Happy to eat crow when necessary, and I will on last year's Royals winning the franchise's first World Series since 1985.
Sure, Kansas City had reached the 2014 World Series and stretched the San Francisco Bumgarners, err Giants, to seven games. But the small-market Royals had to say goodbye to ace pitcher James Shields and a few others last offseason. I expected K.C. to be pretty good and a playoff contender, but win the pennant? No chance. Then again, I didn't expect the team to raid its farm system for midseason trades for Reds ace pitcher Johnny Cueto and A's second baseman Ben Zobrist. Or that a few free-agent signings, mainly Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez, would work out so well.
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Kansas City finished with an AL-best 95 regular-season victories, winning the Central Division by a whopping 12 games. That was easily the biggest margin in baseball. Frankly, the Royals should have lost in the AL Division Series to Houston in four games but staged an incredible comeback from a 6-2 eighth-inning hole to win Game 4 9-6. Game 5 was a formality behind Cueto.
The AL East champion Toronto Blue Jays, who were favored, were finished off in six games in the ALCS. Naturally, Kansas City was an underdog in the World Series against the Mets and all that young pitching. But thanks in large part to another crazy rally in Game 1 that set the tone of the series, the Royals finished the Mets in five. The only negative being that the series was clinched in Queens and not title-starved Kansas City.
The 2016 Royals open their season at home in the Sunday night ESPN opener, April 3 in a World Series rematch with the Mets.
Royals 2016 Projected Lineup
This group will look just about exactly the same as it did for the first half of last season; the only major loss was Zobrist, who signed with the Chicago Cubs. So that puts Omar Infante back as the starting second baseman, and he's one of the worst hitters in the majors. So you might see an upgrade there at some point.
The big news was that Kansas City was able to re-sign outfielder Alex Gordon when it appeared he was long gone as a free agent. Gordon took a hometown discount in signing for four years and $72 million. He probably could have gotten five years and $100 million from another team. The Royals are one of only seven teams that have yet to hand out a $100 million contract in their history. Gordon was limited to 104 games last season due to injury and hit .271 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs. But his value goes beyond numbers. He's maybe the best defensive left fielder in MLB. He's a clubhouse leader. And he's clutch -- it was Gordon who hit the tying homer in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1 of the World Series off Mets closer Jeurys Familia to send the game into extras. The Royals won in 14 innings.
So you are looking at shortstop Alcides Escobar leading off, followed by center fielder Lorenzo Cain, a 2015 MVP finalist, first baseman Eric Hosmer, Morales at DH, third baseman Mike Moustakas, catcher Salvador Perez, Gordon in left, Infante at second and Jarrod Dyson in right.
The only other lineup guy who left is outfielder Alex Rios, with Dyson taking his spot. So the Royals again should be a high-average, high-on base, low-strikeout, low-power team. Hey, it has worked the past two years.
Royals 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
New year, new ace gone. Cueto was never an option to be re-signed and he got big money from San Francisco. Cueto had some rough spots with the Royals but gave them the No. 1 they needed in the postseason.
The new ace is Volquez, who was way better than I thought he would be last year with a 13-9 record and 3.55 ERA. It helps to have the majors' best defense behind you. Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08) has the most upside in the rotation. The new addition is former Padre Ian Kennedy. He got a five-year, $70 million deal. Kennedy went 9-15 with a 4.28 ERA despite playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Meh. The rest of the staff will be a mix of Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy and ageless Chris Young. Really nothing to be excited about.
But the Royals are two-time AL champions in large part because of the majors' best bullpen. No reason that won't be a major strength again with the return of closer Wade Davis (0.94 ERA last season, taking over about midway at closer), top set-up man Kelvin Herrera and the free-agent addition of former All-Star closer Joakim Soria. Once again, the Royals will just need six innings from their starters most nights.
Royals Futures Odds & 2015 Trends
At BetOnline , Kansas City is +1200 to win the World Series and +700 to take a third straight AL pennant. The Royals have an "over/under" wins total of 87, with the under a -115 favorite. Kansas City has no players on the prop to lead the majors in homers, and really it shouldn't. The Royals were 89-73 against the spread last season and 73-75-14 O/U. On the moneyline, they were +1944 on the year.
Royals 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Kansas City to finish fourth in the AL Central with an 80-82 record, four behind first-place Cleveland. On paper, do I think the Royals are the fourth-best team in the Central? I do. But they also have intangibles you can't define. I don't see another pennant or even a division title and would go just under that wins total. Interesting there's such a gap between computer projections and the first wins totals released of the year.
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