It was a familiar script. Strong starting pitching that got shortened the game for the bullpen. Another game with four runs scored or more that turned into a win (the Royals were 64-23 when scoring four runs or more this year).
By finishing with 86 wins, the Royals improved by 14 games over last year’s total. It wasn’t enough, but they were mathematically alive in the playoff race up until the second to last series of the year. They brought a taste of playoff excitement to a fanbase that has been yearning for a winner for decades.
It was exciting, but disappointing at the same time. Disappointing because it seems like there were missed opportunities. A pair of 2-1 losses in Oakland. A 3-0 lead against Chicago that evaporated. A few stretches where the team lost their bearings.
But for much of it, they didn’t seem to understand that they, like previous Royals teams, were supposed to fold. An 8-20 May? They follow with a 16-11 June. Lose five heading into the All-Star break? How about winning 16 of 20 after it? But those skids added up, and while it’s easy to point to May as a problem, the stretch in August when the Royals lost two of three to Miami, then got swept against Chicago, and blew two games against the Nationals (with all three series at home) was just as big an issue.
In the end, there was progress from some players, some regression from others, and some tough questions that need answers. Eric Hosmer spent two months having the same problems he’d had in 2012 but was a .318/.367/.494 hitter from June until the end of the year and now, he’s got a .300 batting average for the year to put on his resume. At the same time, Mike Moustakas looked lost for all but brief moments this year and such struggles can’t happen again next year. Alcides Escobar had a good September, but the rest of his season was terrible at the plate, and his 53 OPS+ for the season was lower than punching bags Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur (both of whom had 55 OPS+ seasons with the Royals).
The pitching staff finished with the best ERA in the American League, thanks to 200+ inning years from James Shields, Ervin Santana, and Jeremy Guthrie, and an AL leading 2.55 ERA from the bullpen (the lowest mark from a bullpen since 1990).Greg Holland set a team record for saves with 47.
Three Royals made the All-Star team. Salvador Perez looks like the best catcher in the AL. Kansas City was above .500 at home (44-37) and on the road (42-39).
So there is plenty to be pleased with.
That doesn’t overlook the fact that there is still work to do. They were an 86 win team this year. As of this moment, Texas leads Los Angeles and seem headed for a tiebreaker with Tampa Bay for the second wild card. It took 91 wins to make the playoffs this year.
Be happy. Be excited. But don’t be satisfied. This offseason, the Royals will seek to find five more wins (or more). March 31, 2014 is going to come quickly.