starts in the final game of the 2014 season and Guthrie gave up 2 runs in the 2nd to spot the Giants a 2-0 lead. The resilient Royals got a Gordon RBI double in their half of the 2nd and an Infante sac fly tied the score. Guthrie was pulled with 2 on and 0 out in the 4th and Herrera allowed one inherited runner to score before getting out of the jam with KC down, 3-2. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy brought on Bumgarner in the 5th to try to ride out the lead and, after getting a runner to second in the 5th, the 3-2 lead would hold into the 9th as Bumgarner kept the Royals offense locked down. The Royals were down to their last out when Gordon stepped to the plate and singled to left center only to see Giants CF Gregor Blanco misplay it. LF Juan Perez also fumbled the ball but Gordon was held at third with the ball held by SS Brandon Crawford in shallow left. Bumgarner got Perez to pop out to foul territory near third and that was it for the 2014 season as the Royals came up 90 feet short. Still hard to watch, but what a turnaround from the recent past for KC. My stance is that he should have been sent. Hosmer's dash to home in game 5, 2015, was a similar play. Force Crawford to make a good throw. If you send him all the way Gordon has a head of steam up and it puts the pressure on Crawford's throw. BUT, that's not what happened and the Royals came oh, so close. 

Infante led the way in the World Series with a .924 OPS (somewhat redeeming his beyond-lackluster regular season) while Perez, Butler, Cain and Escobar also hit well in the series. Ventura posted a 1.46 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 12 1/3 IP to lead the way for the pitching staff, while Davis and Holland were lockdown as usual at the back of the bullpen. Other than that, every other pitcher allowed at least 2 ER to the Giants' offense, which was no slouch. Overall in the playoffs, Hosmer stepped up with a line of .351/.439/.544 (.983 OPS), 2 HR and 12 RBI; Cain posted numbers of .333/.388/.417 (.805 OPS); Escobar hit .292/.303/.415 (.718 OPS); Butler hit .262/.327/.333 (.660 OPS) and Infante hit .255/.310/.373 (.683 OPS). Moustakas hit 5 HR with an .817 OPS to provide some needed pop and Gordon knocked in 11 RBI with a .688 OPS. Aoki struggled with a .487 OPS in 41 postseason ABs.

After all that, the challenge was how would the team respond in 2015? There were some key decisions to be made. Aoki and Butler walked in free agency, as did Shields. Crow was traded to the Marlins for prospects. Luke Hochevar came back on a deal to stay in the bullpen after missing the season with an elbow injury. Moore rolled the dice on 1B/DH Kendrys Morales, who had posted career low numbers in Minnesota and Seattle in 2014; as well as P Kris Medlen, who was coming back from an injury, and OF Alex Rios to replace Aoki after Rios posted roughly league average numbers for Texas. Giavotella was sent to the Angels for a minor-league pitcher and two big pitching pickups were made at the turn of the year to 2015 as RP Ryan Madson and SP Edinson Volquez were brought in. Volquez inked a 2-year deal after putting up solid numbers with the Pirates in 2014, and Madson hadn't pitched in the majors since 2011 so was getting a shot at redemption after once being a solid closer in the majors. Moore also added some depth by adding Joe Blanton and Franklin Morales to the pitching roster in Feb. 2015. Going by the sheer number of transactions it seems KC was making a run not to come up 90 feet short in 2015. As we saw in November 2015, they didn't.

2014 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Alex Gordon. The defense, plus some pop at the plate, plus he's clearly looked upon as a team leader. And....4 Gold Gloves in a row. He's gotten it done. Now if only he'd rounded third...

(Peter Aiken/USA Today)

2014 Pipeline Royals LVP -- I'm going with Omar Infante, but the Pipeline would like to acknowledge his contributions in the 2014 World Series. Still, $5 million for a 32-yr-old 2B with a .632 OPS? And three years to go on the contract? Pass. 

(credit unknown)

So close with the 2014 Royals....

Royal legacy -- the new #12 -- the 2013 Royals (86-76)

Wow, has it been three years since I posted here? I guess so, the dates don't lie. What a three years it's been for Royals fans. The slow rise indicated in my last post - the 2012 rehash - has continued to the pinnacle of baseball. This blog started in 2005, in the absolute darkest times for the franchise (see #45 below and read the link), when the Royals were a national joke, an easy target, an ESPN rarity. Even in 2012, the hometown All-Star Game fans booed Robinson Cano mercilessly in the Home Run Derby and the ESPN talking heads gave off a 'they're just lucky to have a team' vibe in their reactions. This blog went dormant in 2011 after grinding out 6 1/2 years of minor league updates and seeing some glimmers of hope but not much dazzle on the big stage. If you look back, though, the pieces were there. The edges were rough (Yordano Ventura was in low-A ball, for example) and some pieces were in wrong places but they were there. There were some missing spots, still, but nothing that couldn't be shaped if decisions were made well. In 2013, the team took another leap forward but couldn't get over the top. However, the campaign would end up the best KC season since 1989.

