Two weeks ago, the Kansas City Royals mounted one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history. Now, they’re appearing in their first World Series since 1985. The club’s success in the MLB playoffs is one of the greatest underdog stories in recent sports history.
The team had their backs against the wall in the Wild Card elimination game, as they overcame a four-run deficit in the eighth inning. They went on to win their first ALDS game in the 11th inning off a solo home run. Just when sports fans thought the Royal luck was over, they swept the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels. According to Bovada.lv, a well-known Las Vegas betting site, the Angels were favored to win the AL pennant.
The Royals traveled to Camden Yards and cruised past the Baltimore Orioles off another extra-inning win! If that wasn’t the icing on the cake, then a two-run inning in the top of the 9th of Game 2 of the ALCS should’ve been.
In 20+ years of following the MLB playoffs, I’ve never seen a magical team like this club. They’ve been the underdog in each series and have beaten the odds. Now they’re largely favored by Vegas to win the grand finale.
The Ned Yost Effect
On July 21, Kansas City had a 48-50 record. Manager Ned Yost was probably on the hot seat.
When KC was trailing the A’s in the Wild Card, fans voiced their concerns with Yost on Twitter. Citing issues with his poor in-game management and decision to pull SP Jame Shields after five innings of four-run ball.
During the 2014 postseason, Yost has had baseball fans shaking their heads. In additon to his decision to pull Shields in the Wild Card game, he hasn’t allowed a starting pitcher to toss more than six frames throughout the playoffs. Yet, his unconventional approach to managing his bullpen has paid dividends. The Royal’s pen was fantastic in the ALCS. They only allowed two earned runs over 15.3 innings.
Hitting coach Dale Sveum’s influence has rubbed off nicely on his club. The offense has been explosive in the playoffs. It would be a dishonor if I didn’t mention that Sveum was brought in this off-season after spending a few years under Yost in Milwaukee.
Now, Yost is the king of the west. It’s funny how this game works out. Quite frankly, I was surprised Yost wasn’t shown the door. Nonetheless, he’s done a remarkable job leading his young team and I expect him to win the Manager of the Year. #Yosted
MLB Playoffs 4-1-1- Says…
As a lifelong baseball fan, I’ve always thought there has to be an ace on the roster to advance to the World Series. I’d like to think that James Shields earned his nickname, Big Game James, by pitching well in the playoffs during his tenure in Tampa Bay. But that’s not the case. As a Ray, he posted a 2-3 record with a 4.77 ERA in 6 playoff starts. I guess he just borrowed the nickname from Lakers legend James Worthy.
The Royals do not have the best pitcher in baseball, i.e. Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, or Adam Wainwright. Nor did they enter the postseason with the best rotation. However, they did enter the postseason with the team that led the majors in stolen bases and struckout the fewest times.
The offenses approach in the regular season has transplanted its roots into playoffs. Kansas City leads all teams with 13 stolen bases in the playoffs. The next team, the Orioles, only had four. KC has drawn more walks than any other AL team and has the highest OBP (for teams to compete in the division series).
Brave New World
The Royals roster is not made up of superstars, like the Los Angeles Dodgers. They also do not have one of the highest payrolls in baseball. In fact, they are one of 14 MLB teams not to spend more than $100 million on salary in 2014.
So how did they build a World Series team?
In 2006, Kansas City brought in the Atlanta Braves Assistant General Manager Dayton Moore. He served several executive roles with the Braves over 10 years, including director of scouting and director of player personnel development. He was courted by Boston in 2005 and landed in KC a few months later.
After several years of falling short the Royals were able to obtain some high draft picks. Notable draft picks under Dayton Moore include,
- 2007, round 1/#2, Mike Moustakas, SS
- 2007, round 1/#306, Greg Holland SP
- 2008, round 1/#3, Eric Hosmer, 1B
- 2009, round 3/#91, Wil Myers, C
With these four prospects, many scouts thought the Royals were headed in the right direction. However, from 2010 – 2012, Moore missed on several early-round daft picks.
After an unsuccessful stint in Milwaukee, Moore brought in former Braves third-base coach Ned Yost. Moore was on his way towards building the Braves of the west. He made some solid draft picks and hired a former colleague. The only thing that was missing was a good rotation.
The Trading Game
Due to a limited resources, Moore was forced to deal players nearing the end of the contract such as SP Zack Greinke. Through the Greinke deal he landed two starters on their current roster, SS Alcides Escobar and OF Lorenzo Cain. He also dealt super prospect Wil Myers to the Rays in exchange for SP James Shields and SP Wade Davis. Both trades have been successful for the Royals.
The rest is history. Although he didn’t have Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, Moore assembled a similar roster with a coach that on the same page. I’d like to believe that he followed the footsteps of his mentors on the Braves, as there’s a resemblance to the roster of the Braves in the 90s.