Royals cast of characters return to defend World Series crown

World Series Lorenzo Cain

APRIL 2016 – Most of the Kansas City Royals who were in the November World Series championship parade will be in the lineup in April.

Alcides Escobar, although the numbers belie it – 26 walks, 612 at-bats, a .293 on-base percentage – will return to bat leadoff. Mike Moustakas, not a conventional No. 2 hitter, will bat second.

“I’m definitely seeing the ball good,” Moustakas said after a five-RBI game at the end of March. “Just again, trying to stay with that approach of driving the ball the other way. These stats don’t matter, but I’m feeling good at the plate, feeling comfortable in the box and seeing the ball is what’s important. I’ve been able to do a good job with that and stay with my approach, which has been pretty successful up to this point.”

Lorenzo Cain, who is improving every year offensively and established career highs with a .307 batting average, 34 doubles, 16 home runs and 72 RBIs, will bat third. He is also the best active defensive outfielder never to have won a Gold Glove. And scoring the winning run from first base on an Eric Hosmer single in Game 6 of the ALCS against Toronto will forever by etched in Royals’ folklore.

Banner-KCSF-FBFirst baseman Hosmer, who may be the best active player never named to an All-Star Game, will bat cleanup. He hit 18 home runs, drove in 93 and scored 98 runs last year. And who in Kansas City will ever forget Hosmer’s mad dash home from third base in the ninth inning of World Series Game 5?

Kendrys Morales, who was unwanted in 2014 and hit .207 in 59 games with Seattle to finish the season, but rebounded to hit .290 with 22 home runs and 106 RBIs in his first year with the Royals, returns as the designated hitter.

Alex Gordon flirted with free agency before re-signing a four-year contract with the Royals in January. Gordon has won four Gold Gloves and been selected to three All-Star games, but missed 48 games last year with a pulled left groin.

Catcher Salvador Perez, the World Series MVP and three-time All-Star, will bat seventh. Manager Ned Yost would like to give Perez more rest, but it is difficult for him to resist the urge to write Perez’s name in most days.

Rookie Reymond Fuentes, a left-handed hitter, and Paulo Orlando will platoon in right field. Fuentes, a cousin of former Royal Carlos Beltran, is the only newcomer/

Omar Infante will be back starting at second base. Infante hit a puny .220 last year with a .234 on-base percentage and only 32 extra-base hits in 440 at-bats. Infante was bothered by a sore right elbow last year and had surgery to shave a bone spur. A healthy Infante hit .357 in spring training.

The World Series Champion Royals’ mantra is keep the line moving.

Rental players Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist were acquired in late July trades but the Royals likely would not have won the World Series without them, have moved on as free agents. Cueto signed with the San Francisco Giants, where he is slotted as the No. 2 starter behind Madison Bumgarner, who had the World Series for the ages in 2014 to beat the Royals almost single-handedly. Zobrist, who replaced Infante at second base at the end of the season, is with the Chicago Cubs. Both teams should challenge for the National League crown.

Right-hander Ian Kennedy will replace Cueto in the rotation. Kennedy, 31, signed a five-year $70 million contract in January after a 9-15 record with a 4.28 ERA in 30 starts last season with San Diego.

The back of the bullpen is virtually the same with the impeccable Wade Davis closing and Kelvin Herrera, who routinely chucks 100 mile per hour fastballs, and Luke Hochevar setting up. Former Royals closer Joakim Soria returns to join the late inning bridge to get to Davis.

Erstwhile starter Danny Duffy will be in the bullpen. He has electric stuff, but has been erratic as a starter, his pitch counts soaring often before he could pitch deep into games. Sounds like the Wade Davis story before the Royals moved him from the rotation to bullpen bully.

Edinson Volquez, Kennedy and Yordano Ventura front the rotation. Volquez was 1-2 with a 3.77 ERA, while holding opponents to a .186 batting in five postseason starts. Ventura has made nine postseason starts before his 25th birthday, only Steve Avery of the Atlanta Braves has made more, 10 starts, before turning 25. He has won 27 regular season games the past two seasons and has the mega stuff to be a bigtime winner.

Chris Young, who has a Princeton pedigree, and Kris Medlen, who like Soria, has had two Tommy John surgeries, round out the rotation. Young, who turns 37 in May, went 11-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 18 starts and 16 relief appearances last year. He held opponents to a .202 batting average, which is the lowest in the American League for pitchers working at least 100 innings. He doesn’t throw hard, but standing 6-10 he has plenty of deception and knows how he wants to pitch batters.

Medlen is two years removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, so he is more apt to put up some additional quality starts this year. The Royals took it slow with Medlen last year, limiting him to 58 2/3 innings in eight starts and seven relief appearances. The gloves are off Medlen this season.

Article by Alan Eskew

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