1. 1985 Royals
2. 1980 Royals
3. 1977 Royals
4. 1976 Royals
5. 1978 Royals
6. 1984 Royals
7. 1981 Royals
8. 1975 Royals
9. 1982 Royals
10. 1989 Royals
11. 1979 Royals

12. **2013 Royals**
13. 1973 Royals
14. 1971 Royals
15. 1994 Royals
16. 1988 Royals
17. 1987 Royals
18. 1993 Royals
19. 2003 Royals
20. 1991 Royals
21. 1972 Royals
22. 1995 Royals
23. 1974 Royals
24. 1983 Royals
25. 1990 Royals
26. 1986 Royals
27. 1992 Royals
28. 2000 Royals

29. 2011 Royals
30. 2012 Royals
31. 2008 Royals 

32. 1996 Royals
33. 1969 Royals
34. 2007 Royals
35. 1998 Royals
36. 1999 Royals
37. 1970 Royals
38. 1997 Royals
39. 2009 Royals
40. 2010 Royals 

41. 2001 Royals 
42. 2002 Royals
43. 2006 Royals
44. 2004 Royals
45. 2005 Royals

It wasn't hard to slot the 2013 squad in the above list. Going by wins it was the 12th best season in Royals history, and compares well to '73, when the Royals were nearing a breakthrough and racked up 88 wins. But 2013 doesn't quite beat '79, when the team won 85 games and was in the midst of five playoff appearances in six years (with '79 being the odd man out, as they were second in the AL West). Maybe had I done this recap in 2014 I would put 2013 below '73, but with the luxury of some perspective, #12 feels right. After the 'Our Time' debacle of 2012, the Royals went basic with 'Come To Play' as the 2013 slogan, and for a change they lived up to it for most of the season. If not for an ugly month of May, 2013 may have marked the team's first of three straight playoff trips rather than the preamble to the last two seasons. 

There were a couple twitches of the needle on the Royals' seismograph (that hit San Andreas levels in 2015) during the 2012-13 offseason. On Halloween 2012 the Royals flipped a minor-leaguer to the Angels for RHP Ervin Santana, who had struggled with an ERA in the 5s in Cali in 2012. SP Jeremy Guthrie resigned in November and Pipeline favorite 1B/DH Clint Robinson got shipped to Pittsburgh for peanuts soon after. The blockbuster came Dec. 12 in a controversial deal where KC flipped top prospects OF Wil Myers and SPs Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery to the Rays for SPs James Shields and Wade Davis. Most of 2013 would be spent by Royals fans arguing who won the deal, mainly because Shields pitched well but got the Royals nowhere, and Davis was a struggling starter. It finally became evident in late 2014 that the trade was worth it, mainly because of the emergence of Davis in a stacked Royals' bullpen and the team's run to the World Series. 

A largely ho-hum 2012 set little expectations for the Royals going into 2013, yet the Royals came out of the gate strong. They sat in first place a few days in April and ended the month 4 games up on .500 and in first place on May 1. The good times came to an abrupt end after that first month, as the Royals went 8-20 in May, including losing 12 of 13 near the end of the month to drop to 8 games below .500. After hitting .500 at 21-21 on May 21 (right before an 8-game skid) they wouldn't get back to the .500 mark until July 28. In this baseball purgatory they settled into the rather-purgatorial third place as the Indians and Tigers hashed out the division lead and distanced themselves from the pack. A 33-25 record in August and September got the Royals close (they were a 1/2-game back of Cleveland on Aug. 16 but a 7-game skid later were 5 1/2 back of the Tribe) but wasn't enough. They crept closer to the Tribe down the stretch but saw Cleveland finish strong and grab one of the two AL wild-card spots. A winning record both at home and on the road and record of 16 games over .500 in the second half of the season were good portents of times to come for the Royals. 

The KC offense didn't have much punch in 2013 but did generate a 'That's What Speed Do' vibe with a focus on contact hitting. The Royals led the AL in steals (153) and the least strikeouts (1,048) and were second in triples at 34, but were lackluster in pretty much every other category at the plate. The team BA of .260 was fifth in the AL but was weakened by a ninth-place .315 team OBP and 12th-place .379 team slugging percentage for an 11th-place .694 team OPS that generated an 11th-place 648 runs scored. The offense may have been a cut-rate velvet Elvis painting, but the pitching staff was much closer to a Dutch master, as the Royals led the AL with a 3.45 ERA and were fourth with a 1.26 WHIP in giving up a league-least 601 runs. This was augmented by a budding defensive stalwart that was fourth in the AL in defensive efficiency, led by CF Lorenzo Cain, who put up a 2.8 defensive WAR total to tie for the second-best Royals defensive season ever in that category. The bullpen was the rest of the story as Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow set the table with ERAs under the league average, and closer Greg Holland cleared the table by posting a team-record 47 saves with great peripheral numbers. 

Following in the footsteps of Alex Gordon in 2011 and Billy Butler in 2012, 2013 was 1B Eric Hosmer's turn to take his game a step forward. He hit .302 (career high)/.353/.448 (.801 OPS which led the KC regulars) with 188 hits, 34 2B, 17 HR, 79 RBI, and 86 RS while also picking up his first career Gold Glove at first. DH Butler was also solid at the plate in hitting .289/.374/.412 (.787 OPS) with 27 2B, 15 HR, 82 RBI (team leader) and playing all 162 games to become only the 5th KC player ever to do so. LF Gordon and C Salvador Perez were also leaders in both sides of the game as Gordon hit .265/.327/.422 with 27 2B, 6 3B, 20 HR (led team), 81 RBI and 90 RS but also K'd 141 times. He did pick up his third consecutive Gold Glove in LF. Perez, meanwhile, hit .292/.323/.433 with 25 2B, 13 HR, 79 RBI and picked up his first career Gold Glove. There was a bit of a drop-off after that. Platoon RF David Lough posted a .724 OPS in 96 games after Jeff Francoeur washed out with a .571 OPS in 59 games and was cut on July 5. OF Justin Maxwell was the team's big trade deadline pickup (a sure signifier of no big push for October in 2013) and posted a .857 OPS in 35 games. C George Kottaras spelled Perez and hit .180 but did manage a .719 OPS in 46 games, and OF Jarrod Dyson was in the mix with a .692 OPS in 87 games. Midseason pickup journeyman IF Emilio Bonifacio came over in trade from Toronto and slapped up a .700 OPS in 42 games. It was mostly ugly after that. 3B Mike Moustakas struggled to a .651 OPS in 136 games and had fans questioning his potential (funny now, not so much then), Cain posted a mediocre .658 OPS at the plate to temper his defensive excellence, with only 4 HR and 14/20 SB. SS Alcides Escobar was solid in the field but far from it at bat with a lowly .559 OPS but did go 22/22 in steals. Likewise, 2B Chris Getz declined from his previous hard-to-stomach three seasons in Royal blue by posting a .561 OPS and splitting time with Bonifacio, Elliott Johnson and a short stint from Johnny Giavotella, who once again couldn't cement a spot in KC with a .626 OPS in 14 games.

