Role players put KC on verge of World Series
Zobrist, Young, Rios, Madson among additions paying dividends
TORONTO -- Looks like the Royals had an idea, after all. They may not have made any major offseason additions, but they are the defending American League champions and they still had a solid core of homegrown players.
Seemed like they would have gotten a little offseason love. But they didn't.
Many pundits figured the Royals would fall back to the pack with James Shields leaving for free-agent dollars in San Diego. So much for predictions.
It's October, and after a 14-2 victory against Toronto in Game 4 of the best-of-seven ALCS at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, Kansas City finds itself one victory away from a return to the World Series. The Royals ended a 28-year postseason drought a year ago, and now they are focused on claiming the franchise's second World Series championship, the first in 30 years. They'll get their chance to get back to the Fall Classic on Wednesday in Game 5 (3 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, 4 p.m. game time).
It's not by happenstance, either, that the Royals are the only one of the four teams still playing that was involved in the postseason a year ago.
General manager Dayton Moore might not have grabbed offseason headlines, but he took care of business, finding the right pieces to fill the right holes, and then came up with Ben Zobrist ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Zobrist is a switch-hitter who they acquired to provide depth, but he played himself into the role of Kansas City's everyday second baseman and No. 2 hitter. Zobrist got the Royals on the board in Game 4 with a two-run blast in the top of the first.
"It all speaks to Dayton Moore and [assistant general manager] J.J. Picollo, how they shaped the team with the evaluations from the scouts and coaching staff," said Game 4 starter Chris Young, one of those under-the-radar acquisitions. "They look for that intangible of character that doesn't get a lot of attention anymore. They look at how guys fit together and complement each other."
Here's the kicker. The one attention-getting move Moore did make -- acquiring Johnny Cueto at the Deadline to give the rotation a legitimate ace -- is the one that hasn't met expectations, even though it was heralded throughout the industry as a perfect fit at the time. Oh, Cueto did earn the victory with a solid effort in Kansas City's AL Division Series-clinching Game 5 victory against Houston, but he also couldn't retire a batter in the third inning of an 11-8 loss to the Blue Jays in Game 3 of the ALCS on Monday.
But what about the addition of the likes of right-handers Young, Edinson Volquez and Ryan Madson, plus Zobrist, as well as designated hitter Kendrys Morales and right fielder Alex Rios?
Volquez -- whose two-year, $20 million deal was the biggest the Royals gave out last winter -- started and won Game 1 of the ALCS and is going to get a chance to close it out in Game 5.
Young, Hochevar and Madson combined to work the first seven innings of Tuesday's blowout in which Kansas City was clinging to a 5-2 lead through three innings. On the offensive side, Rios joined Zobrist with a homer of his own, going 3-for-3 in the game.
"It goes back to the scouts and development people making recommendations and honest evaluation of talent and also who fits in with our group," said Moore. "And the credit ultimately goes to the players. They are the ones who come in and create the atmosphere."
Young was out of work when Spring Training games began, and he eventually signed with the Royals, who guaranteed him $675,000, instead of taking "a great" Minor League offer from the Dodgers.
"I didn't have any personal ties, which even speaks more about Dayton and his ability to evaluate players and people," said Young, who went 11-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 34 regular-season appearances (18 starts). "When we talked [about a contract], he told me if I was healthy, I was going to be on the staff. He didn't know where I would fit, but he said I'd fit."
Young did. So did Madson, who after missing three years in his recovery from Tommy John surgery got to Kansas City because he called professional scout Jim Fregosi Jr., the scouting director who originally signed Madson in Philadelphia, and asked for a chance. Signed to an $850,000 base salary, Madson appeared in 62 games and compiled a 2.13 ERA.
Then there was Hochevar, the first overall pick by the Royals in the 2006 Draft, who missed the 2014 season with Tommy John surgery, and then jumped at a two-year, $10 million deal to return to Kansas City.
"Dayton has a vision of what he wants," said manager Ned Yost, "and he knows how to find it."
Moore certainly has the Royals looking pretty good again this postseason.