Royals' late-season rally comes up short
Streaky offense proves costly amid consistency of pitching, defense
SEATTLE -- Who could have suspected that the Kansas City Royals, after plunging into a deep hole in May, would rise up and be involved in the postseason chase almost to season's end?
Yet that is exactly what they did.
The Royals finally ran out of gas Wednesday night with a 6-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners. With four games left they were officially eliminated.
Curiously, for a team that exhibited solid starting pitching throughout the year, the Royals proved to be an extremely streaky team, with glorious times of smooth running interrupted by downward spirals.
The Royals started out 17-10 prior to a horrid 6-22 stretch mostly in May. Then they got on a 20-12 roll -- but were 0-5 right before the All-Star Game. After the break, they roared away, 19-5, braked to go 2-10, then really got into gear and went 19-9 before losing the last two nights in Seattle.
The streakiness puzzled manager Ned Yost.
"It surprises me," he said. "It's hard to comprehend; it's hard to understand; it's hard to try to figure out why."
Generally, though, the club's pitchers led the American League ERA standings for most of the year, and the defense was extraordinarily effective. It was most often the offense that sputtered in inconsistent waves. Indeed, that offense was shut out in the last two games at Seattle.
"If we get the offense back on track, we're going to be OK," was an oft-heard Yost comment.
The resilient ability of the team -- there were 43 comeback victories -- kept the spirits high. This was a hard-working, hard-driving, hard-playing team that just never quit.
"We get more excited about winning a ballgame," center fielder Jarrod Dyson said late in the season. "We try not to dig into the record too much and look at who we're tied with or anything like that, but we do look at the standings and how far we are from getting into the playoffs. It just makes us push harder. We don't get too high on ourselves. If we win, it's just more confidence going into the next game."
Mostly, it was a learning process for a youthful team.
"Who can explain what it means for a team to jell and come together?" Yost said. "But when they all started to understand what winning was all about, that it's a team-wide deal instead of everybody just trying to carry the load themselves, it started getting easier.
"Before, they wanted to win, they were trying to win, but everybody was trying to go up and hit a three-run homer with one guy on. It doesn't work like that."
Nevertheless, for a change, September was especially meaningful for the Royals.
"It's been a blast, way different," first baseman Eric Hosmer said recently. "By this time, everyone was kind of getting their chance to win a starting job [for next year], or guys were coming up from the Minor Leagues and seeing if they could produce at this level. This year, it's do everything you can to win ballgames because, obviously, we're in the race. And it's a blast, and I think everyone in here realizes that we've got a team that can make it to the next level, and everyone realizes how awesome this city can be when we're playing meaningful games at this time."
Certainly Kauffman Stadium turnstiles spun and the noise-o-meter erupted, especially during late September games against Cleveland and Texas.
"The atmosphere in the stands has been unbelievable," Hosmer said. "Guys realize now how fun of a place this is to play, especially when you're winning."
Compared with the usually lackluster Septembers, 2013 was a lively enterprise.
"It's been a lot more fun, that's for sure," general manager Dayton Moore said. "But we're not where we want to be or where I think we can be. We've got a lot of work to do, and we'll keep pressing forward until we win enough games to compete and win a World Series. We're closer today than we were at this time last year."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.