On the mound, Shields stepped up with a 13-9 record and led the AL with 228 2/3 IP while putting up a 3.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 196 Ks. He was 0-4 during the May swoon but posted some of his best numbers that month. Santana also had a resurgence in KC as he was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 161 Ks in 211 IP. His 3.16 K/BB ratio would be the best on the team among starters. Guthrie was a solid #3 starter for the Royals in 2013 as he went 15-12 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 111 Ks but tended to let batters get a little Carew-ish as he gave up an AL-most 236 hits. Wade Davis made 24 starts and slapped up a 5.32 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 114 Ks in 135 innings of work, making it somewhat evident maybe the rotation wasn't his thing. Luis Mendoza and Bruce Chen split most of the remainder of the starts with opposite effect, as Mendoza posted a 5.36 ERA and 1.58 WHIP compared to a 3.27 ERA and 1.18 WHIP from Chen. Danny Duffy returned from Tommy John surgery in August and posted 5 solid starts in a good sign of his recovery, while a 22-yr-old Yordano Ventura made his MLB debut with 3  middling September starts but couldn't get his first big-league win. Out of the pen it was Holland making the most noise with his 47 saves (2nd in the AL), 1.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 103 Ks/18 BB and his first career All-Star appearance in 68 G/67 IP. After five seasons struggling as a starter, one-time #1 overall draft pick Luke Hochevar found his niche as a set-up man in 2013 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 82 Ks/17 BB in 58 G/70 1/3 IP. Kelvin Herrera had his second straight good year also in a set-up role as he had a 3.86 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 74 Ks in 58 1/3 IP. Lefty Tim Collins and righty Aaron Crow were mirror images with ERAs in the 3s, and WHIPs in the 1.4s, and Will Smith, Louis Coleman and midseason pickup J.C. Gutierrez pitched solidly down the stretch out of the bullpen.

There were no big splash moves roster-wise in 2013, as could be assumed by Justin Maxwell being the big trade deadline grab. Jeff 'Frenchy' Francoeur was a fan favorite but couldn't keep contributing at the plate so was cut loose in July. In the June draft, a lackluster 2012 record netted them college IF Hunter Dozier with the 8th pick (he posted a .631 OPS in AA in 2015); touted college lefty Sean Manaea with the 34th pick (injured at time of draft but bounced back to put up some solid minors numbers before being the blue chip prospect in the Ben Zobrist deal in 2015); college lefty Cody Reed in round 2 (had his struggles in the minors but seemed to be figuring it out in 2015 before getting flipped in the Johnny Cueto deal, ah the price of a championship); high school righty Carter Hope in rd 3 (still in rookie ball in 2015); college C Zane Evans in rd 4 (made it to AA in 2015); and HS CF Amalani Fukofuka in rd 5 (had a good age 19 season for Idaho Falls in 2015 with a .901 OPS).

With a promising 2013 in the bag, GM Dayton Moore still had his work cut out for him in the 2013 offseason. Starter Jason Vargas was signed as a free agent to replace Santana, who had earned a richer deal than the Royals wanted to give him. Will Smith was traded to the Brewers for OF Nori Aoki, who would have his adventures for KC in 2014. Getz was replaced with free agent IF Omar Infante in a deal that's caused a lot of discussion in the two years since. Lough was traded to the Orioles for Danny Valencia, mainly for Moustakas insurance if his plate struggles continued. Chen was brought back on a 1-year deal after serving his purpose in 2013. None of the moves were huge, but in combination they would help lead to an unexpected, crazy run in 2014. The door of success was opening in KC and nobody knew it.

2013 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Let's give this one to Eric Hosmer. At age 23 he started to look like the dynamo hitter he was touted to be when he was drafted. Plus stellar defense at first base to go with it? The only question now is how long KC will be able to keep him around. 

(Getty Images)

2013 Pipeline Royals LVP -- It's gotta be Jeff Francoeur, tho it's hard to pick an LVP in the Royals' better seasons. Frenchy is a solid choice (fan attraction aside) as he was paid $7.5M for some rough times in RF and a .571 OPS in 59 games. Not even being worth it enough to hang around? Woof. 

(Getty Images)

Standing on the verge with the 2013 Royals....

