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The best and worst of an insane decade of Royals baseball

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This decade was better than the last.

2015 World Series Game Five: Kansas City Royals v. New York Mets

It was a weird and wild decade of Royals baseball that saw them reach the pinnacle of baseball success while also having several seasons where they were among the worst teams in the league. In all, they finished the decade with a record of 758-862, a .467 winning percentage that ranked sixth-worst in baseball in the past ten years.

But the highs, they were so high. Let’s look back at the best and worst this insane decade of Royals baseball had to offer.

Best game - 2014 Wild Card Game vs. Athletics

It might seem odd that Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, the one that culminated in the Royals becoming champs, was not the best game of the decade. But in terms of sheer drama, the 2014 Wild Card Game will be a game that will never be forgotten in Royals history. Kauffman Stadium was electric for the first home playoff game in 29 years and things looked bright early when the Royals went up 3-2. But a questionable decision to bring Yordano Ventura out of the bullpen on two days’ rest backfired and the Royals quickly found themselves down 7-3 against the Athletics.

An eighth inning rally brought them to within one and they scraped together a game-tying run in the ninth. The A’s retook the lead in the twelfth, but an Eric Hosmer triple followed by a Christian Colon chopper would tie the game. That set up Salvador Perez’s ground ball past a diving Josh Donaldson at third, winning the game and setting off one of the most amazing post-season runs in baseball history.

Others: 2014 World Series Game 6 vs. the Giants; 2015 World Series Game 5 vs. Mets; 2015 ALCS Game 6 vs. Blue Jays; 2015 ALDS Game 4 vs. Astros; 2015 ALDS Game 5 vs. Astros

Worst game - 2014 World Series Game 7 vs. Giants

It is hard to be too upset about this game since it was a terrific game to watch and Royals fans were playing with house money to that point. But had the Royals not won it all in 2015, this game would haunt fans for decades. Jeremy Guthrie got the start, allowing two early runs to the Giants, but the Royals immediately countered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.

Guthrie had a short leash and left in the fourth, with the Giants taking a 3-2 lead just after that. Enter Madison Bumgarner. Despite facing the unhittable post-season ace, the Royals had an excellent chance to tie it in the fifth when Omar Infante led off with a single, and Alcides Escobar moved him to second on a bunt. A line drive by Nori Aoki looked headed to the corner to score him, but Juan Perez made a nice running catch to preserve the lead.

It all looked hopeless in the ninth when Bumgarner made quick work to get the first two outs, but Alex Gordon set the stadium on fire with a line drive to center that Gregor Blanco misplayed. We can debate all day whether Gordon should have ran harder out of the box and whether third base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent him, but had he somehow circled the bases that would HAVE BEEN THE MOST AMAZING PLAY IN WORLD SERIES HISTORY. Sadly, he stopped at third, Bumgarner induced a pop up from Salvador Perez, and the Royals had to watch the Giants celebrate their third championship in six seasons.

Others: 2014 World Series Game 4; Soria mishandles comebacker to lose game against the Yankees in the heat of the 2016 Wild Card race; Edison Volquez gives up 12 runs in one inning; the Vin Mazzaro game.

Best home run - Alex Gordon’s game-tying blast in Game 1 of the World Series

Alex Gordon was a local kid, taken second overall in the draft, who had overcome some early career struggles to become an All-Star and perennial Gold Glove winner, so it seemed appropriate that he would have one of the more iconic home runs in club history. The Royals were just two outs away from dropping Game 1 of the 2015 World Series when Alex Gordon stepped in against Mets closer Jeury Familia. Gordo would electrify the capacity crowd with a blast to center to tie the game, and the Royals would continue their post-season magic by winning the game in the 14th, en route to a championship.

