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Hot-and-cold Royals brought excitement to KC in '13

Offseason moves bolster pitching staff, provide returns in September playoff race

KANSAS CITY -- Streaky? You bet.

The Royals were the ultimate hot-and-cold team in 2013. Fortunately for Kansas City fans, they got hot at the right time and made a late-season run for the playoffs. They not only had their first winning season since 2003, the Royals were in contention for a Wild Card spot.

That got everyone's attention. After all, the last postseason appearance by a Kansas City club came in 1985, when the Royals beat the cross-state St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

The won-loss thermometer certainly ran the gamut. The youth-dominated Royals started out 17-10 prior to a horrid 6-22 stretch mostly in May. Then they got on a 20-12 roll, but were 0-5 right before the All-Star Game. After the break, they roared away 19-5, braked to go 2-10, then got back into gear and went 22-12 down the stretch.

They were 10 games over .500 at 86-76, their best record in 24 years.

"I felt when this team finally jelled and came together, they'd really start to take strides forward. And that happened after the All-Star break. Why? I don't know. What changed over those four days? I don't know, but we came back a different team," manager Ned Yost said.

"Sometimes you don't need to know the answer, it just happened. You knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of time. You just waited it out until it did happen."

The 2013 Royals were launched into a future-is-now takeoff on Dec. 10, 2012, when a whopper trade was finalized with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Royals felt they got a pitching-staff leader in James Shields and another potential starter in Wade Davis, but the deal cost them four prospects, including the top hitter, outfielder Wil Myers, and the top pitcher, right-hander Jake Odorizzi.

That was preceded by a swap with the Los Angeles Angels for Ervin Santana and the re-signing of free agent Jeremy Guthrie. When the season began, Shields, Davis, Santana and Guthrie formed four-fifths of the rotation. The Royals felt they already had a fine bullpen and a solid regular lineup.

Now it was time to make that long-awaited run for the postseason which, after a graph line of abrupt ups and downs, they ultimately did.

There were some unusual early-season postponements among the five that struck in late April and early May. On April 19, a game at Fenway Park was postponed when the city was shut down as the police manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers intensified. The team was confined to its downtown hotel in a hushed city. On May 2 and 3, rain followed by a snowstorm at Kauffman Stadium caused a game with Tampa Bay to be postponed until late August and another with the White Sox three days. It all resulted in a grueling 44-games-in-44-days stretch that ran from July 30 to Sept. 11. It included one day off that was negated by an unscheduled doubleheader. The Royals came out of that span OK, going 26-18.

Then there was the all-nighter in St. Louis on May 30. It began an hour late due to rain and later was stopped at 10:30 p.m. CT in the ninth inning by more rain after the Royals scored three runs to take a 4-2 lead. After a four-hour, 32-minute delay, the game was resumed at 3:02 a.m. and it took 12 minutes to record the last six outs.

It was an unusual year, and in many ways, an uplifting year as well.

86-76, third in the American League Central

Defining moment:
During the All-Star break, the Royals had four off-days to ponder a dismal five-game losing streak. Was this who they really were? Or were they the team that reeled off 11 wins in 13 games in June? Opening the second half against first-place Detroit, Santana pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings, and relievers Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland finished off the Tigers in a 1-0 victory that set the tone for a stretch-run revival.

What went right:
The offseason move to reconstitute the starting rotation worked for the most part, with the newly-acquired Shields and Santana, and the re-signed Guthrie all performing well, as did late addition Bruce Chen. Danny Duffy had a good return late in the season, then was shut down early. ... The bullpen, led by quick-emerging closer Holland, was outstanding all season. Former starter Luke Hochevar found a happy new home, and Herrera, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Louis Coleman and Will Smith all had fine moments. So did Luis Mendoza and Davis after being re-assigned from the rotation. ... Combined, the staff led the league in ERA. ... The defense was superb all year, especially two-time AL Gold Glove Award-winning left fielder Alex Gordon, shortstop Alcides Escobar and catcher Salvador Perez. ... They used their team speed to great advantage, stretching hits and leading the league in stolen bases. ... After a sluggish start, the offense perked up, and Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Perez and Gordon led the way. Run scoring didn't improve as much as hoped, but better pitching offset the deficiencies. ... Emilio Bonifacio, a late acquisition from Toronto, made an impact at second base. ... Serious, long-term injuries were avoided.

What went wrong:
Mendoza and Davis, after starting the season in the rotation, weren't consistent enough and were sent to the bullpen. ... Right fielder Jeff Francoeur's attempt to revitalize his career did not go as planned and he was released. ... Infielder Miguel Tejada, who infused life into the lineup as a part-time player and clubhouse leader, had his season ended by injury, then a 105-game suspension for violation of the Major League's drug prevention program. ... Third baseman Mike Moustakas improved at the plate, but never did get fully untracked. ... Starter Felipe Paulino, unlike Duffy, couldn't get back after Tommy John surgery, missed the entire season and also had shoulder surgery. ... Herrera, after a sensational rookie year, veered off track enough that he was twice sent to the Minors. ... Center fielder Lorenzo Cain sat out 25 games with a pulled oblique.

Biggest surprise:
As a dismal 8-20 May wound down, Hall of Famer George Brett was asked to take over as interim hitting coach. He did after some hesitation, with newly arrived Minor League coach Pedro Grifol as his assistant. They succeeded the duo of long-time organization coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David. Brett kept at it for nearly two months, and while there was little change statistically in the offense, the team began to win. The great hitter was credited with conveying a new attitude to his young charges, while Grifol, who continued on, enhanced their approach. At any rate, after going 22-30 in the first two months of the season, the Royals were 31-21 in the next two months. Was it the Brett Factor?

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for

Kansas City Royals, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Ervin Santana, James Shields