06 April 2013

Royal legacy -- the new #29, the 2012 Royals (72-90)

OK, we're up to date. The countdown to this point:

1. 1985 Royals
2. 1980 Royals
3. 1977 Royals
4. 1976 Royals
5. 1978 Royals
6. 1984 Royals
7. 1981 Royals
8. 1975 Royals
9. 1982 Royals
10. 1989 Royals
11. 1979 Royals
12. 1973 Royals
13. 1971 Royals
14. 1994 Royals
15. 1988 Royals
16. 1987 Royals
17. 1993 Royals
18. 2003 Royals
19. 1991 Royals
20. 1972 Royals
21. 1995 Royals
22. 1974 Royals
23. 1983 Royals
24. 1990 Royals
25. 1986 Royals
26. 1992 Royals
27. 2000 Royals

28. 2011 Royals
29. 2012 Royals***
30. 2008 Royals 

31. 1996 Royals
32. 1969 Royals
33. 2007 Royals
34. 1998 Royals
35. 1999 Royals
36. 1970 Royals
37. 1997 Royals
38. 2009 Royals
39. 2010 Royals 

40. 2001 Royals 
41. 2002 Royals
42. 2006 Royals
43. 2004 Royals
44. 2005 Royals

The Royals finished a game better in 2012 than they did in 2011, and finished third instead of fourth, but I still slotted them just behind their 2011 counterparts. There was just something missing in 2012. It was the injuries, the sophomore slumps, the fact that the front office brashly marketed 2012 as "Our Time" when the team was coming off another 91-loss season and hadn't proven itself quite yet. The team had pieces in place -- young pieces at that -- but the only stalwart part of the 2011 team was the bullpen. Offensive steadiness from Alex Gordon and Billy Butler was joined by up-and-coming seasons from Eric Hosmer and the late surge of Salvador Perez, but OF surprise Melky Cabrera got shipped to San Francisco in the big Dayton Moore trade of the offseason with the idea of Lorenzo Cain taking over CF. A dismal starting rotation only got a dose of control-deficient lefty Jonathan Sanchez, tho midseason pickup Felipe Paulino had pitched well in 2011 and Danny Duffy was getting worked into regular action with the organization hoping he would take a step forward in 2012. Rather than do any more to shore up the offense or the rotation, the Royals' philosophy going into 2012 seemed to be let's add a couple more bullpen pieces and cross our fingers that the young guys continue to improve and stay healthy. Hey, they had momentum and 2012 was the year the All-Star Game returned to KC for the first time since the '70s, they expanded the playoffs by a couple teams...surely the stars were aligning in the Royals' favor, right? No dice there, KC. For that reason I put 2012 behind the promising 2011, but ahead of the pitching-richer, offense-lacking 2008 squad. As Royals fans harbor hopes for 2013 relevance, it should be noted that Dayton Moore has yet to post a season that has ranked in the top half of this countdown, and he's been here since mid-2006.

The Royals ended 2011 with a winning September, then made the Melky trade, picked up setup guy Jonathan Broxton and bullpen piece Jose Mijares, but really didn't add any more impact guys to the mix. The first big blow to "Our Time" came in the spring when closer Joakim Soria, who had finished a 2011 season that was more Clark Kent than his prior Superman work, came up with an elbow injury that required the Red Badge of Pitching Courage -- Tommy John Surgery. Within the first couple weeks of the season, Cain suffered a groin injury making a great catch in center and would have problems getting healthy (he played only 61 games), and within a short time of each other in June, Duffy and Paulino both suffered their own elbow injuries that required TJS. The guys Moore tried to add to the mix -- C Humberto Quintero, OF Jason Bourgeois, the return of IF Yuniesky Betancourt like a vampire rising from the grave to suck the life out of the offense, utility guy Tony Abreu -- didn't work out. The bullpen was once again great but the rotation was even worse than in 2011. "Our Time" had fallen apart by June and became a punchline.

An offense that had been top 5 in many categories in 2011 really lost some of its shine in 2012 despite finishing top 5 in the AL in doubles (3rd, 295), triples (2nd, 37), hits (3rd, 1,492) and batting average (4th, .265). The team OBP dropped 12 points to .317 for 8th in the 14-team AL, and slugging dropped 15 points to a 10th place .400 mark. The team OPS of .716 was also 8th in the league. Kansas City was decidely anemic in runs (676, 12th), homers (broken record, 131, 13th), walks (404, 14th and dead last, but Moore 'knows the importance of OBP'), and strikeouts (1,032, also last). Pitching was an equally dismal landscape as the team's 4.30 ERA was 10th in the league, the staff gave up a 13th place 1,504 hits, walked 540 batters for 12th, and finished with a 13th place 1.41 WHIP (9 thousandths ahead of last place Cleveland). The .673 team defensive efficiency rating (tracking the number of balls in play turned into outs) was dead last in the league and this time was joined by a league-worst .981 fielding percentage.

