Another season of Royals baseball is coming to a close and, such as in the previous six seasons, the Royals will be watching the postseason from home. But even in non-competitive seasons, there are always things to remember. Jorge Soler leading the AL in home runs; the debut of an exciting young catching prospect; Ken Harvey and Jason Grimsley colliding; the possibilities are nearly endless. Let’s take a look back at some moments and themes to remember from this season of baseball in Kansas City.
Entering the season, there was some cautious optimism surrounding the Royals for the first time since...well, since last year I guess. They had taken steps forward in 2021, signed hometown hero Zack Greinke coming out of the lockout, and were poised to debut multiple top position player prospects. Our glorious writers were on average picking the Royals to finish with 79 wins, while the brilliant commentariat was even more bullish, with 69.9% of respondents predicting at least 80 wins. It wasn’t even just Royalsland that was predicting progress, with Dan Szymborski writing in his ZiPS projections:
Based on the roster the Royals have now, put me in the mid-to-high 70s in wins, with a real chance of hitting .500 if they show some aggression with promotions and get a bit of luck.
Alas, even the most bearish of us (shout out to Shaun), were high on our win predictions. Regardless, it can be a twisted sort of fun to look back on our collective spring optimism before it was all shattered in a matter of weeks.
April 7 & 9: The Bobby Witt Jr. Show
Prior to that aforementioned shattering, though, the Royals briefly started the season above .500. At the center of it all was rookie phenom Bobby Witt Jr.
On Opening Day in Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City and Cleveland were locked in a tight 1-1 battle in the eighth inning. With two outs and a runner on second, Witt stepped to the plate. He was 0-3 at that point, but the rookie rose to the occasion:
The knock put the Royals ahead and they would later take a 3-1 lead when Andrew Benintendi brought Witt home. Not surprisingly, Witt had the highest Win Probability Added (WPA) of any player in that game.
Two days later, Kansas City and Cleveland were locked in a close game yet again, taking a scoreless tie into extra innings. While Witt went 0-fer, he put his stamp on the game with a spectacular defensive play to save a run:
The Royals went on to win this game 1-0 in the bottom of the frame, giving them a 2-0 record to start the season. Witt demonstrated early on the outsized impact he could have on games.
May 16: Terry Bradshaw is fired
On the morning of May 16, the Royals had just scored 26 runs in a series win in Colorado. However, the offense had struggled badly to score in the early part of the season. The Royals had hit to a 76 wRC+ to that point, ahead of only Oakland and Cincinnati in the majors. As a result, the Royals made their first significant personnel change since after the 2019 season, firing hitting coach Terry Bradshaw. The offense did improve thereafter, though it’s hard to attribute that directly to the coaching change. Regardless, the move indicated that the organization expected results.
June 27: Carlos Santana traded, Vinnie Pasquantino called up
At this point in the season, it was clear the Royals would not contend, thus the focus shifted to the young guys and getting their feet wet in the majors. Witt had been with the team from the jump and MJ Melendez had also gotten the call, but there were still more top prospects fans were clamoring for. The guy cited most often was one Vinnie Pasquantino.
Pasquantino broke out in a big way in 2021 and continued his decimation of minor league pitching in 2022. Through play on June 26, Pasquantino was hitting .280/.372/.576 with 18 homers and more walks than strikeouts. Meanwhile, incumbent first baseman Carlos Santana had been mostly ineffective for the past calendar year. After a poor finish to 2021, Santana stumbled out of the gates in 2022 with a slash line of .150/.287/.242 through the first two months. He no longer resembled a major league quality hitter, but was still the starting first baseman. Thankfully, he heated up in June and put together a good enough month to get his season numbers up around league average.
That hot stretch enabled the Royals to find a trade partner, and Seattle came calling. The Mariners got Santana, bringing back two pitching prospects and, more importantly, clearing the way for Pasquantino. The Royals trading pending free agents is nothing new, but this was the start of a particularly transactional period for the team.
