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Improved Royals team ready to take last step

After losing 2014 Fall Classic, KC has parts in place to bring home title

KANSAS CITY -- The 2014 Kansas City Royals won the American League pennant and lost the World Series. Then they became better. Guess what's next?

"We've got unfinished business," third baseman Mike Moustakas said Monday before the Royals worked out at Kauffman Stadium.

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Dress for the World Series with Royals gear

What did the Royals learn from the 2014 postseason? 

"We don't want to lose the World Series again," Moustakas replied.

They've earned another chance to rise to the top of the game. Game 1 of the 2015 World Series is set for Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time).

The good news for the Royals in their hopes for World Series triumph is that, measured empirically or intangibly, they are better this year. They have earned the right to feel better about their chances this October/November.

Last year, they were thrilled to be on hand, happy to have broken the Kansas City franchise's 29-year postseason drought. This year, they feel, justifiably, that this is where they belong.

"I think this time last year we were really excited to be here," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I don't think we really expected to be here, but we were excited to be here. This year we expected to be here.

"This group of guys has gone out and accomplished everything they've set their mind to this year. And they wanted to win the division, they did that. They wanted to win home-field advantage, they did that. They wanted to get back to the World Series, they've done that.

"And of course, we had a large contingent of Royals in the All-Star Game. They wanted to get home-field advantage for the World Series, they've done that. They've accomplished everything that they've set their minds to up to this point, and we've got one big series left."

Video: WS2015 Gm1: Yost on World Series prep, rotation

The Royals were a markedly improved team on offense this season. They were sixth in the AL in runs scored, averaging 4.47 per game. In 2014 they had been ninth in the league, averaging 4.02 runs per game.

The pitching was relatively unchanged, which was also good news. The 2015 team was third in the league in team ERA at 3.73. The 2014 Royals had been fourth in the league, with a 3.51 ERA.

The bottom line was that a Kansas City club that was 89-73 in 2014 became 95-67, creating the American League's best record, this season. The Royals blew through the AL portion of the postseason last year with an 8-0 record, including their Wild Card victory. This year, they were 7-4 against formidable opposition from Houston and Toronto.

There is no overstating how important that 2014 postseason experience was, especially since it was a successful experience, until the meetings with the Giants' Madison Bumgarner.

Video: Escobar on getting back to WS, facing Mets pitchers

"I think we all have another year of experience under our belts, especially in the postseason," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "Last year, we kind of didn't know what to expect coming into this. This year, we definitely knew what we were getting ourselves into.

"Certain situations just seem like they've slowed down for all of us. It's a team that's been battle-tested. We've been through a lot of late-inning comebacks. We always feel like we're never out of a game. So I think with all that installed in our minds over the last year, it just makes us a better team.

"That's what postseason baseball can do for a player and a team. It just kind of slows the game down for you the next season."

The Royals were so deep in bullpen talent that they could lose the leading closer in the AL for 2013 and '14 and not suffer a drop-off in production. Greg Holland was lost to Tommy John surgery, but Wade Davis has been every bit as good in the ninth-inning role.

And, important personnel upgrades have occurred with this team, preseason and midseason, which have made this a better club.

In the offseason, general manager Dayton Moore made acquisitions that turned out to be major difference-makers, including Kendrys Morales at DH, Alex Rios in right field, Edinson Volquez in the rotation, Chris Young and Kris Medlen as combination starters/relievers and Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales in the bullpen.

Before the Trade Deadline, Moore added Ben Zobrist to improve the offense at second base, and Johnny Cueto, to add frontline help to the rotation. Taken together, these moves gave the Royals considerable offensive help and added depth to both the rotation and the bullpen. Cueto has been more erratic than the Royals would have hoped, but in the deciding Game 5 of their AL Division Series against Houston, he was nothing less than great.

Asked about the difference between the 2014 team and the current Royals, Moustakas responded:

"It's the same core group, same attitude, same demeanor that we go out and play with every day. We have fun. We play hard. We play the game right. Now we have some different guys that fit in a little bit better, that make us better.

"Kendrys has done a phenomenal job for us. Eddie [Volquez] has done a phenomenal job. Getting Johnny Cueto and [outfielder] Jonny Gomes, these guys are constant professionals. Then you throw Zobrist in there and it just makes us that much better."

Winning the World Series is a major leap forward for any club. But for the Kansas City Royals, it also looks like the next logical step.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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