Apologizing for doubting the Royals

By Steve Sell
September 29, 2014

I guess this is the moment where I apologize to the Kansas City Royals.

Well, they’re in. Despite all of my insisting that they would somehow come up short, that their most-of-the-time feeble offense would eventually be to their detriment, they’re in.

Not only are they in, but they’re home on Tuesday to host Oakland in the one-game wild-card to see which team plays the best-of-five series against the Los Angeles Angels.

I’ve had a lot of people say to me today, “I told you so.” You were right. 

I didn’t think Sailor Ned Yost could bring this ship to the shore. I thought he would mismanage this team right out of the playoffs and keep those starved Royals fans hungering.

When you think about it, the Royals advanced to the playoffs without an offensive performer putting up super numbers. I guess you would say that Lorenzo Cain had a breakout year by hitting .301, but his paucity of power (5 homers) typified this team.

Billy Butler certainly didn’t have a great year, in fact it was his worst as a Royal and he may not even be back next year. For all the talk of Alex Gordon being an MVP candidate, he wound up hitting a pedestrian .266 and got stuck on 19 homers. Eric Hosmer missed 31 games, but still had only 9 homers in 503 at-bats despite swinging out of his shoes on every pitch. 

Salvador Perez was terrific for five months until his understanding of the strike zone evaporated and he hit .260, though he provided 17 homers and 70 RBIs. Mike Moustakas, fortunately, cleared the .200 hurdle, and while he had 15 homers and 54 RBIs, he was a ghost in September and became a scattershooter in the field. Nori Aoki was looking like a bust until he started believing he was the second coming of Ichiro Suzuki and started slapping hits all about the park.

Cain and Alcides Escobar were constants. Omar Infante brought professionalism to second base and while he didn’t hit for a high average, his RBI numbers were monumental compared to the Getzies and Gios of the world who used to toil at the position.

So how did they do it? Pitching, more pitching, defense, more defense and, in the immortal words of Jarrod Dyson, see what speed do. Five Royals stole at least 12 bases and they nearly had three players steal 30, with Dyson pilfering 36, Escobar 31 and Cain 28.

I’ve followed baseball for 50 years and never can I remember a team having three shutdown relievers like the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera (1.14 ERA), Wade Davis (1.00) and Greg Holland (1.44). Davis and Herrera did not allow a single homer in their 142 combined innings and struck out 168. Holland converted 46 of 48 saves and fanned 90 in 69 innings. Those kind of numbers come along only once in a generation. 

The starting pitching, for the most part, was outstanding. James Shields and Yordano Ventura won 14 games apiece, Jeremy Guthrie won 13 and Jason Vargas, despite missing a month, won 11. Danny Duffy would have given the Royals five 10-plus winners had he not missed some time. Because the pitching was so effective, the Royals never endured long and season-wrecking losing streaks. There were no 10-, 11- and 12-game skids as has been the trademark of those 100-loss Royals teams of the past.

I’d feel good about the Royals in Tuesday’s winner-take-all game against Oakland if the A’s didn’t have Jon Lester, perhaps the greatest Royals killer of all time, on the mound. I think it’s gotten inside the Royals’ heads that they can’t beat him. He owned them when he was with Boston and it continued in Oakland.

But the game is in Kansas City. Royals fans have waited for more than a quarter-century just for this game. This is why they traded for Shields, though I do get tired of hearing how he’s “Big Game James” as James Worthy will forever be the only true “Big Game James” in my lexicon.

I really hope the Royals win to extend their playoff experience. Playing only one game would be like dipping their toe in the water to see if it’s cold.

Kauffman Stadium, such a melancholy place for so long, should be deafening. Royals fans spent most of the season disbelieving as until September it seemed like the same loyal 21,000 showed up every night. Finally, the turnstiles clicked into the 30s the last couple of weeks and 37,000 should shoehorn their way into the park Tuesday.

As the chant goes so often at their games, “Let’s go Royals.”