In the first decade of the 21st century, the Royals lost more games than any other MLB franchise. In 2005 they had a 19-game losing streak and lost 106 games. The last MLB franchise to NOT lose 100 games in a season, did so four times in five years.
Now, they’re the two-time American League Champions – the first team to make consecutive World Series since the Texas Rangers in 2010 and 2011.
It truly is, as a friend calls it, the Golden Age of Royals baseball.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the turnaround happened. One could date it back to the hiring of Dayton Moore and how he built this roster through the draft, international signings, free agency and reclamation project success stories. Or maybe the hiring of Ned Yost, who is now the winningest manager in franchise history and has the best winning percentage of ANY manager in playoff history (18-8, .692) – minimum 20 games – and the duo’s process. That process started to be realized back on December 9, 2012, when Moore showed the fans it was “winning time” with the blockbuster James Shields trade.
“It is winning time in KC and if they are serious about winning, they will make a trade to show it – and it will hurt. They will be ripped for it, but it’ll be something that they have to do,” former Nationals GM and ESPN baseball analyst Jim Bowden said prior to the trade. He spoke truth. It happened – and the Royals were ripped.
First we saw the Royals traded for James Shields. Huge. Then Wade Davis was in the deal. Nice addition. Then we saw RF Wil Myers, Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year, was in the deal. Ouch that hurt. Then Jake Odorizzi, the Royals top pitching prospect. Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING me? Oh yeah, and Mike Montgomery, our former top pitching prospect as well as some other dude (3B Patrick Leonard). WTF did the Royals just do?
That was the initial reaction.
The Royals still have not found an internal replacement for Myers. It was Jeff Francouer and David Lough in 2013. It was Nori Aoki, acquired via trade, in 2014. This year, Alex Rios. Next year? Who knows (hopefully it Ben Zobrist); that’s a story for the offseason. But, the Royals certainly haven’t missed Myers.
Yes, he was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2013 (.293/.354/.831, 13 HR, 53 RBI in 88 games), big deal. He’s played just 147 games since, riddled with injury, slashing .231/.309/.360) with 14 HR, 67 RBI. Myers will be just above-JAG (just a guy), but nothing special. He may make an All-Star game or two, but wont standout. He’s already been moved again (to San Diego). It sucks to get rid of prospects, but pennants fly forever. Odorizzi has been solid – 20-23 with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.215 WHIP in 63 starts (66 games) with Tampa the last three years – but will never be more than a middle of a rotation guy.
The Royals won this trade, period. You have to give up something to get something. I don’t get how Royals fans couldn’t figure that out that we would not have been as good without making the trade. We would not have had our first back-to-back winning seasons since 1993-1994 in 2013. The Royals would not have been in the hunt down until the last week without this trade. They would not be 270-216 with two American League pennants since the trade. All organizations do it, and the Royals will continue to make more deals like the Johnny Cueto one if they’re good. It’s big boy baseball. People don’t want to trade the farm because they’re worried about the future, but at the same time they want to make deals to improve the team. Which is it?
The reach of the blockbuster trade goes beyond what Shields did on the field (27-17, 3.18 ERA, 1.209 WHIP, in 68 starts). It appeared he had a large impact on Danny Duffy having a career season last year (9-12, BUT, a 2.53 ERA, 1.112 WHIP) and Yordano Ventura being as good as he was (14-10, 3.20 ERA, 1.295 WHIP). Both guys were lost without him this year. Cueto’s arrival helped right the ship for Ventura (9-1, 3.10 ERA with nine quality starts in 14 game’s after the trade). Both ended this year with solid 4.08 ERA’s. Dave Eiland could perhaps be a part of it, but Duffy is very similar in personality to Shields and he learned to manage his emotions. He left a legacy in the clubhouse that could impact the Royals for many years. He taught this team how to win, how to be themselves. How to celebrate in the locker room. His fingerprints are still on this team.
But, it started to come together before the before-mentioned trade. Upon Moore’s arrival in 2006, the Royals beefed up scouting and put a big emphasis on Latin America, where they found gems like Ventura and All-Star’s Kelvin Herrera and Salvador Perez and the draft, where they got Greg Holland, Duffy, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and what was shortly after Moore’s arrival, the best minor league system not only in baseball, but one of the best in history. He built a team based on speed and defense. They also made other moves, too, trading Zack Greinke, one year removed from his Cy Young, to the Brewers for four guys, including current Royals Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar – also both All-Star’s AND the last two ALCS MVP’s.
That trade also netted us Shields and Davis, in a way, as Odorizzi was part of the prospect package.
Fast forward to the current.
