In the first month of play, pundits around the game have dubbed the KC Royals the “Bad Boys of Baseball“. They have been egged on by a league office that has pointed the finger of blame at Ned Yost‘s team with more severe punishments for Kansas City Royals players than those doled out to their opponents.
All of this follows an off-season in which analysts around baseball largely dismissed Kansas City’s 2014 playoff run as a fluke, and predicted a middle-of-the-pack finish for the team. Projection system PECOTA saw the KC Royals as a 72-90 club in 2015, while Fangraphs.com predicted 80-82, and Grantland pegged them to have 79-83 season.
The league office, along with pundits across the league, have inadvertently gifted Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost with the perfect “Us Against The World” narrative.
The beauty of this situation is that Ned Yost doesn’t have to say anything. The media, and the league office, are doing his work for him.
Last week, ESPN.com’s Elizabeth Merrill wrote about how the Kansas City Royals are dealing with their Bad Boy image:
"When they arrived in Cleveland this week, Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer and a smattering of fans at Progressive Field donned boxing gloves in an apparent whimsical nod to the angriest team in baseball."
Heck, even fans are egging the on the Us vs. World narrative for Ned Yost.
The KC Royals came roaring out of the gate with seven straight wins. The team followed up that hot start with a 9-9 record in their next 18 games. The Royals did this despite losing regulars Alex Rios, Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante, and Greg Holland to injury, while suffering suspensions to pitchers Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, and Kelvin Herrera, along with centerfielder Lorenzo Cain.
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Yet, the record only tells part of the story. The KC Royals have been playing the game with almost playoff intensity the entire first month of the season.
There is a reason for the testiness. Kansas City Royals coach Rusty Kuntz discussed the issue with ESPN’s Merrill:
"He says some of the players just aren’t used to verbal intimidation because they never received it when the Royals consistently lost. Back then, they weren’t worth being harassed. “When these guys come after you, that’s a compliment,” Kuntz says, “because you’re good. You’re good now. You proved it by going to the World Series.”"
At a more micro level, Eric Hosmer has displayed a new patience at the plate. Mike Moustakas has learned to exploit the shift. Lorenzo Cain is elevating the ball more. Meanwhile Salvador Perez has tried to stop pulling everything.
In short, the team’s playoff success has seemed to help the KC Royals young cornerstones accept coaching.
Many teams who lose the World Series suffer a hangover the next season. Only three World Series losers in the last 40 years have won the pennant the following season.
If the KC Royals fail to defend their AL Pennant, it won’t be due to a lack of motivation or lingering disappointment sapping their will. The 2015 Kansas City Royals have something to prove. The fans, pundits, and league office have seen to that.