Returning to Royalty

Johnny+Cueto+has+been+a+big+part+of+the+Royals%27+success+this+season.+Courtesy+of+Flickr.+
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Returning to Royalty

Johnny Cueto has been a big part of the Royals' success this season. Courtesy of Flickr.

Johnny Cueto has been a big part of the Royals' success this season. Courtesy of Flickr.

Johnny Cueto has been a big part of the Royals' success this season. Courtesy of Flickr.

Johnny Cueto has been a big part of the Royals' success this season. Courtesy of Flickr.

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By Brendan O’Connell

Johnny Cueto has been a big part of the Royals' success this season. Courtesy of Flickr.

Johnny Cueto has been a big part of the Royals’ success this season. Courtesy of Flickr.

Until last season’s World Series appearance, the Kansas City Royals had not reached the postseason since their 1985 title – a 28-year drought. Now they find themselves competing in the championship series for a second consecutive season.

Despite falling in seven games to the Madison Bumgarner-led San Francisco Giants in the 2014 World Series, the Royals reestablished their relevance by climbing back to the top of the league in the losing effort. With a repeat trip to the title series, the Royals seem as though they are officially here for the long haul.

During the playoff drought, Kansas City finished the season under .500 21 times, and .401 or worse seven of those times. The stretch included eight last-place finishes and a 13-manager carousel as well. Yikes.

However, as a Wild Card team last year and the AL Central Division winner this time, the Royals have returned to prominence. Led by a solid starting rotation, tremendous bullpen and talented core of position players, the team has been able to snap its lengthy slump.

Former Cincinnati Reds ace and coveted trade-deadline acquisition, Johnny Cueto spearheads a very capable starting pitching group that includes Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura. Just a phone call to the pen away, emerging relievers Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis await, alongside such veterans as Luke Hochevar and Ryan Madson. During the regular season, while logging the most innings in the American League, the bullpen finished at the top of the rankings, with the best record (30 wins – 14 losses), lowest ERA (2.72), lowest opponent batting average (.214), fewest runs (176) and second-most saves (56).

The outfield is sprinkled with stars, such as the dynamic Lorenzo Cain, the brilliant Alex Gordon and the experienced Alex Rios. At the corners of the diamond are fan-favorite Mike Moustakas and clean-up hitter Eric Hosmer. ALCS MVP Alcides Escobar plays shortstop and mid-season acquisition Ben Zobrist occupies second base. Catching the stellar pitching staff is All-Star and Gold-Glove winner Salvador Perez, and Kendrys Morales is the DH.

The revitalized ballclub has reenergized the loyal Royal fanbase, as well. As the All-Star Game approached this past July, Kansas City fans caused a stir because, with just days to go before voting closed, eight — yes, eight — Royals were slated to start the mid-summer classic thanks to maniacal fan support. Ultimately, the team wound up sending four starters instead, along with a reserve and two pitchers. Capacity at Royals home games averaged 88 percent, the fifth-best mark in all of baseball.

As they face the New York Mets in the World Series, Kansas City has a chance to win its first title in 30 seasons. It has been a largely slow and miserable process to regain their stronghold on the league, but the Royals may have finally done just that. All that stands in their way is a dominant Mets pitching staff and an otherwise elite squad, including a man by the name of Daniel Murphy, who’s playing like a man possessed. Only time will tell if these Royals can climb atop the MLB throne and recapture that elusive crown.