Let it now forever be known as the Wade Davis trade. He has been the one constant in this trade. He is still here. He and Odorizzi are the only dude’s still on the team that dealt for them (well, there’s Leonard in Tampa, too). And, what he has done has been significant. He was obviously a flop as a starter. But, ELITE as a reliever. Like, the greatest two-year run for a reliever…EVER – 17-2, 0.91 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 20 saves, 51 holds, 12.2 K/9. He’s been even better in the postseason: 3-0, 0.43 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 3 saves, 3 holds and 30 strikeouts to five walks in 17 games (21 IP).
Friday night, the Royals were up 2-1. Ventura and Kelvin Herrera limited the Blue Jays to one run over seven innings. The stage seemed set for 1.2 innings of Herrera and two of fellow cyborg, Davis, as he was warming in the pen. The Royals tacked on a run – the first of the night that was not via the long ball (Ben Zobrist took David Price long in the first for his 7th 1st-inning HR of 2015 and Mike Moustakas, who at the time was hitting just .132 this postseason, barely got one over the wall in right-center, for his sixth career postseason HR the following inning) – on an Alex Rios single scoring Moose. During the inning, Ryan Madson got up and started throwing. Davis stopped. We all knew what was coming. We all wondered WHY. Maybe, it was the oncoming rain. I don’t know. Jose Bautista, who hit a MAMMOTH 430-foot bomb earlier, hit a 2-run dong into left field and the game was tied, 3-3. DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?
“You know, we knew that the rain was coming, and they hit it right on the head,” Yost said. “They said it was going to come around 9:55.
“Our plan was to hopefully get Madson through the eighth right there, because we knew the rain would probably come, and we didn’t want to bring Wade in that inning unless we absolutely had to.”
Now, you had to use him before you wanted to. All he did was get the final five outs, spanning a 45-minute rain delay, sending the Royals to the World Series after Lorenzo Cain became the third player this season (Escobar, too) to score from first base without running on the pitch on a single – Hosmer’s franchise record-tying 23rd postseason RBI (George Brett).
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It was not the first time Cain has scored from first base this postseason on a Hosmer single. Only 20 players have scored from first on a RBI single in the entire regular season.
Davis needed just eight outs to record the final two outs of the eighth, but ran into some trouble in the ninth. Russell Martin off the ninth with a soft single to center field. Pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second and third base ahead of a walk to Kevin Pillar. First and third, nobody out. Was a rain delay the only thing that can stop the Wade Davis Experience?
“As long as I felt loose,” said Davis, who did not throw any warm-up pitches during the delay. “I felt I was coming back out, especially after we scored.”
He then struck out pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro. Pillar stole second on the strikeout. Davis then struck out Ben Revere after getting a questionable 2-1 strike call. Revere proceeded to take it out on the dugout trash can.
Due up: MVP favorite Josh Donaldson. George Brett had to check his pulse. On a 2-1 count, Davis got Donaldson to bounce one to third, where Moose, who also ended the 2014 ALCS, at home, on a ball to third, gathered and threw to Hosmer. Ball game.
“That’s so tough to do,” Moustakas said. “For Wade to come back and do that after a delay, unreal.”
Basically, Wade Davis:
The Royals, undefeated when leading after the sixth inning in both the 2014 and 2015 postseason’s, sent Toronto home, 30 years and seven days after doing it in 1985. This time they did as underdogs in five of the six games. They did it despite getting just one quality start – Edinson Volquez in Game 1 (the only game as a favorite).
Without the Wade Davis trade, last night doesn’t happen. Last year doesn’t happen. This year doesn’t happen. Sure, Volquez was able to fill the void of Shields on the hill when he left for San Diego via free agency (13-9, 3.55 ERA, 1.308 WHIP, 2.15 K/BB in 200.1 IP – his first 200-inning season, compared to Shields in KC (based on 162 games): 14-9, 3.18 ERA, 1.209 WHIP, 3.36 K/BB in 227.1 IP), but his impact on this team and the Golden Age of Royals baseball will carry on for several more years.
The Royals, now just the fifth team in the AL since their birth in 1969 to make it back to the World Series the year after they lost (three of the previous four have won it the second time, with the exception of the Rangers in 2010-11), will meet the Mets, the No. 3 seed in the NL, who rolled through the Cubs in a sweep in the NLCS after knocking off the Dodgers in five games in the NLDS, in what will be the first ever World Series featuring two expansion teams.
Oh, by the way, Opening Day next year features a matchup between the Royals and Mets. It’ll be the first time in history that the previous years’ World Series combatants will have a rematch on Opening Day. So, there’s that.
For now, WIN. GAMES.
So, I guess there’s only one thing left to do:
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