The next AL Central team in our monthlong series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season is the Kansas City Royals, who won the division — and World Series — last season.
The Royals reached the top of Major League Baseball in 2015 by winning the World Series — the team’s first since 1985 — after a 95-win season. They look to repeat this season, starting with winning a division that doesn’t has a lot of mediocrity. The core of the team remains entering 2016, with an offense that includes 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Mike Moustakas and DH Kendrys Morales. They did lose free-agent OF Alex Rios in free agency, and his anticipated replacement OF Jarrod Dyson is expected to begin the season on the DL, so theyll have to find some guys to fill in at right field. At the top of the rotation, SPs Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura return, joined by offseason free-agent signing SP Ian Kennedy, who signed a five-year deal with the team.
The Royals’ .269 batting average was the second best in the American League last season, but they ranked next-to-last in the league with 139 home runs. The high batting average was helped by Hosmer, Morales and OF Lorenzo Cain, who hit .297, .290 and .307, respectively. Morales and Moustakas tied for the team lead with 22 home runs, with C Salvador Perez just behind them at 21. On the mound, the Royals had the third-lowest ERA in the league (3.73), though no started had a sub-3.00 ERA. SP Chris Young posted a 3.06 ERA, the lowest among the starters, with Volquez the only other starter with a sub-4.00 ERA, at 3.55. RP Greg Holland served as the team’s closer through mid-September, when he suffered a season-ending elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and will keep him out for the 2016 campaign. When he went down, RP Wade Davis took over as closer, a well-deserved role considering he finished the year with a 0.94 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 67.1 innings.
Looking ahead to 2016, the Royals don’t have many holes to fill, with much of the World Series-winning team remaining. Davis should easily slide into the closer’s role, considering the season he had last year. Ventura has some room for improvement after last season, when his ERA was nearly a run higher than it was in his rookie year of 2014. If he can get closer to his 2014 numbers than 2015, that would help rotation considerably. The offense could obviously use more power, but extra home runs could be hard to come by. OF Paulo Orlando showed some power in limited playing time last year, so if they can find room for him to play on a semi-regular basis, he could add to the team’s home run total. If the Royals can keep their batting average up to the level it was in 2015, they;’ll at least have baserunners and be able to manufacture runs if they still don’t have much success hitting the ball out of the park.
The Twins and Tigers are likely going to be the toughest challengers to the Royals in the Central this season, but I don’t think either team is good enough to pass the Royals to win the division. The Royals finished last year 12 games ahead of the second-place Twins, so they definitely have a bit of a cushion, so they should win the division again in 2016. From there, anything can happen in the postseason in their quest for a second-straight World Series title.