MARSHALL: A 'Royal' season in K.C.: A close look at the season of almosts, ifs
By BRETT MARSHALL
If you're a fan of "America's Pastime," otherwise historically known as Major League Baseball, you'll know as of today who will be the remaining team to make the 'official' one-game wild-card game in the American League.
That's because on Monday night, the pre-wild card game, a one-and-done, was played between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. The winner of that game heads to Cleveland on Wednesday for another one-and-done. That Wild Card victor will then begin play Friday by traveling to face the Boston Red Sox, which won more games than any other American League team and tied the St. Louis Cardinals for the best record in MLB during the 2013 regular season.
One team that isn't playing this week, of course, is the Kansas City Royals.
In the past, by the All-Star break at the earliest, and certainly by mid-August to the first of September, the Royals were talking about waiting until next year. That's been the every year occurrence since the Royals last made the postseason playoffs back in 1985, a time longer than the age of many of the current Royals roster.
The Royals entered this season with much hoopla, centered around a revamped starting pitching rotation that included Jeremy Guthrie, James Shields and Ervin Santana, all acquired in off-season deals.
For the most part, those three didn't disappoint. Shields and Santana finished eighth and ninth in the American League in earned-run-average with marks of 3.15 and 3.24. Shields had more innings pitched (228.2) than any other starter, and he ranked seventh in strikeouts with 196. The only downside for Santana was a 9-10 record, but that was more a product of lack of run production by the K.C. offense than anything Santana did on the mound.
Guthrie tied for sixth with 15 wins (15-12) and was among the league leaders in complete games (3) and shutouts (2). Bullpen ace Greg Holland was spectacular, recording a franchise record 47 saves in 50 opportunities and tied for the lowest ERA amongst relievers at 1.21, again another franchise best.
While the Royals offense hit a respectable .260 (tied for fifth in the AL), they were last in home runs and 11th in runs scored. The only teams below the Royals in run production were the Astros, Twins, White Sox and Mariners — the four teams with the worst records in the AL. Thus, the Royals need to fix that part of their offense for 2014 if they want to make the next step up.
For much of this season, the Royals were playing catch up to the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers and could never get over the hump.
A disastrous May (8 wins, 20 losses) probably spelled the final outcome earlier than most people would want to admit. The Royals rallied in the last half of the season, going 47-36 after the All-Star break. But in that stretch, they were saddled with a disastrous seven-game losing streak in late August. Many of their most important opportunities were washed away by losses to the Miami Marlins, another bad team in the NL and tough defeats to the White Sox and Mariners as well.
As much as anything, though, the Royals need to find a way to play well at Kauffman Stadium. Unlike the playoff teams, each and every one, the Royals barely finished over .500 at home, going 44-37. Detroit, Cleveland and Tampa Bay were 51-30 while Boston was a league best 53-28. Texas was 46-35. All the Royals had to do was win five more games and perhaps they, instead of Texas, would have played Monday night.
The Royals will need to find some power punch in their lineup next year and they have defensive depth in the outfield to perhaps come up with a big trade for a big bat. They still have to see improved play from Mike Moustakas at third and need an everyday second baseman. Eric Hosmer has established himself as a rising star at first base (.302, 17 home runs/79 RBIs). But designated hitter Billy Butler had his worst season since 2008 (15 home runs, 82 RBIs, .289) after a 2012 season when he hit 29 homers, drove in 107 runs and batted .313.
Yes, the Royals have much to appreciate about the 2013 season. They improved their record by 14 games and made a run at the postseason. But they still came up short. There is not a team in either league that made the playoffs with less than 90 wins. That should be the minimal goal as K.C. sets its sights on an even better 2014.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org