Others: Justin Maxwell’s grand slam against the Rangers in 2013; Kendrys Morales’ 2015 ALDS Game 5 home run; Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series; Mike Moustakas sets the single-season club home run record; Jorge Soler sets the single-season club home run record

Best non-home run play - Salvy’s game winning hit in the Wild Card

You could make a really good argument for Eric Hosmer’s dash home against the Mets or Carlos Correa’s error in the ALDS, but the hit that put all of that in motion came in 2014 when Salvador Perez poked a Jason Hammel pitch down the third base line past a diving Josh Donaldson to give the Royals their first post-season win in 29 years. It capped off one of the most remarkable comebacks in post-season history and set off an amazing two year run that included a long list of memorable moments for Royals fans.

Others: Alex Gordon’s singled-turned-triple in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series; Carlos Correa’s error in Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS; Lorenzo Cain’s dash around the bases in Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS; Eric Hosmer’s dash home in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series; Whit Merrifield’s bunt single to break the club hitting streak record

Worst play - Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon collide

Mike Moustakas had the pedigree, but had struggled with the bat early in his career, frustrating Royals fans. He changed his approach in 2015 and had a career year with 22 home runs and earning his first All-Star appearance. It looked like he was carrying that over to 2016, when he smacked seven home runs in his first 27 games, but his season was cut short in late May when he and Alex Gordon both pursued a foul ball in Chicago only to collide. Initially it looked like Gordon was hurt the worst, but it turned out Moustakas had torn his ACL and would miss the rest of the season. It was a set-back for Moustakas, but also for the Royals, who found themselves on the outskirts of the Wild Card race that year, and could have used another power bat in the lineup.

Others: Omar Infante hit in the face by a pitch; Salvador Perez pops up to end the 2014 World Series; Brett Lawrie spikes Alcides Escobar

Best defensive play - Mike Moustakas’ catch in the 2014 ALDS

There may have been more impressive plays, but this gets some extra credit for being in the post-season. The Royals firmly established themselves as a dominant defensive team, and Moose showed that leather on a foul ball hit by Baltimore’s Adam Jones in Game 3 of the ALDS. With no regard for his body, Moose lunged into the dugout suite to rob an out, and let’s give some credit to those smart fans for not interfering with the play!

Others: Alcides Escobar running catch in foul territory; Lorenzo Cain’s diving catch in the 2014 ALDS against the Angels; Alex Gordon flies into the stands; Jarrod Dyson’s catch in Miami; Alex Gordon amazing catch as a centerfielder in Tampa Bay.

Worst defensive play - Nori Aoki getting hit in the beans

Nori Aoki was just a delight to watch. Not so much in being good at baseball (although he was better than he looked), but just in comedic value. Enjoy this video of him getting hit in the beans. It works on so many levels.

Others: Eric Hosmer error gives Mets the lead in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series; Alex Rios forgets how many outs there are in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series

Worst defensive play by an opponent - Lucas Duda throws it away

Everyone should live their life with the confidence Eric Hosmer has in himself. His mad dash in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series was the quintessential “no, no, YES!” play that shouldn’t work, but did.

With the Royals down 2-1, a routine grounder by Salvador Perez should have put the Mets one out away from victory. But Eric Hosmer had other ideas and made a run for it. A good throw probably gets him to end the game and preserve the win, but Lucas Duda misfired, allowing Hosmer to score, prolonging a game the Royals would eventually win to clinch the championship.

Others: Ryan Raburn throws it straight into the ground against the Royals; Gregor Blanco misplays Alex Gordon’s single in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series; Yoenis Cespedes allows an inside-the-park home run to Alcides Escobar in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series

Best hitting performance in a game - Kendrys Morales’ three-home run game against the Tigers

Big Ken showed his big boy power in Detroit on September 20, 2015, smashing three home runs, including an opposite field shot into a stiff wind. But perhaps even more impressive was he legged out a triple, giving him 15 total bases in the game, the most by any hitter in a single game this decade.

Others: Lorenzo Cain’s three home runs against the Yankees; Eric Hosmer’s 5-for-6 with a HR and 6 RBI against the Tigers; Whit Merrifield’s 5-for-5 against the Red Sox; Jorge Soler’s four-hit, two-home run game against the White Sox

Best pitching performance in a game - Yordano Ventura in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series

With their backs against the wall, the Royals returned to Kansas City for Game 6 down 3-2 to the Giants, with then-rookie Yordano Ventura to take the mound. Another pitcher might have been understandably rattled with such pressure, particularly after news of the death of his friend Oscar Taveras. But Ventura showed poise and a blazing fastball, tossing seven shutout innings and allowing just three hits in a 10-0 blowout win that would set up a chance to win in Game 7.