If 2011 was the year for Alex Gordon to bask in the spotlight, then 2012 belonged to DH Billy Butler. He posted career high power and RBI numbers, got some well-deserved national pub and following for his hitting prowess, and his supporters ignited a firestorm of sorts by standing up for him at the All-Star Game. They booed Robinson Cano into an embarrassing appearance in the Home Run Derby as Billy got passed over for participation in the derby by Cano, who had made casual assurances Billy would be included. Overall Billy hit .313 (his third season over .300)/.373/.510 (career high)/.882 (career high, 140 OPS+), with 192 hits (led team), 32 doubles, 29 HR (career high, led team) and 107 RBI (led team). His performance would earn him a Silver Slugger. LF Gordon wasn't as stellar as he was in 2011 but put together another good season en route to his second straight Gold Glove. Gordon's line was .294/.368/.455/.822 (125 OPS+) and he added 93 runs scored (led team), 189 hits, 51 doubles (led league), 5 triples, 14 HR, 72 RBI, 10 SB and 73 BB/140 K (both leading team). In the outfield, he led the league in putouts in left for a second straight year and also led all AL left fielders with 17 assists to earn the Gold Glove. The only other regular with an above-average offensive season was C Salvador Perez, as the Royals would cut loose Quintero mid-season to make room for on the 25-man. Perez hit .301/.328/.471/.798 with 16 2B, 11 HR, and 39 RBI in 76 games. When healthy, Cain wasn't awful at .266/.316/.419/.734, and Falu came off the bench to hit .341/.371/.435/.806, including a triple for his first MLB hit, but only got in 24 games. After that there wasn't much to brag about. SS Alcides Escobar's 2nd KC season saw him hit .293 with a .721 OPS and he led the team again with 7 triples and 35 SB. He added 30 doubles but also drew only 27 BB with 100 K. 3B Mike Moustakas was next as he hit .242/.296/.412/.708 but did club 34 doubles (second on the team) and 20 HR (also second) with 73 RBI (also a distant second to Butler) while providing serviceable defense at third. It was a year of what could have been for Mike as he struggled to a .586 OPS over the last 70 games. He posted a .909 OPS in April but wouldn't crack .700 after June. Next on the OPS ranks for KC was actually 2B Chris Getz, who hit .275 with a .672 OPS over 64 games while sharing time with Falu and Johnny Giavotella (paltry .574 OPS with .238 BA in a 53-game failed audition). 1B Eric Hosmer couldn't build on 2011 as he ground out a .232/.304/.359/.663 line (82 OPS+) with 22 doubles, 14 HR, 16 SB, 56 BB/95 K. His patience at the plate and eye give me hope that the local media is right in comparing his second year to that .675 OPS blip in the radar of Carlos Beltran in 2000. So far, so good in 2013. OFs Jarrod Dyson and Jeff Francouer weren't far behind Hosmer with OPS numbers of .650 and .665, respectively. Dyson stole 30 bases in 102 games while filling the hole left by Cain, and Francoeur returned to a sub-.300 OBP but cranked out 45 extra-base hits. He only drove in 49 runs tho in 148 games. The bench had little to offer as Betancourt hit for a .656 OPS in 57 games, Quintero's .598 OPS made him an easy cut for Perez, C Brayan Pena did no better with a .583 OPS, and Abreu filled in at several positions while posting a .641 OPS in 22 games. Bourgeois posted a .626 OPS as 4th OF.

It was a strange and unsettling year in the Royals rotation. Paulino led the way by going 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 3 HRA and 15 BB/39 K in 7 starts and 37 2/3 IP before hurting his elbow. Duffy was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA and 1.59 WHIP with 2 HRA and 18 BB/28 K in 6 starts and 27 2/3 IP, before hurting his elbow. 2011 leader Bruce Chen faltered in 2012 to go 11-14 with a 5.07 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 33 HRA, 47 BB/140 K in 34 starts and 191 2/3 IP. Young lefty Will Smith went 6-9 with a 5.32 ERA in his first extended MLB look and put up a 1.61 WHIP with 12 HRA and 33 BB/59 K in 16 starts and 89 2/3 IP. Luke Hochevar also had another sub-par season at 8-16 with a 5.73 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 2 CG (the only KC pitcher to have one), a shutout, 27 HRA, and 61 BB/144 K in 32 starts and 185 1/3 IP. The worst starter, however, was new addition Sanchez, who made no indication of being happy to be in KC and went 1-6 with a 7.76 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, 8 HRA, 44 BB/36 K in 12 starts and 53 1/3 IP. He went down to AAA midseason then actually helped the Royals most by being a trade chip that brought in Rockies SP Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie would be the best Royals starter in 2012 in going 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9 HRA, 19 BB/56 K in 14 starts and 91 IP. Luis Mendoza was marginal at 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 15 HRA, 59 BB/104 K in 30 appearances (25 starts) and 166 IP. With the injuries in the rotation several other pitchers got a shot but none could step up. The void left by Soria's injury in the bullpen meant that Broxton became the closer instead of the 8th inning set up guy that was in place, but he responded. He went 1-2 with a 2.27 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 23 SV, 1 HRA, 14 BB and 25 K in 35 IP. It wasn't like Soria in his prime, but good enough to allow KC to trade him to the Reds for a couple prospects and hand the closer role back to Greg Holland, who did well there in 2011. Holland went 7-4 with 16 SV, a 2.96 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2 HRA, 34 BB/91 K in 67 IP. Mijares added a 2-2 mark with a 2.56 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 3 HRA, 13 BB/37 K in 38 2/3 IP before the Royals let him go to the Giants via waivers. Kelvin "Absolute Zero" (haven't given up on that nickname) Herrera generated a good first season of numbers at 4-3 with a 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 3 SV, 4 HRA, 21 BB/77 K in 84 1/3 IP; Tim Collins posted a 3.36 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with 8 HRA, 34 BB/93 K in 69 2/3 IP; Aaron Crow had a 3.48 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 22 BB/65 K in 64 2/3 IP; Louis Coleman put up a 3.71 ERA and 1.31 WHIP but allowed 10 HR with 65 K in 51 IP; and Nate Adcock had a 2.34 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 34 2/3 IP. The only other contributor was former RotF report staple Everett Teaford, who had a 4.99 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 61 1/3 IP.

There would be no hot start in 2012 and the Royals didn't spend one day in first place in the AL Central. They started the season 3-2, then rattled off a 12-game losing streak, including their first 10 at the K. That start helped them to a 6-15 April, but they would post winning records 3 of the next 4 months. They went 15-13 in May, and 14-13 in June but hung around 6 games back of the division lead. After the injuries to Paulino and Duffy in June, a 7-19 July pretty much finished off their playoff hopes and dropped them 13 1/2 games back. Behind Guthrie, the team would go 17-11 in August but were still 13 games out at month's end. There would be no September surge in '12 as KC posted a 12-17 mark to stumble to a third-place finish, 16 games out. The team was 2 games better at home than on the road. Attendance was similar to 2011 at 1.7 million at the K, but that mark was two spots better for 10th in the AL.

