Kansas City Royals dreams come true
KANSAS CITY, Mo — They have nearly a week before the reality of a World Series sets in.
The Kansas City Royals, running so fast and playing so hot they don’t dare stop to figure out what they’ve just accomplished.
The Kansas City community, euphorically coming out of a three-decades cycle of disappointment to indifference to unfulfilled anticipation.
“I dream it all the time,” says Jarrod Dyson, Royals outfielder, pinch-runner and spokesperson for the speed game that has become the trademark of what’s becoming a postseason of historic proportions. “I just didn’t know what year it was going to happen. But it seems like this is the year right here. You never know when you’re going to get back in this position, so you have to take advantage of it.”
Royals fans know how excruciating that wait can be. Wednesday’s 2-1 victory against the Baltimore Orioles and American League Championship Series sweep sends the Royals into the franchise’s first World Series since 1985, a series that begins Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Two runs in the first inning, with the only hit an infield single, more spectacular defence and another 11 outs from Kansas City’s infallible bullpen was the familiar formula for a team threatening to redefine destiny.
“There’s no better weapons,” manager Ned Yost says. “Speed and the defence and the bullpen. “It goes back to playing the game the way the game was built to be played. It’s exciting baseball. I think we’ve made a bunch of new fans throughout the country. They’ve fallen in love with our team, our athleticism, our energy.”
The victory Wednesday was Kansas City’s eighth in a row in these playoffs, the first time any team has won its first eight games in a single postseason.
At 11 postseason wins and counting — going back to the 1985 World Series that could be reprised against the cross-state St. Louis Cardinals — the Royals are one victory from that all-time record. Two incarnations of the New York Yankees won 12 in a row: The 1998-99 squads and the 1927, ’28 and ’32 teams from the World Series-only era.
Dyson was asked if he comprehends how unbelievable this must be to Royals fans.
“Oh, they know,” he says. “I’m quite sure they know.”
This is a team that had a 13-2 stretch in June to go from 6 ½ games behind the Detroit Tigers to the lead in the AL Central — then lost 18 of 27.
They went 41-23 after July 22, one win behind Baltimore for the most over that stretch, a year after the Royals had the best record in the AL after the All-Star break. Maybe these Royals were waiting to break out last season only to have their playoff push fall a few days short.
What’s really different about the playoff Royals?
Everything is up — batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and, most notably, their home-run rate.
They’ve heard incessantly how they don’t hit homers — fewest in the majors this season, fewest in the AL two years running — so much so it’s considered a given.
Part of that is by design, as first base coach Rusty Kuntz explains.
“(General manager) Dayton Moore had this vision: Let’s try the speed deal,” says Kuntz, who’s behind much of the Royals’ basepaths mayhem. “Speed costs a whole lot less than power. If we can get the right guys and the right program and get them to buy into it and apply it and all the fun stuff, maybe it will work.”
These guys do buy in. Not only did they lead the majors in stolen bases, they also had the lowest strikeout rate. Make contact, put the ball in play — but there’s more this postseason.
Royals batters have improved a major league worst walk rate, taking free passes more than 35 per cent more frequently — an attribute that’s more discipline and focus than pure skill.
But there’s also a near forgotten “whatever-happened-to” aspect of the power outage.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who bats ninth but leads the team with four postseason homers, hit 36 in a season to lead the minor leagues, four years ago. Power was one of the reasons he and first baseman Eric Hosmer were first-round picks in 2007 and 2008, respectively, also one of the reasons Royals fans have been hearing for several years how a core of homegrown players was about to change the franchise.
“We’re in the early stages of a window where this team has a chance to keep winning,” Moore says. “They’re not in the prime years of their careers yet. They’re still getting better.”