Kansas City, Mo. The season began with the Kansas City Royals toting along the slogan, “Our Time,” a reference to the young and enthusiastic players who have slowly matriculated through their farm system.
There were expectations of the first winning season in eight years and, if everything fell right, the first playoff appearance since 1985, the longest drought in the major leagues.
Then reality hit: Injuries piled up before the season began, a 12-game losing streak forced them to dig out of a hole, and things never got on track for some of those key young players.
The result was a 72-90 season, a record not all dissimilar to years past.
“I saw a lot of good things this year,” manager Ned Yost said Thursday. “Did we finish where we wanted to finish? No. But for the first time in a long time, we finished in third place.”
That’s certainly a silver lining for another frustrating season.
Kansas City lost All-Star closer Joakim Soria to Tommy John surgery in spring training, and the injuries didn’t stop there. Starting pitchers Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino made it a trio of Tommy John casualties, outfielder Lorenzo Cain missed long stretches of time, and there were enough bumps and bruises along the way to put the training staff on speed dial.
The hope that seemed to flicker all offseason was doused in April, when the Royals lost a dozen games in a row. They made a few halting attempts to get back to .500, but they were left trying to play catch-up the entire way.
“It’s about being consistent,” said outfielder Alex Gordon, who backed up his new long-term contract with another solid season. “Having a 12-game losing streak is not being consistent. The good teams don’t have 12-game losing streaks. They find a way to even those out.”
The biggest culprit in the Royals’ failure to even things out was starting pitching.
Bruce Chen led the team in wins, but only by going 11-14 with a 5.07 earned-run average. Former first-round pick Luke Hochevar was 8-16 with a 5.73 ERA, and fill-in starters such as Vin Mazzaro, Everett Teaford and Will Smith didn’t fare a whole lot better.
The Royals had a 5.19 ERA among starting pitchers, better only than Cleveland, Colorado, Boston and Minnesota. The 890 innings they logged was third-fewest in the majors.
“You do it with starting pitching. Starting pitching tilts the field in your favor every single night,” said general manager Dayton Moore, whose biggest challenge this offseason will be to uncover a couple of reliable arms for the Royals’ rotation.
Meanwhile, the Royals chose not to renew the contract of hitting coach Kevin Seitzer after the team finished 72-90 for its ninth consecutive losing season.
Yost and Moore announced the decision shortly after meeting with Seitzer on Thursday.
Seitzer worked with a team that put together a .265 average this season, seventh-best in baseball, but struggled to score. Kansas City finished 20th in runs scored.
Yost said the composition of the batting lineup lends itself to developing power, while Seitzer’s forte is hitting for average. Yost said he expects the next hitting coach to come from within the organization.