Best Royals Game Score, this decade

Player Date Opponent Game score Line
Player Date Opponent Game score Line
Danny Duffy August 1, 2016 Rays 95 8 IP 1 H 0 R 1 BB 16 K
Bruce Chen October 1, 2010 Rays 88 9 IP 2 H 0 R 2 BB 7 K
Johnny Cueto August 10, 2015 Tigers 87 9 IP 4 H 0 R 0 BB 8 K
Luke Hochevar August 8, 2012 Rays 87 8 IP 1 H 0 R 3 H 10 K
Ian Kennedy April 16, 2017 Angels 86 8 IP 2 H 0 R 2 BB 10 K
Jason Vargas August 13, 2014 Athletics 85 9 IP 3 H 0 R 0 BB 4 K
Jeremy Guthrie August 5, 2013 Twins 85 9 IP 4 H 0 R 1 BB 7 K
James Shields May 6, 2013 White Sox 85 8 IP 2 H 0 R 2 BB 9 K
Bruce Chen September 13, 2011 Twins 85 8 IP 2 H 0 R 1 BB 8 K
Glenn Sparkman July 16, 2019 White Sox 84 9 IP 5 H 0 R 1 BB 8 K

Game score is a metric devised by Bill James to evaluate individual pitching performances.

Others: James Shields seven shutout innings against the Tigers; Johnny Cueto complete game shutout in his Kauffman Stadium debut; Cueto in Game 5 of the ALDS against Houston; Edinson Volquez gives six solid innings in Game 1 of the World Series just after learning his father had died; Danny Duffy’s 16-strikeout near no-hitter against Tampa Bay; Jorge Lopez nearly throws a perfect game against Minnesota

Best trade - Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress

The best thing that ever happened to the Royals is that Zack Greinke grew tired of losing and wanted out of Kansas City. That forced Dayton Moore to shop the 2009 Cy Young winner, and it wasn’t until Greinke rejected a deal to Washington that Moore found the trade that would alter the course of Royals history. Greinke agreed to go to Milwaukee along with infielder Yuniesky Betancourt for Brewers starting shortstop Alcides Escobar, minor league outfielder Lorenzo Cain, pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi, and hard-throwing minor league pitcher Jeremy Jeffress. Although the deal was panned at the time, the Royals received two starters that would become All-Stars and ALCS MVPs, a valuable pitcher they included in the James Shields trade, and a solid reliever in Jeremy Jeffress (although he didn’t enjoy success in Kansas City). All told, the Royals traded away two years of Greinke’s services and unloaded Betancourt’s contract and received a whopping 55 WAR of value in return.

Others: Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard to Tampa Bay for James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliott Johnson; Jonathan Sanchez to the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie; Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, and John Lamb to the Reds for Johnny Cueto

Worst trade - Matt Strahm, Esteury Ruiz, Travis Wood, and cash to the Padres for Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter

Talk about your all-time backfires. The Royals were surging in late July and in the running for a Wild Card, hoping for one last season of post-season magic before they lost their core players to free agency. They needed pitching and made a six-player deal with the Padres, with Cahill as the main target. The veteran right-hander was having a solid season with San Diego and his low salary made him even more attractive. The deal was overwhelmingly approved of around here, but it turned into a disaster with only Buchter pitching reasonably well while Cahill struggled and Maurer turned in an all-time terrible performance.

Others: Melky Cabrera to the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez; David DeJesus to the Athletics for Justin Marks and Vin Mazzaro; Joakim Soria, Scott Alexander, and cash in a three-team trade with the White Sox and Dodgers for Trevor Oaks and Erick Mejia

Best free agent signing - Melky Cabrera

Before the 2011 season, the Royals had a smart strategy to look for young free agents who once had a pedigree but whose career had taken a downward turn. They made a shrewd signing in getting Jeff Francoeur on a one year, $2.5 million deal, getting a 3.2 WAR season out of him (then signing him to an ill-fated extension). They also grabbed former Yankees prospect Melky Cabrera on a one-year, $1.25 million deal, and the switch-hitting outfielder finally lived up to his potential, hitting .305/.339/.470 with 18 home runs and 4.4 WAR.

