Best team in the American League? Don’t sleep on the K.C. Royals.
David Glass stayed the course. Sometimes, that couldn’t have been easy. Fire this guy. Trade that one. He heard it all. In the end, the Kansas City Royals owner trusted his gut. This wasn’t his first rodeo. Six decades in business had taught him a few things.
In the end, he believed in his people, especially his general manager, Dayton Moore. He never forgot how Moore laid out a blueprint for making the Kansas City Royals great again during that first job interview in 2006.
He remembered Moore saying it wasn’t a perfect plan, that there would be ups and downs along the way. When they’d finished chatting, David Glass was convinced he’d found his guy.
The Royals had to do things a certain way. They could not spend their way to the postseason. They had to build their own foundation through a great minor league system.
Perhaps the best thing the two men have done in nine years together is communicate with one another because this success story didn’t happen overnight.
Moore made some mistakes, but the thing that impressed Glass was how thorough Moore was in his preparation and how he had the ability to assess why things happened the way they did.
Some of us thought the Royals had turned a corner at the end of the 2011 season when Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez arrived. Moore’s plan had begun with building a great farm system, and so, here were the stars of that farm system in the big leagues.
Moore knew otherwise and warned people not to get too far down the road. Winning is complicated. It almost never happens overnight. Good teams are a product of 30 or 35 players contributing.
Go back and look at any successful team the last couple of decades, and almost everyone of them got surprising contributions from people who weren’t in the mix.
In fact, the single most dominant Royal is a guy who ended up in his role almost by accident. Injuries forced Wade Davis into the bullpen in the spring of 2014. The Royals thought it was a temporary detour, that he’d eventually be a starter.
These days, Davis is the best reliever in baseball. In the last two seasons, he has appeared in 103 games for the Royals. In 104 innings, he has allowed nine earned runs. He has 34 walks, 145 strikeouts and an insane 0.78 ERA.
Davis has been in 32 games this season and allowed one earned run. He’s so good that when he gives up a baserunner, it’s news in Kansas City.
Anyway, nine years after Glass hired Moore, it has all worked out the way they envisioned it. The Royals were a sweet story last season as they staged a 41-23 sprint for their first postseason appearance in 29 years, then opened the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak. Their season finally ended with a loss to the Giants in Game 7 of the World Series.
But by the time they were done, they’d completely changed the way we think about the Royals. They were a joy to watch, a team built around a great defense—left fielder Alex Gordon is a nightly highlight reel—and an even better bullpen. They had a great blend of youth and experience in the clubhouse and a manager, Ned Yost, who made it all work.
Could they sustain their success? Yes, they can. They’ve won 13 of 18 games to open up a 4 1/2-game lead in the AL Central. They’ve stayed true to their formula. Their 2.06 bullpen ERA is the second-best in the majors, slightly behind the Cardinals (2.04). Their defense is again baseball’s best.
They’ve got a variety of offensive weapons and a rotation that’s a work in progress. But the Royals have won enough the last 12 months to understand winning that they’ve developed some swagger along the way.
Since the Royals took off in late July last season, they’ve been baseball’s best team, going 95-55, including the postseason. But the 2015 Royals are different than the 2014 Royals. James Shields, Nori Aoki and Billy Butler left via free agency. Moore’s off-season wasn’t about just replacing them, but building roster depth.
No general manager did his job better. In Kendrys Morales, he upgraded the team’s DH production. In Edinson Volquez, Chris Young and Joe Blanton, he signed three affordable starting pitchers who’ve been a godsend for a rotation hit hard by injuries and poor performances.
He also found one of baseball’s great comeback stories in Ryan Madson, who was re-emerged as a top-flight reliever after missing three seasons. In Madson, Blanton and Young, the Royals were rewarded for having smart baseball people who saw things in those guys that other teams apparently didn’t.
Anyway, it’s all working for the Royals right now. Best team in the AL? The Astros and Rays are in that conversation. The Yankees and Orioles are as well. The Athletics seem to have one of those closing kicks in them. But the Royals are a great story, and one of America’s really good baseball teams has a team worth of all those fans.