Top 5 seasons in Royals history

February 23rd, 2021

Some of the best World Series championship teams in baseball history just barely got into the playoffs. Some are destined to win a title from Opening Day onward. The only 100-win club in Royals history, for example, came in 1977, when Kansas City completely turned around its year to win 102 games in the regular season -- only to lose in the AL Championship Series to the Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Royals’ first World Series championship came through an exhilarating pennant race and 91 regular-season wins.

Here are the top five seasons in Royals history, ranked by regular season wins:

1. 1977: 102-60
Postseason: Lost in the ALCS, 3-2

A year after winning the franchise’s first American League West title, the Royals did not start 1977 very well. Through the first three months, they were lucky to be hovering around .500 -- on June 23, they sat 33-33 after losing to the Mariners.

And then they went 18-5 over the next 23 games.

By mid-July, after sweeping the Yankees, the Royals were 51-38. After the All-Star break, they were tied for second place in the division with the Twins, 5 1/2 games behind the first-place White Sox. After losing to the Red Sox on Aug. 16, they won their next 10. Five days after that streak ended, they started another -- this one being a record-breaking win streak. The Royals won 16 in a row from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, a team record that still stands. Kansas City finished the season with 102 wins after a second-half record of 51-22 (.699 winning percentage). First baseman and right fielder led the team with 23 home runs apiece, while third baseman launched 22 homers with 88 RBIs. Starter Dennis Leonard led the pitching staff with 20 wins and a 3.04 ERA.

For as dominant the Royals were in the second half, the 1977 team might go down as the most disappointing because they didn’t reach the World Series, instead losing the Yankees in the ALCS. The Royals were up 2-1 heading into Game 4 but couldn’t clinch the series. They lost Game 5 and the series when the Yankees scored three runs off Leonard.

2. 1980: 97-65
Postseason: Lost the World Series, 4-2

Three years after the Royals won the most regular-season games in club history, another dominant team became the first Major League team from Kansas City to reach the World Series.

The Royals were propelled by AL MVP winner Brett, who had the greatest offensive season of his career. He led all of baseball in four major categories -- batting average (.390), on-base percentage (.454), slugging (.664) and OPS (1.118). Brett hit 24 home runs with 118 RBIs and he struck out just 22 times in 515 plate appearances. Leonard won 20 games again while posting a 3.79 ERA in 38 starts, while closer Dan Quisenberry notched 33 saves.

Unlike three years earlier, the Royals dispatched the Yankees in the ALCS in three games to make it to the franchise’s first World Series. , who hit .478 with three home runs in the six World Series games, and Willie Aikens, who hit .400 with four home runs, led the Royals' offense, but the Phillies won the final two games of the six-game series to win the championship.

3. 2015: 95-67
Postseason: Won the World Series, 4-1

All that was on anyone’s mind throughout the Royals’ 2015 regular season was the playoffs. The club had made it to the World Series in 2014 and lost the decisive Game 7, 3-2, to the Giants. The Royals wanted another chance at the championship and steamrolled their way to the postseason, winning 95 games and the AL Central title -- a whopping 12 games ahead of the second-place Twins.

It felt like it was the Royals’ year all season long -- center fielder hit .307/361/.477 on his way to a third-place finish in MVP voting, while designated hitter Kendrys Morales led the team with 106 RBIs and 41 doubles. Starters Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura led the team with 13 wins, while the Royals' bullpen was a force. Closer Greg Holland notched 32 saves, Wade Davis posted a 0.94 ERA with 17 saves and Kelvin Herrera posted a 2.71 ERA as a late-inning reliever.

In Game 4 of the ALDS, the Royals were five outs away from being eliminated by the Astros but scored five runs in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth to force Game 5, which they won handily. Kansas City won its second consecutive pennant against the Blue Jays and then battled back again in Game 5 of the World Series -- this time overcoming a two-run deficit in the ninth inning -- to win their first championship in three decades.

4. 1978 and 1989: 92-70
Postseason: The 1978 team lost in the ALCS, 3-1; the ’89 team did not make the playoffs

Led once again by Leonard, with 21 wins, and this time offensively by Otis, who hit .298 and finished fourth in MVP voting, the 1978 Royals won their third consecutive division title to continue their dominance. But they were yet again stymied by the Yankees in the ALCS. The Royals stormed out of the gate to open the regular season, going 14-15 in April, but then posted a losing record in May, June and August. But Kansas City played outstanding in July (20-8) and September (20-10), enough to keep their lead in the division.

Over a decade later, the 1989 Royals matched the ’77 Royals’ record but didn’t make the playoffs, finishing second in the AL West to the eventual World Series champion A’s. Still, the ’89 Royals had some stars, with Brett, at 36, still hitting .282 with 80 RBIs and young ace putting together his second Cy Young Award season. The right-hander went 23-6 with a Major League-leading 2.16 ERA across 262 1/3 innings.

5. 1985: 91-71
Postseason: Won the World Series

After a loss to Baltimore on July 18, the Royals were 44-43 and 7 1/2 games back of the division-leading Angels. Their record at that point was the ninth-best in the AL and their postseason hopes were hanging by a thread.

Then, in what seemed to be a trend in the late 1970s and ‘80s, the Royals got hot. They won 11 of their next 13 games to close the gap to two behind the Angels before grabbing the lead on Sept. 6 with a walk-off win over Milwaukee in the 11th inning at Royals Stadium. Then in an exhilarating pennant race to end the season, the Angels took back the division lead until Oct. 2, when Bud Black threw a three-hit shutout against California to tie the teams at the top of the division. The Royals were the last club standing on Oct. 5, walking off Oakland, 5-4, to clinch the division and a playoff spot.

Kansas City endured two seven-game postseason series to win their first World Series title, beating the Blue Jays in the ALCS and the Cardinals in the World Series. After a controversial Game 6 of the World Series, the Royals quickly shut down St. Louis in Game 7, with Saberhagen pitching an 11-0 shutout for his second World Series victory, putting the Royals on top.