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Morales' torrid debut season wins over KC fans

KANSAS CITY -- When Kansas City inked Kendrys Morales to a two-year deal in December, the contract that guaranteed $17 million to fan favorite Billy Butler's replacement wasn't exactly met with much enthusiasm by its fan base.

The beloved Butler's departure to Oakland, of course, largely contributed to this popular feeling. Then there was this: Morales, entering his age-32 season, was coming off a dismal 2014 season in which he struggled to the tune of a .218 average and .612 OPS with Minnesota and Seattle.

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These same Royals fans have probably had a change in heart since then.

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Morales raked for Kansas City, batting .290 with 22 home runs and 106 RBIs, and the club rolled. The switch-hitting designated hitter is doing more of the same in his first postseason in six years. Of his 10 hits spanning 37 at-bats, four are home runs. He's driven in 10 in the heart of the lineup, sandwiched between Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.

"We'd hoped that he'd be really, really good, and he has been," said Royals manager Ned Yost, whose club takes a 3-2 American League Championship Series lead into Friday's matchup with the Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium (7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1/Sportsnet, 8 p.m. ET game time).

Morales became the third player in franchise history to record a multihomer game in the postseason in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, and he sealed a Game 5 series-clinching victory with a three-run homer off Astros ace lefty Dallas Keuchel.

Before Morales joined the Royals, Yost said he mostly viewed the Cuban slugger as a greater threat against right-handers. "But what's impressed me most is his right-handed swing," Yost said.

"When we played against him when he was on opposite teams in the past, I always tried to do everything I could to get him to hit right-handed," Yost said. "I always thought that going into this season, that right-handed might be a weaker side than his left side, but that's not proven to be true. He's been every bit as dangerous right-handed as left-handed.

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"I've got just as much confidence any time he steps on the plate on either side of the plate, right-handed or left-handed."

Though Morales' power numbers from the left side trump those from the right -- he hit four home runs as a right-handed batter, compared to 18 when hitting left-handed -- his average kept pace. He finished the regular season with a .298 average as a right-handed batter and .284 from the other side.

"Things have been working out well for me," Morales said this month. "My swing is there, and I'm feeling good at the plate. I don't think anybody expected me to have this type of season, especially after such a bad year last year. I'm healthy and I worked hard for this."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.
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