The Royals pretty much held pat as far as major transactions go through most of the 2012 season. In June, they drafted U of San Francisco righty Kyle Zimmer with the 5th overall pick, then added Vandy lefty Sam Selman in round 2, Louisiana HS lefty Colin Rodgers in round 3, Stanford SS Kenny Diekroger in round 4 and Illinois HS C Chad Johnson in round 5. In July the major moves started with the trade of Sanchez to Colorado for Guthrie, then Broxton was sent to the Reds for two prospects. Betancourt was released in August and that was it for regular season moves. Moore began working on the 2013 Royals by trading a minor league P for Angels starter Ervin Santana and resigning Guthrie as a free agent in November. The big move came on Dec. 9, 2012, when top overall prospect OF Wil Myers, P prospects Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi and SS prospect Patrick Leonard were jettisoned to Tampa Bay in exchange for starter James Shields, P Wade Davis, who the Royals would try to convert back to a starter, and later, IF Elliot Johnson. Other role players were added here and there as usual. Moore was content to enter 2013 with an improved rotation on paper and what looks to be another strong bullpen, but held the line on the offense. The Royals responded with the best record in the Cactus League in the spring and a middling early going of the regular season. We'll see what 2013 brings. 

2012 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Billy Butler. "Country Breakfast" is becoming one of the all-time nicknames for Royals and Billy continues to back up the rep he had coming out of high school as a hitter. Anyone following the early days of the Royals on the Farm reports on this site can say they've tracked his progress through the system, so we all knew what Billy could do at the plate. It was nice to see the rest of the country get the picture too.

2012 Pipeline Royals LVP -- C'mon, it's gotta be Jonathan Sanchez here, right? Though how worthless can he be if he brought in Guthrie in trade? Nah, I'll stick with Sanchez. We'd seen glimpses of what he could do with the Giants but I think it was pretty clear he wanted no part of KC and by about May, KC wanted no part of him either. Here he is at right, wondering where it all went wrong.

Here are your 2012 Royals....

05 April 2013

Royal legacy -- the new #28, the 2011 Royals (71-91)

In case you've forgotten, or not looked down and to the right on the main page of the blog, here's the countdown to this point:

1. 1985 Royals
2. 1980 Royals
3. 1977 Royals
4. 1976 Royals
5. 1978 Royals
6. 1984 Royals
7. 1981 Royals
8. 1975 Royals
9. 1982 Royals
10. 1989 Royals
11. 1979 Royals
12. 1973 Royals
13. 1971 Royals
14. 1994 Royals
15. 1988 Royals
16. 1987 Royals
17. 1993 Royals
18. 2003 Royals
19. 1991 Royals
20. 1972 Royals
21. 1995 Royals
22. 1974 Royals
23. 1983 Royals
24. 1990 Royals
25. 1986 Royals
26. 1992 Royals
27. 2000 Royals

28. 2011 Royals ***
29. 2008 Royals 

30. 1996 Royals
31. 1969 Royals
32. 2007 Royals
33. 1998 Royals
34. 1999 Royals
35. 1970 Royals
36. 1997 Royals
37. 2009 Royals
38. 2010 Royals
39. 2001 Royals 

40. 2002 Royals
41. 2006 Royals
42. 2004 Royals
43. 2005 Royals

Blowing the dust off the blog means updating the Legacy Countdown, and to do that we must first revisit 2011. One of the most unfortunate things of being a 21st century Royals fan is the fact the years kinda run and blend together....a big oil spill of baseball mediocrity (and that's talking Royals baseball at its best over that time). A good proving point is that the 71-91 mark the Royals posted in 2011 is arguably the second best post-2000 season in team annals. I shelved the 43rd season of Royals baseball between the offensive floodlight/pitching nightlight that was the 2000 Royals and a 2008 squad that finished 4 games better than the 2011 team, but did so with an older, less promising group of guys all in all. It could be said, should the Royals' core of youth become a perennial AL Central contender, that 2011 showed the first glimpses of said future. But at this general point in time, should a baseball-psychopathic home invader enter my home and hold me at gunpoint with a command to tell him or her what I know about the 2011 Kansas City Royals, I probably could come up with the solid rookie season from Eric Hosmer, the (at last) emergence of Alex Gordon and the delightful surprise of Melky Cabrera (tho knowing what we know now, was that legit? perhaps a topic for another day, or later in the post at least). Pitching? I would be at a loss. Record? I could say....'I think KC finished strong (thinking to myself...safe guess in recent years)??? and I know one of these seasons they had a decent first month, was 2011 it?' Perhaps it would be enough to persuade that home invader to calmly and quietly leave my house and my health intact, tho the concept is decidedly absurd. Let's take a trip back to 2011.

After a trip back to the AL Central cellar in 2010 the Royals would rebound to a mighty return to 4th in the division, sooo it was another year without much baseball fever in the City of Fountains. It marked the first full campaign of Yostball in Kansas City as NASCAR-lovin' Ned Yost rode the momentum of his 17-games-below-.500 partial 2010 season into 2011. The Royals never did get any mojo rising in '10 as they won only 10 games in two of the last 3 full months of the season. Moore spent the dog days of summer sloughing off veterans for prospects (Callaspo, Ankiel, Farnsworth) or just to get them off the roster (Guillen, marking an end to an opposite-of-remarkable run in KC). The first big move of the 2010-11 offseason was bidding farewell to local favorite (tho I can't say I ever got it) OF David DeJesus in a deal to the A's for two minor league pitchers. In his continuing quest for ex-Braves with great OBPs, Moore inked OFs Jeff Francoeur (fresh off a .293 OBP overall in 2010, though to be fair he had good stints with the Mets and Rangers that season) and Melky Cabrera (coming off an uninspiring .317 OBP/.671 OPS season in the ATL) in December. The move to trump all Dayton Moore moves came 9 days after the Cabrera signing when KC shipped Yuniesky Betancourt and ace pitcher/malcontent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for slap-hitty SS Alcides Escobar, OF prospect Lorenzo Cain, Brewers top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi and closer prospect Jeremy Jeffress. The trade instantly gave the Royals a viable starting SS candidate for the first time since perhaps Jay Bell in the '90s, along with a decent haul of young promising talent, for a moveable-part infielder and a good pitcher who wanted nothing more to do with Royal blue. Two years later it's hard to argue the Royals lost in the deal. Moore gave P Jeff Francis a shot at reclaiming his past effectiveness with a January signing, and then ended the 2011 spring by bringing in C Matt Treanor from Texas.

