KANSAS CITY -- After coming off two deep postseason runs to the World Series in 2014 and '15, an exhausting and injury-plagued 2016 season was almost to be expected.But the Royals showed up in Spring Training in 2017 eager and ready to make one final run with their core group
KANSAS CITY -- After coming off two deep postseason runs to the World Series in 2014 and '15, an exhausting and injury-plagued 2016 season was almost to be expected.
But the Royals showed up in Spring Training in 2017 eager and ready to make one final run with their core group -- several of whom are about to be free agents -- toward another championship.
It wasn't meant to be. After a fantastic July that included a nine-game winning streak, the Royals faded in August and September and missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
Here's what went right in 2017.
1. The Eric Hosmer breakout year
After a miserable start to the season -- he was hitting .227 on May 2 with two home runs and eight RBIs -- Hosmer decided to change his approach at the plate. Weary of getting jammed on inside pitches and hitting weak ground balls, Hosmer decided he would lay off those pitches, even take them for strikes. He focused not on changing his swing path, but on attacking pitches out and over the plate.
The results were dramatic. From May 3 through Sept. 25, Hosmer hit .339 with 29 doubles, 22 home runs and a .941 OPS. The Royals certainly will do all they can to re-sign the pending free agent, but either way he is headed for a big payday.
2. Mike Moustakas reached a milestone
For almost 22 years, Steve Balboni's Royals single-season home run record of 36 stood. Finally, Moustakas topped it with his 37th in Toronto on Sept. 20, a record he said he will cherish forever.
"Just to think how long that record stood is amazing," Moustakas said. "It's pretty cool to be the one to break it."
Like Hosmer, Moustakas is a pending free agent and will attract plenty of interest, including from the Royals.
3. Hosmer's day in Detroit
It was a crazy day in Motown on July 26 as the Royals pounded the Tigers, 16-2, and Hosmer had a day for the record books. Hosmer hit the first grand slam of his career, and in the process became the first Royal to have five hits in a game, including a grand slam.
"I think the last time I hit a grand slam was in high school," Hosmer said.
But there's more: Hosmer became one of just three players in MLB history to have five hits, five runs scored, six RBIs and a stolen base in the same game.
4. Alex Gordon's catch in Detroit
It was no doubt the catch of the year for the Royals. On Labor Day in Detroit, Royals Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon went high over the fence at Comerica Park, timed his leap perfectly, and robbed the Tigers' Michael Mahtook of a home run.
"Trust me, when I take BP, I actually practice that a little bit when [heavy hitters] are hitting," Gordon said. "It's a short fence and you can grab it and get over it a little bit, so just something I do during BP."
5. What we learned going forward
The Royals' overall season was a disappointment, but they got breakthrough seasons from several players. Second baseman Whit Merrifield started the season in the Minors, but by the end of April had claimed the second-base job, possibly for years to come.
Rookie right-hander Jakob Junis became a mainstay in the rotation, a positive sign for 2018. Rookie Jorge Bonifacio, who also started the season in the Minors, showed he can be the right fielder of the future. And left-hander Mike Minor, who has a mutual option for 2018, showed he can perhaps be a closer with a strong September performance, including his first career save on Sept. 15, which snapped the Indians' 22-game winning streak.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.