The Kansas City Royals 2017 season is almost over. There are less than four weeks remaining and the Royals find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. With five of the franchise’s favorite sons entering free agency at the end of the season, there is an uncomfortable reality facing the Royals and their fans: this may be the last time we see this core group together. There is still time to make up ground, but in order to secure the second Wild Card spot, the Royals may have to win every single series in September. That may not even be enough. However, they have had their backs against the wall before. It sometimes seems as if they prefer it that way. It’s been the trademark of this core group since the 2014 season.
The Royals 2017 Season Could be a Farewell to Five Free Agents
Jason Vargas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer. Those are the five names that trigger bittersweet emotions for Royals fans as the 2017 season creeps toward its conclusion. They have all been significant contributors to the success of the franchise since 2014. There are banners honoring them at the entry gates of Kauffman Stadium. Their jerseys hang in closets of fans, not just in Kansas City, but all over the US and the world; specifically South Korea and Venezuela. For most fans, it’s painful to think that these names won’t be in the lineup on opening day of 2018.
Over the final weeks of the regular season, let’s reflect on the individual contributions of each of these five players. LWOS has already chronicled Moustakas as he approached the Royals all-time home run record. The other four will follow in the coming weeks. Today, we review the accomplishments of the core group and remind fans why it’s too soon to count this team out.
Everyone who was watching remembers the 2014 AL Wild-card game. Being four runs down to the A’s heading into the bottom of the eighth with dominant Jon Lester on the mound, the game appeared to be over. According to FanGraphs, the Royals’ Win Expectancy was at about 3%. That was of no concern to the Royals. They would score three in the eighth inning and another in the ninth inning to send the game to extra innings. After surrendering a run in the top of the 12th inning, they would rally again in the bottom. The dramatic walk-off win would spark a string of eight consecutive playoff wins which included three more extra inning wins. It put the Royals in their first World Series in 29 years.
We all remember the postseason run, but many forget that the Royals were considered to be out of the playoff picture shortly after the All-Star break. Heading into the break, they had lost six of nine games. After losing four straight coming out of the break, they found themselves two games below .500. At that time, there was no reason to believe that the Royals were a playoff caliber team. Over the next 30 games, they would rattle off 24 wins. That was the run that began the relentless nature of the Royals over the next few seasons.
After finishing the 2014 season with the tying run stranded on third base in game seven of the World Series, the Royals came out in 2015 with a chip on their shoulder. They came back focused and determined. They were confident and aggressive. For most of the 2015 regular season, they had the best record in the American League. A stagnant September almost cost them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They finished the regular season with five straight wins to take it back from the red hot Blue Jays.
In Game 4 of the ALDS, the Royals were again on the brink of elimination. Down 2-1 in the series and trailing the Astros by four heading into the eighth inning, they didn’t panic. According to FanGraphs, the Royals Win Expectancy was about 2%. Again, this was of no concern to the Royals. The eighth inning rally which consisted of exactly zero extra base hits, produced five runs and completely silenced a Houston crowd that had been deafening as the seventh inning ended.
The Royals would tack on two more in the top of the ninth and send the series back to Kansas City for Game 5. They would also win Game 5 in come-from-behind fashion. Trailing by one in the fifth, they would take the lead and never look back.
The Royals went on to win the World Series. Of the 11 postseason wins in 2015, eight, including all four World Series games, came in games in which they trailed in the fifth inning or later. A ninth win came in Game 6 of the ALCS after the game had been tied up in the top of the eighth. Two of the World Series wins came in extra innings after trailing the New York Mets heading into the ninth inning.
One of the most memorable series’ of 2016 came in late May at home against the Chicago White Sox. The Royals trailed by multiple runs in the seventh inning or later in all three games but came from behind to win them all. One of the three games was a walk-off win in which the Royals trailed by six going into the bottom of the ninth. Lengthy injuries to Moustakas, Gordon, Cain and Wade Davis proved difficult to overcome but they found a way to finish .500.
Currently, the Royals have 68 wins. Of the 68, 38 have been come-from-behind wins. They have had eight walk-off wins. They started the season 10-20 which at the time was the worst record in baseball. They fought back into contention. They suffered through the longest scoreless innings streak in the modern era and still won’t fade away.
Being relentless has been the nature of the Royals since 2014. With 26 games remaining for this group that went to back-to-back World Series’, don’t expect that to change. Each of the five pending free agents could have given up on this season in May and been traded to playoff teams. They didn’t want to do that. They wanted to finish the season as teammates and make one last playoff run. There have been extreme highs and devastating lows for this group. Both have bound them tighter.
As the remainder of the season plays out, we will share the stories of the free agents that were such a big part of the recent success and have meant so much to the organization and to the fans. The race will be fun to watch. The stories will be hard to write. Their playoff fate is in their own hands.
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