The Royals' team numbers showed a middle-of-the-pack offense backed by a lackluster pitching staff. We've seen this movie before since 2000, and it has churned out sequels like a bad horror franchise. Tho this year's version may be the other way around. Jury is out, and Friday's effort sure is a strike against it. Kansas City was top 5 in the AL in all but three categories offensively back in 2011, including first in triples (41), second in SB (158) and doubles (325), third in hits, fourth in batting average (.274) and fifth in OBP (.329), slugging (.415) and OPS (.744). As usual, they were low on the leaderboard in HR (129, 11th) and walks (442, 11th). The Mr. Hyde to that Dr. Jekyll performance was the pitching staff's placing in the bottom half of the league in all categories, including 12th in ERA (4.44), WHIP (1.41) and runs allowed, issuing the most walks in the league (the only AL team to crack 550) and finishing next to last in team shutouts with 6 all season (none individual). Defensively they weren't much better with a defensive efficiency rating of .687 that was 11th in the league, but the picture was buoyed by a third-best in the AL fielding percentage of .985.

A good offensive season all-in-all was led by the play of LF Alex Gordon, who posted a .303/.376/.502 line for an .879 OPS (140 OPS+) with 45 doubles and 23 HR (leading team), 87 RBI (in a three-way tie for second on the team), 101 runs scored, and 67 walks (leading the team). Topping it off, he earned his first Gold Glove in left and led the league in OF assists with 20. Four other regulars posted OPS numbers above the league average but the remaining four were well below that same average. 1B/DH Billy Butler continued his consistent output with his third-straight year well above the league average. He posted a .291/.361/.461/.822 line (for a 125 OPS+) with 44 2B, 19 HR, 95 RBI (leading team), and 66 walks. CF Melky Cabrera was next in line with a .305 (leading team)/.339/.470/.809 (121 OPS+) for a career best to that point. Before I go on, this is pure speculation, but if you're Melky Cabrera, where best to go to lay low, do what you need to do PED-wise and build your career back up than KC? No media scrutiny to beware and, should you, ohhhhhh, post career best numbers, the fans love you and want to keep you around with no questioning the turnaround. They're just glad to have the production. At that point, the team ships you to a bigger better market (team wise) in the name of improving the pitching staff (or trying to anyway) and the KC fans understand. Should the team catch wind of any unsavory associations, they can trade you off in the offseason, wish you well and watch you get nailed the next season for PEDs. Tell me it doesn't make sense. Anyway, Melky led the team in runs scored (102) and hits (201) with 44 doubles, 18 HR, 87 RBI, and 20 SB, plus threw in 13 assists in CF (2nd in the AL at the position), so one of Moore's patented Braves Salvage projects paid off. Following behind was Braves Salvage project #2, RF Jeff Francoeur, who hit .285/.329/.476/.805 (a career best for a full season and 119 OPS+), with a team-leading 47 2B, 20 HR, 87 RBI, and 22 SB (his only season with more than 8). He also added 16 assists in RF to lead the AL at that position. The last overachiever among the Royals offense in 2011 was 1B Hosmer, who forced his way to the bigs by raking at Omaha and, in 128 games with KC, hit .293/.334/.465/.799 (118 OPS+) with 27 2B, 19 HR, and 78 RBI. After that the offense fell off the table. 3B Mike Moustakas split time with Wilson Betemit (who posted a respectable .750 OPS for a 108 OPS+ before getting shipped out in trade) and had a less than stellar first taste of MLB with a .675 OPS (86 OPS+) and only 5 HR in 89 games. Treanor and Brayan Pena split catching duties and posted OPS numbers of .658 and .625, respectively. SS Escobar made his KC debut and posted a line of .254/.290/.343/.633 (74 OPS+) and led the team with 8 3B and 26 SB. Then there was 2B Chris Getz's unremarkable .600 OPS with 9 XBH in 118 games. Otherwise, IF Mike Aviles got hurt early, posted a .656 OPS in 53 games, then got shipped out midseason as the odd man out in the infield shuffle. 2B Johnny Giavotella got his shot and posted a subpar .649 OPS in 46 games, C Salvador Perez also got his shot and fared much better with an .834 OPS in 39 games, and 1B Kila Ka'aihue got his final shot with the team, provided an early walkoff shot, then hit .195 with a .612 OPS in 23 games and that was it.

