The Kansas City Royals climbed out of obscurity in 2013, when they were one of the strongest teams over the second half of the season. They improved in 2014 and went on an improbable run through the post-season, and even won the American League Championship. They fell short in game seven thanks to an incredible performance by Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants.
The following year, the Royals were even better; they fought hard all season and returned to finish what they felt was their destiny, capturing the 2015 World Championship, their first title in thirty years. Like many teams before them, the players suggested that they would come back next season and repeat as champions. However, it is not meant to be. Now that they Royals have been officially eliminated from all playoff contention, it is time to look at what happened to the Royals in 2016 and whether or not they can recover in 2017.
Stronger Kansas City Royals to Return in 2017
Teams who win the off-season aren’t guaranteed to make a post-season run. However, it is important for championship teams looking to defend their titles to save their winning core and add new members. The Royals didn’t do very well on that front. They lost Johnny Cueto to the Giants and Ben Zobrist to the Chicago Cubs. Both players had an impact for the Royals last season. To make matters worse, some questioned if Edinson Volquez could be the leader of the pitching staff, and wondered if that would be too much pressure.
The Royals did re-sign Chris Young and Alex Gordon, two players who were very important to the team in 2015. They added Ian Kennedy and Dillon Gee to the rotation, and even brought back their old closer, Joakim Soria. There was hope that these players would be enough to mitigate their off-season losses.
A Mixed Opening
The Royals entered 2016 with high hopes and at first, things seemed to be okay. They played fairly well in April, though they struggled in the final week, losing five games in a row. Championships aren’t won in April, but getting down in an early hole is never good, especially in a very competitive division.
The Royals had a strong May, despite losing third baseman Mike Moustakas, Chris Young, Kris Medlen, and Alex Gordon during the month. By June 1, they were once again in first place in their division and coming on strong with a six game winning streak. It seemed, early on, that the Royals were going to be among the best teams in baseball and a pain in everyone’s sides yet again.
Then, they promptly lost eight games a row and added another four game losing streak in June. They lost to teams who would wind up being contenders, like the Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, and even the Houston Astros. Edinson Volquez and Chris Young were having perhaps the worst seasons of their careers. Moustakas went down for the season with a torn ACL and the team was already without Gordon. They lost Lorenzo Cain in June as well.
Mid-Season Injuries Devastate the Team
Injuries affect every team; it’s all about adjusting and carrying on as best you can. The Royals simply had too many injuries to key players during June and July. The starting pitching was not nearly as good as expected. The relievers were being overused and broke down. Worst of all, their key offensive leaders went down with injury. The ones that were healthy, like Volquez, Kennedy, and Soria, were not nearly living up to what the organization hoped for. Soria in particular had a very bad second half, in which he blew multiple leads late in games. He can’t be blamed for all the Royals woes, but he certainly didn’t help.
By the trade deadline, the Royals had to decide if they wanted to give away talented young prospects in exchange for a chance at salvaging the year. They were eleven games out of first place, with the Indians and Detroit Tigers playing quite well. Or, the team could acknowledge that this year maybe wasn’t going to be won without a miraculous turnaround. The Royals smartly held on to their talent, even if it meant 2016 was going to be average at best, though they did give a bit of hope with a nine game win streak later in August.
The Final Stretch
The Royals spirit that had guided them through the past few seasons was unable to gain momentum in the second half of the season. They had been hobbled by injury and broken by substandard performances, especially on the pitching staff. They had to face really talented teams like the Tigers and Indians, who to this day are either in the playoffs or holding on to the slim hope they can get there. The Royals were mathematically eliminated in the last week of the season, on September 28. They’ll finish this season with a winning record, which is the smallest of victories, but many hoped for so much more.
A Final Look at the 2016 Royals and Their Future
This 2016 Royals had moments when they were the hottest team in baseball. They had great winning streaks and looked like it was all coming together once more. They also looked terrible for long stints, and key members struggled through a dire season. Does this mean the Royals will regress and become perennial losers for another couple of decades? Probably not.
The Royals have a lot of talent in their core, and that is always something good to build around. When Gordon, Moustakas, Hosmer, Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Salvador Perez are all healthy, they are hard team to pitch to with no easy outs. Kendrys Morales, who hit 30 homers this season, adds to that. If they keep that aforementioned core together, there is always a chance for this team to contend.
The Royals can storm back in 2017 and take the league by force once again. They need to ditch a few people, like Soria and possibly Young, acquire a strong leader at the front of their pitching staff, and ensure they have a strong power-hitter somewhere in the heart of their lineup. In a great baseball town with a lot of history, it certainly would be a fine sight to see the Royals flying high once again and not fall into familiar habits. The Royals of the last few seasons will return in 2017, and the league better be ready for that.