Bikinis and the Kansas City Royals
Despite seven playoff appearances from 1976 to ’85, no team in Royals history had been able to make back-to-back World Series appearances before Ned Yost’s club turned that particular trick the past two seasons.
After a magical run that included an almost incomprehensible comeback in the American League Wild Card game, incomparable road performances replete with unbelievable pitching and unfathomable clutch hitting, Kansas City punched its ticket to the Fall Classic for the first time in 29 years in 2014.
Short of mass free agent exodus or dismantling through trades, defending league champions are rarely taken lightly. However, many pundits believed that the Royals of a year ago would hover around .500, hard-pressed to make a return to the postseason, let alone another trip to the Big Dance.
Yet Kansas City led the AL with 95 wins and once again rode a fantastic bullpen sprinkled with more come-from-behind, clutch performances at the plate to its first title in three decades. And did so without the services of closer Greg Holland.
They were a team that finished sixth in the league for runs and last in walks (a whopping 187 behind front-runner Toronto), while only the Chicago White Sox lofted fewer home runs across the circuit.
While the Royals fared better on the mound, but the third-best team ERA and placing second for saves and home runs allowed while tied for sixth with regard to miscues afield were hardly overwhelming numbers.
Nothing about Kansas City screamed championship team then. Nothing screams championship team now. Yet, they are. They won it all last season and the year before had a championship snatched from them with the tying run ninety feet from home plate in Game 7.
Former Indians and Rangers shortstop Toby Harrah once said that “Baseball statistics are like a girl wearing a bikini. They show a lot, but not everything.”
I challenge you to find a phrase that better encapsulates the World Series champs.
They don’t pound the baseball, nor draw a lot of walks, but they put the ball in play with solid hitters up and down the line-up and use speed and aggressive, intelligent baserunning to make up for a lack of power.
For years, Mike Scioscia’s Angels were lauded for taking the extra base better than any team in baseball. Why not the Royals? Because they don’t have a Vladimir Guerrero or Mike Trout or Albert Pujols to save the day?
With a terrific defensive team, solid starting pitching and a monstrous bullpen with Wade Davis just itching for the ninth, the Royals don’t need to score a ton.
Granted, no one is about to confuse Yordano Ventura with Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale, but it’s the same feel with these Royals as the Dodgers of the early sixties. Pitching and defense lead the way while the offense does just enough for victory.
“It’s the intangibles,” Kansas City Hall of Famer and Vice President of Baseball Operations George Brett told ESPN. “They know how to play the game of baseball. They’re very aggressive on the bases. There are so many stats in baseball, I don’t even know what half of them mean. But you now what stats [don’t] do? It doesn’t measure brain and it doesn’t measure heart. That’s what this team is. We play smart and we have a big heart. As a result, we’ve been successful the last two years.”
Johnny Gomes summarized it best during his epic flag-carrying, mic-drop speech last fall. The Royals didn’t have the Rookie of the Year. Nor did they have the MVP or even the Cy Young, but they had a better team than anyone major league baseball placed in front of them.
Many prognosticators once again feel that the Royals will slip in 2016, perhaps not make the playoffs, or if they do, get bounced by a team that is statistically better on paper.
During the playoffs last season, first baseman Eric Hosmer wrote in The Players’ Tribune:
They predicted that we would win 75 games this year.
We won 95.
And now we’re in a fight for our playoff lives. In other words: We’re right where we want to be.
We weren’t a fluke.
We’re the Kansas City Royals.
We’re here, now.
And we’re going to be sticking around for a while.
Go ahead, doubt them in March. They’ll dance in October.