Others: Jeff Francoeur, Chris Young, Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Ryan Madson, Mike Minor

Worst free agent signing - Omar Infante

For many years, the Royals had been pushed around by the high-spending Yankees, unable to compete with their seemingly unlimited war chest. But for once, the Royals outbid the Bronx Bombers, signing Omar Infante to a four-year, $30 million deal in the winter of 2013. It seemed like a great idea at the time - second base had long been a position of need for the Royals, and Infante had been a very solid second baseman coming off a 2.5 WAR season at age 31. Infante was hit in the face with a pitch very early in his tenure with the Royals which may have altered the course of his career, and despite a few bright spots in the 2014 World Series, he was pretty terrible, hitting .238/.269/.328 with -0.3 WAR in 298 games before they finally released him in 2016 with a year and a half left on his contract.

Others: Alex Rios, Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria

Best draft pick - Whit Merrifield (9th round, 2010)

Once a solid centerfielder at the University of South Carolina, Whit was moved to a utility role once Jackie Bradley Jr. became a starter. Despite being a College World Series star, he fell to the ninth round of the draft because teams saw him as more of a utility player. Whit didn’t exactly set the minor on fire initially, but he hit .340 in Omaha in 2014. He was passed over for a promotion in 2015, which caused him to nearly quit the game, but he persevered with a chip on his shoulder and became one of the most valuable second basemen in the game, a two-time league leader in hits and steals and an All-Star for the first time in 2019.

Others: Jakob Junis (29th round, 2011), Matt Strahm (21st round, 2012), Sean Manaea (1st round, 2013)

Worst draft pick - Bubba Starling (5th overall, 2011)

There is still some time for the local product to turn his career around, but at age 27, the window is closing. Starling was selected in the 2011 draft, which turned out to be an absolutely loaded draft class, perhaps the best of all time. Gerrit Cole went first overall, with Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy going just ahead of Starling. But the Royals still had the opportunity to grab players like Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, and George Springer, who all went in the next few picks after Starling.

Others: Christian Colon, Kyle Zimmer, Ashe Russell

Best off-the-field moment - The championship parade

An estimated 800,000 fans poured into downtown Kansas City to celebrate the 2015 World Champion Royals. The celebration was punctuated by a speech from little-used veteran Jonny Gomes, who wasn’t even on the post-season roster, but gave an electrifying performance no Royals fan will forget.

Others: Royals fans cheer Billy Butler at the 2012 All-Star Game and boo Robinson Cano; Royals fans stuff the All-Star Game ballot; Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez on The Tonight Show; the Royals visit the White House.

Worst off-the-field moment - Yordano Ventura killed in car accident

Nothing can compare with the stunning news in January of 2017 that 25-year old pitcher Yordano Ventura had been killed in a one-car accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura had flashed some brilliant performance, but his joyful exuberance as a person was missed even more.

Royals we lost this decade: Bill Buckner, Ryan Freel, Dave Henderson, Jackie Hernandez, Joe Keough, Harmon Killebrew, Ed Kirkpatrick, Jose Lima, Terry Mathews, Lee May, Dave Nelson, Larry Owen, Marty Pattin, Ray Sadecki, Paul Schaal, George Scott, Rich Severson, Paul Splittorff, Hawk Taylor, Bob Tufts, Yordano Ventura, Randy Veres, Hector Wagner, Frank Wills, Ken Wright

Best interview - Danny Duffy’s bear suit interview with Joel Goldberg

After the Royals clinched the division in 2015, their first division title in 30 years, it was time for Danny Duffy to break out the bear suit, popularized by an episode of Workaholics. Why? Because Danny Duffy, that’s why.