Once you got over 70 innings pitched for the Royals in 2011, the numbers got somewhat ugly. Among starters, lefty Bruce Chen led the way with a 12-8 mark (leading the team in wins, which tells the story), 3.77 ERA (108 ERA+), 1.30 WHIP, 1 CG, 50 BB/97 K and 18 HRA in 25 starts and 155 IP. May acquisition starter Felipe Paulino was the other starting "bright spot" at 4-6 with a 4.11 ERA (100 ERA+), 1.37 WHIP, 48 BB/119 K and 10 HRA in 20 starts and 124 2/3 IP. After that, mediocrity reigned. Luke Hochevar was 11-11 with a 4.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP (ok, not awful), 62 BB/128 K, and 23 HRA in 31 starts and 198 IP. Salvage project Jeff Francis went 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 1 CG, 39 BB/91 K, and 19 HRA in 31 starts and 183 IP. The fifth rotation slot was filled between Danny Duffy (4-8, 5.64 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 51 BB/87 K, 15 HRA in 20 starts and 105 1/3 IP) and Kyle Davies (1-9, 6.75 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 26 BB/50 K, 7 HRA in 13 starts and 61 1/3 IP before finally drawing a merciful release from KC). The story of the year was the bullpen. The team's all-star was rookie high-drafted-starter-now-reliever Aaron Crow, who went 4-4 with a 2.76 ERA, 31 BB/65 K, 8 HRA and a 1.39 WHIP in 62 IP. Another up-and-comer, Louis Coleman, was 1-4 with a 2.87 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 26 BB/64 K and 9 HRA in 59 2/3 IP. With Joakim Soria struggling to post relatively pedestrian numbers (for him anyway, 5-5, 4.03 ERA, 28 SV, 1.27 WHIP, 17 BB/60 K, 7 HRA in 60 1/3 IP) the closer door cracked open a little and Greg Holland made a late season assault on the role by going 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 4 SV, 0.93 WHIP, 19 BB/74 K, 3 HRA in 60 IP. KC also got decent set-up work from Blake Wood (5-3, 3.75 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 1 SV, 32 BB/62 K, 5 HRA in 69 2/3 IP), Tim Collins (4-4, 3.63 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 48 BB/60 K, 5 HRA in 67 IP) and Everett Teaford (2-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1 SV, 14 BB/28 K and 8 HRA in 44 IP). The only bullpen "blight" was Nate Adcock (4.62 ERA, 1.48 WHIP in 60 1/3 IP, so obviously not horrible) but two spot starters who more than struggled were Sean O'Sullivan (7.25 ERA, 1.78 WHIP in 58 1/3 IP) and Vin Mazzaro (8.26 ERA, 1.91 WHIP in 28 1/3 IP).

Thanks to a good start to the season the Royals actually spent a few brief days in first place in 2011. They dropped the season opener to Jered Weaver and the Angels but rebounded to win the next 4. They put together three early 4-game win streaks as they posted a 14-12 April and spent 6 days with at least a share of first place. Their peak was a 10-4 record but they would drop 10 of 12 in May. Another 11 of 13 skid carried over into July and dropped them to 34-50. The 14-win April would be their best month through the summer heat as they entered September 25 games below .500. With the help of the September call-ups they reeled off a 7-win surge as a 15-10 final month took them home to the 71-91 final mark. They did post a mediocre 34-37 second half W-L record, which was much better than their 17 games below .500 in the first half. They finished 24 games out of first. They drew 1.7 million fans to the 'new' K for an increase from 2010, but it was good for only 12th in the AL.

The Royals made no major acquisitions over the course of the season, but were somewhat active. They bought the rights to starter Felipe Paulino from Colorado in May and that paid off, then traded once-promising middle infielder Mike Aviles to Boston for two prospects in July. Wilson Betemit went to Detroit that same month for prospects. The lackluster 2010 season earned them the 5th pick in the June draft and they turned it into KS HS standout OF Bubba Starling, who would leave a Nebraska football scholarship behind to sign. HS catcher Cam Gallagher was the second round pick and then high school pitchers Bryan Brickhouse and Kyle Smith followed. Being that it was only 2 years ago and most of the high picks were high schoolers, none have really sniffed the majors yet. The Royals employed addition by subtraction in August by finally cutting Kyle Davies, then cut ties with Kila Ka'aihue by shipping him to Oakland in September. After the season, the first major move was the trade of Melky to San Francisco for sketchy but potentially good SP Jonathan Sanchez and RP Ryan Verdugo. At the time it was an intriguingly risky move for KC but it would soon head south once the 2012 season dawned. RP Jonathan Broxton was signed as a free agent in November with a mind of being the 8th inning guy to Soria's lockdown 9th. Dayton Moore's affection for Yuniesky Betancourt led to him being resigned in December and RP Jose Mijares would be a sneaky good get the next day. All in all, looking back at that offseason activity, Moore apparently felt the need -- after the pitching season I just detailed -- to add a risky 5th starter with potential to be a 3rd perhaps, and then add more relievers to a bullpen that was already one of the best parts of the team. And that's it. No even marginal major league ready offensive help. One sketchy starter to fill at least 3 if not 4 holes in the rotation, and two or three good relievers for the pen. How does this add up? I finished the 2010 post long, long ago with this quote from my 2007 countdown post: "I like to think maybe the franchise has come full circle -- the '07 record is the same as the first Royals' season record in '69, and by 1975 the Royals were a force to be reckoned with. So by that rationale, in 2013, we're golden, baby! Wait....maybe I don't like to think the franchise has come full circle. Five more years is a long time to wait. We might be waiting until 2013 at least." Now 2013 is here and it's off to a strange start. Even the experts are picking second place finishes for the Royals but we will see come August if this team is truly ready for prime time.

2011 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Alex Gordon. I'm not a big fan of Gordon personally, from a vibe perspective, but he put together quite the season in 2011. He's one of the few guys on the team who can work a walk, he has some pop in his bat, and you can't argue with the arm or the glove. Congrats on fulfilling your potential Alex. I think we were sold dreams of even better but that was probably unfair.

2011 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Tough decision to know where to go with this one. Getz the offensive liability? There are bad pitchers but most are mediocre. By default I'm gonna go with Sean O'Sullivan and Kyle Davies. Really they were just more victims of Moore tho. I'm not even gonna post their pics. Gettin'soft hearted in my old age.

Here are your 2011 Royals....