KC Royals started and ended the 2017 season with disappointment

The hole was Grand Canyon-deep from the beginning. The Royals dropped eight straight in late April. They lost 20 of their first 30 games, putting them seven games out on May 7.

Yet, they slowly climbed out of that. They went 17-9 in June and in late July they reeled off a nine-game winning streak. They were seven-games above .500 on July 28. They moved to within 1 ½ games of the division-leading Cleveland Indians.

General manager Dayton Moore went all in, acquiring Melky Cabrera from the Chicago White Sox and pitchers Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer from the San Diego Padres.

Moore said he has no regrets about the trades with the hopes of giving this group of Royals one more chance to make it to post-season.

It did not happen. They faded in August, losing 18 of 28 games. They went an epoch 45 innings without scoring a run, three short of the major league record.

The bullpen could not hold leads if the Royals ever got one. The starting pitching was shoddy. By the end of August, the Royals were in third place and 11 games in arrears of the Indians.

There were highlights, to be sure:

  • Jason Vargas tied for the major league lead with 18 wins.
  • Eric Hosmer hit .318 with 25 home runs, matching his season high, and drove in 94 runs.
  • Mike Moustakas broke Steve Balboni’s home run record with 38 long balls, two more than Balboni hit in 1985.
  • Whit Merrifield started the season in the minors, but led the American League with 34 stolen bases, while hitting 19 home runs and 32 doubles.
  • Lorenzo Cain finished with a .300 batting average.
  • Alcides Escobar batted a heinous .178 in his first 60 games, but turned it up to finish with a respectable .250.
  • Mike Minor fixed the bullpen with six saves in six opportunities in September as the closer.
  • Jake Junis won nine games as a rookie.

But there were too many downsides to overcome.

  • Alex Gordon hit .209 with nine home runs. The Royals will owe him $44 million over the next two years.  Let’s hope Gordon gets with hitting guru and former Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer over the winter to correct the swinging flaws.
  • Brandon Moss, who was a free agent addition and returns in 2018 for the second year of his contract, hit 22 home runs, but drove in only 50 runs. He reached base 112 times — 75 hits and 37 walks – while striking out 128 times. That is pretty much the definition of an all-or-nothing swinger.
  • Ian Kennedy went a club record 18 consecutive starts without a victory before winning his final start of the year. His final line: 5-13 with a 5.38 ERA. He will make $16 million in 2018 and guaranteed $16.5 million in 2019, the final year of his four-year contract when he will be 35.
  • Jason Hammel was 8-13 with a 5.29 ERA in 32 starts. He won 15 games last year with the Chicago Cubs and the Royals signed him to a two-year contract.
  • Jorge Soler was acquired from the Cubs in a one-for-one trade for closer Wade Davis. Soler was injured in spring training, spent most of the year with Triple-A Omaha and hit a puny .144 in 97 at-bats in the majors with two home runs and 36 strikeouts. The Royals need much better production from Soler going forward after giving up one of the top closers in the game.

Many of the Royals’ stars – Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, Escobar and Vargas – are eligible for free agency. There is no way they will all be Royals next year.

“This is going to be different,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s a whole different approach again. I imagine it will probably be a little bit of a step back.”

After an 80-82 record in 2017 and an 81-81 record in 2016, the Royals will look a lot different when they report to spring training in February.

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Article by Alan Eskew

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