Others: Ned Yost saying “What are you asking me to do? Take my belt off and spank them?” Yost saying there is no third baseman tree; the Royals dropping 1738 references in every interview; Paul Rudd’s inviting everyone over to his mom’s house for a kegger; Mike Moustakas’ “Vargy pitched a great game”; every single Salvy splash

Best individual season - Lorenzo Cain, 2015

Alex Gordon had the most WAR in any season with 7.3 in 2011, but Cain put up 7.2 WAR in 2015, a year in which the Royals won the most games in the league, so I’ll give it to Lorenzo. Cain, the kid who didn’t play baseball until he reached high school, put it all together in 2015 both at the plate and in the field. He hit .307/.361/.477 with 16 home runs and finishing second in the league with 28 steals. He finished third among all outfielders in UZR and sixth in Defensive Runs Saved, and yet was somehow denied a Gold Glove. He was fourth in the league in WAR and finished third in MVP voting

Others: Alex Gordon, 2011, 2012, and 2014; Whit Merrifield 2018

Worst individual season - Jeff Francoeur, 2012

Frenchy was a super-likeable guy which made it difficult to watch him struggle so much at the end of his career. He was terrific in his first year in Kansas City, but after signing an extension he quickly declined and by 2012 he was terrible at the plate with the sixth-worst on-base percentage in baseball at .287, and his defense made him a huge liability on the field. The Royals would finally let him go mid-way through the 2013 season, with millions still owed on his deal.

Others: Yuniesky Betancourt, 2012; Alex Rios, 2015; Brandon Moss, 2017; Ryan O’Hearn, 2019

Best individual pitching season - James Shields, 2013

The Royals made a huge gamble acquiring Shields in a blockbuster deal to put them over the edge, and he lived up to his billing, with a 4.3 WAR season in 2013. He continued to be a reliable workhorse, leading the league in innings pitched, and his 3.15 ERA was eighth-best in the league.

Others: Wade Davis, 2014 and 2015; James Shields, 2014; Jason Vargas 2017

Worst individual pitching season - Blaine Boyer, 2018

Boyer appeared in just 21 games for the Royals, but they were 21 awful appearances. His 12.05 ERA was historically awful, and he managed to post both terrible strikeout rates while also walking a bunch of batters. Opponents hit .344/.413/.688 against him, and his only saving grace seemed to be the time he saved the team bus from peril by taking the wheel from the driver after a collision with falling ice.

Others: Wade Davis, 2013; Jeremy Guthrie, 2015; Jason Hammel, 2018; Brandon Maurer, 2018

Best player - Alex Gordon

He’s the only player that spent every season of the decade in a Royals uniform. The former #2 overall pick led the team in virtually every offensive category this decade, won seven Gold Gloves, and was named to three All-Star teams. He hit an iconic home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, nearly pulled off what would have been one of the most amazing hits in World Series history with his single-turned-triple in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, and made dazzling catches and throws every season.

Others: Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez

Best pitcher - Danny Duffy

Duffy led all Royals pitchers in WAR this decade with 16, filling in as both starter and reliever. He could be inconsistent at times, but when he was on, his stuff was brilliant, such as when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Tampa Bay, and ended with 16 strikeouts in eight innings.

Others: Wade Davis, Greg Holland, James Shields

Royals leaders this decade

Most Player
Most Player
Games Played Alex Gordon, 1,369
Home Runs Alex Gordon, 149
Hits Alex Gordon, 1,309
Runs scored Alex Gordon, 692
RBI Alex Gordon, 597
Stolen bases Jarrod Dyson, 176
OPS (min. 500 PA) Jorge Soler, .853
Player WAR Alex Gordon, 31.5
Pitcher wins Danny Duffy, 60
ERA (min. 100 IP) Greg Holland 2.42
ERA (min 30 starts) James Shields 3.18
Innings Danny Duffy, 1,055
Strikeouts Danny Duffy, 926
Games Pitched Kelvin Herrera, 442
Saves Greg Holland, 145
Pitcher WAR Danny Duffy, 16.0

I’m sure I missed something, let me know in the comments. And share your favorite personal Royals memories from this decade!