Heading into late September, the Kansas City Royals are holding on to their hopes of reaching baseball’s playoffs for the first time since their World Series championship in 1985. A late season surge reversed a downward spiral at the All-Star break.
A rocky start to the season
This spring the Kansas City Royals tied a franchise record set only one year earlier for 11 straight losses at home. Manager Ned Yost seemed at a loss about what to do next.
“Are changes coming if this continues? I’d imagine, yeah, we can’t continue this,” said Yost. “But to grab them, shake them, yell at them, scream at them, threaten to them to go down right now, it doesn’t do the trick.”
George Brett returns as the hitting coach
The first major change took the place the next day: Royals icon George Brett was hired as an interim hitting coach. When Brett joined the team, he said it was time to take the bottles away, implying baby bottles.
“Players have to start being held accountable,” said Brett. “We are still a very young team, but I think it’s time for them to step and play.”
Even with Brett, the team struggled up until the All-Star break when they lost five in a row. After the break, though, the Royals looked like a new team. They won five of the seven games at home, and when they took off on a three-city trip, Brett stayed behind.
“I just thought it was time for me to move on,” said Brett.
He might not have been the cure-all for the Royals’ ability to score runs, but Brett, by playing the role of a psychologist and a father figure, talked the players through their struggles.
“There wasn’t a lot of things wrong with a lot of people’s swings. They just had to get some confidence in their abilities again and they had to know that when they went into a game that they were ready mentally, physically and mechanically to swing the bat,” said Brett.
A surge after the All-Star break
The team continued to win after the All-Star break and created the possibility that this could still be a winning season.
Former Royals third baseman Joe Randa played on the last Royals team to have a winning season ten years ago. Until then, Randa says it was difficult with only 13,000 fans in the stands on a Friday night to buy into what the players from 80s said about baseball excitement in Kansas City.
“Until you actually feel that energy, you really don’t know what they’re talking about,” says Randa.
Then when the Royals were division contenders in 2003, Randa says the feeling was different.
“All of a sudden it wasn’t all about the Chiefs,” says Randa. “When training camp hit, the Chiefs weren’ t the front page. We were getting the front page.”
Royals designated hitter Billy Butler knows the Royals have their backs against the wall at this point, but when the end of the season arrives, Butler says the team should still be proud of how it turned this year around.
“Even if we get in the playoffs, it doesn’t mean our work’s done--by no means,” says Butler. “It just shows you how far we’ve come and we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Mathematically, there’s still a chance to grab one of the two wild card spots in the American League. They’re tied with the New York Yankees for fourth place in the wild card standings. Ahead of them are four other teams in the wild card standings.