Why the Kansas City Royals will win the World Series
The Kansas City Royals rode a surprising wild-card berth all the way to Game 7 of the World Series last year before falling just short of their first championship since 1985. There was no hangover this season, as they Royals had the best record in the AL for most of the season. The offense is more productive, the defense is just as stellar and the baserunning remains a weapon. However, the rotation and bullpen have more questions than in 2014. Still, this team is talented enough to finish what it started in 2014.
Getty ImagesEd Zurga
Royals: The offense is improved
They still steal bases (100-plus again this season), they still hit for average (third in the majors this season; fourth in the majors in 2014) and they still can manufacture runs. But now they also hit for more power (MLB-worst 95 home runs last season; 139 this season) and a much higher slugging percentage (.376 in 2014; .412 in 2015). A big reason for that is the big switch-hitter the Royals added over the offseason: Kendrys Morales, who led the team in RBI (106) and tied for the lead in homers (22) during the regular season.
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
Royals: The same great defense
One of the biggest strengths during the Royals’ World Series run last season is a reason they could return to and win the Fall Classic. There just aren’t many places you can hit a ball that Kansas City’s defenders can’t get to it, and that’s especially true with the addition of Ben Zobrist at second base. The Royals finished first in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating and Revised Zone Rating and second in Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs.
Getty ImagesJon Durr
Royals': The emergence of Lorenzo Cain
Lorenzo Cain’s upside seemingly is a big as his grin. If last season was his breakout performance, this season was his rise to superstardom. We already knew Cain was a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, but his bat caught up to his glove in 2015. He finished with career highs across the board, including 16 homers, 72 RBI and an .838 OPS. And he remains a threat on the bases, where he stole 28 bags and scored 101 runs. Cain has settled in nicely as Kansas City’s No. 3 hitter between Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales.
TNS via Getty ImagesKansas City Star
Royals: The Ben Zobrist factor
Prior to the nonwaiver trade deadline in July, Ben Zobrist was among the most coveted players on the market. There’s his pennant-race experience, his defensive versatility, his leadership … and his bat. Zobrist has been everything the Royals expected – and then some – since acquiring him. Initially, he filled in for injured left fielder Alex Gordon, and now he has taken over as the everyday second baseman. All while hitting .284 with an .816 OPS and 23 RBI in 59 games with KC.
Getty ImagesJason Miller
Royals: The experienced core
Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson … the whole gang is back from last year’s pennant-winning roster. Well, almost everyone (James Shields left via free agency and Greg Holland is out after Tommy John surgery). For most of the season, the Royals had the best record in the AL, before seemingly coasting into trouble in September. But this is October, and these guys have been there and done that. In fact, they did it as a wild-card team last season, proving that they don’t even need home-field advantage, which they will have as long as they are alive this year. This core remains hungry and appears refocused after a five-game winning streak to end the season.
Getty ImagesEd Zurga
Royals: The revitalized ace
The team believed it acquired an ace when it traded for Johnny Cueto in late July. Little did the Royals know that their ace already was on the roster. Yordano Ventura, whose emergence was key to Kansas City’s World Series run in 2014, won nine of his last 10 decisions this season and was 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA in his final 11 starts. Quite a contrast from the guy who went 6-7 with a 5.29 ERA in his first 17 starts and briefly was demoted to Triple-A. Now it’s Cueto (4.76 ERA in 13 starts for the Royals) who is the biggest question mark in a rotation that is far shakier than it was last year