July 13: The Toronto Roadtrip
Throughout the 2022 season, fans got to learn about players’ vaccination status. This was accomplished via games in Toronto. Visiting players were required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter Canada. Most teams had most of their players vaccinated, with generally just a couple players having to stay behind and miss their team’s series. Philadelphia held the lead with four players that could not make the trip. That is, until the Royals trip came along.
Kansas City’s series in Toronto was scheduled for July 14-17, their last before the All-Star break. It was speculated that a sizable contingent of Royals would not make the trip. That speculation turned out to be true as the Royals blew away the Phillies with a whopping ten players who were not vaccinated. That’s almost 40% of the active roster that included over half the starting lineup, two bench players, 40% of the starting rotation, and a key reliever. Several of these players gave their reasoning for not getting vaccinated, with answers ranging from terse to insulting. Whit Merrifield’s comments were a particular slap in the face that upset many fans.
On the bright side, with ten roster spots to fill, call-ups had to be made. This gave players such as Brewer Hicklen and Freddy Fermin a chance to get some big league reps that they otherwise may not have received. It was also a bit of a preview for how the roster would look after the trade deadline, as several of the players expected to be moved were among the unvaccinated. While the Royals dropped three of four in the series, it felt like something of a turning point in the season.
August 2: The trade deadline
It was more of a slow burn trade season for the Royals. They kicked things off with the aforementioned Santana trade and then made another significant move on July 27, sending Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees. More trades seemed imminent, yet come deadline day, only marginal moves had been made. Consternation grew as morning turned to afternoon. Fears brewed that the Royals were done. But the Royals beat the buzzer, trading Whit Merrifield to Toronto and Cam Gallagher to San Diego. While Kansas City did not deal all their tradable veterans, they did have a more active deadline than usual.
With several veteran pieces off-loaded, the roster looked much different over the last two months. Playing time opened up for numerous younger players, including Nick Pratto, Edward Olivares, Michael Massey, and Nate Eaton. While the results weren’t always pretty, for the first time in this
rebuild reload liminal phase (?), the Royals committed to playing the youth.
August 23: Jonathan Heasley ralphs
This one does not require explanation:
September 21: Dayton Moore is fired
I never thought I’d live to see the day. Perhaps it’s just recency bias, but it sure feels like this was the biggest thing to happen with the Royals this year. The firing came on the heels of an article from The Athletic that detailed the pitching development woes of the organization. Moore was asked about this article and took the opportunity to lash out at journalists and insult the intelligence of fans. We’ll likely never know just how much of an impact this specific incident had on the decision, but the timing was notable. For the first time in over 16 years, somebody besides Dayton Moore is calling the shots in Kansas City’s front office.
September 25: The biggest comeback of the year
There was a time when making comebacks was the thing for the Royals. That was not the case this season. The Royals didn’t come back to win a game that they trailed by at least three runs until September 20. It took 67 tries to pull off a comeback. A few days later, they pulled off a comeback of epic proportions.
In their last home game of the season, with one out in the sixth inning, Kansas City trailed the Seattle Mariners 11-2. By the time the third out of the inning was recorded, the Royals led 13-11. They would go on to win 13-12. In the span of 2 outs, an 11-2 lead had turned into a 13-11 deficit. After Pasquantino’s leadoff strikeout, Fangraphs gave Seattle a 99.7% chance to win this game. But the thing about odds like that is that sometimes, the 0.3% chance happens. Some fun notes:
• The final tally: 13 baserunners, 11 runs, three outs recorded. And remember, all those baserunners came after the first out had been recorded.
• The 9-run comeback tied the largest comeback in Royals history with a June 15, 1979 game against Milwaukee
• It was the largest comeback for any team since Washington came back from a nine-run deficit against Miami on July 5, 2018.
• This was the first time KC had scored 11 or more runs in an inning since September 9, 2004 against Detroit.
• The Royals had only scored 11 or more runs in a full game four other times this season.
It was a tough season for the Royals, but that doesn’t mean it was uneventful. What will you remember most from this season of Royals baseball?
What will you remember most about the 2022 Royals?
This poll is closed
Bobby Witt Jr.’s debut
Santana out, Pasquantino up
The Toronto Roadtrip
Jonathan Heasley ralphing