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Yost Says He Isn't Worried About Predictions Of A Lackluster Royals Season

Greg Echlin
Fans line up to get into Kauffman Stadium last summer, just after the season started picking up.

Baseball’s unexpected late-season surge of the Kansas City Royals caught the country by surprise last year. Along with that, players like Lorenzo Cain made names for themselves with brilliant plays on the field and speed on the bases. Though Royals are the defending American League champions, experts don’t rate their chances very high of even making the playoffs again this year.

When the Kansas City Royals took batting practice before the final regular season game in Chicago last year, only one thing was for certain: they were in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years. During the game against the White Sox that day, the Royals learned that Detroit won the American League Central. That meant the Royals would play in the loser-goes-home wild card game. On a Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium against Oakland. The big question was whether or not the Royals were ready for the prime time.

For home game crowds that exceeded 30,000, the Royals had a losing record (5-8). In fact, Before the wild card game, the only time the team drew more than 40,000 was the home opener.

All that changed against the Athletics.

Salvador Perez drove in the game-winning run. But the key point in the game took place in the eighth-inning comeback against Oakland starter Jon Lester, a pitcher whom the Royals struggled against. They were down by four runs, but came back to tie the game.

Royals manager Ned Yost said that moment was the springboard for the Royals in the postseason.

“You’re going to have games where the press is asking you’re team isn’t going to play in front of big crowds because they press,” said Yost. “They go out and try to do more than what they’re capable of doing, but when you believe as a player, in yourself and in your teammate, you can stand up to the brightest lights and under the most intense scrutiny, under the most pressure, and perform.”

They not only stood up, but thrived.

The Royals became the first team in the modern playoff era to win their first eight games in the post-season. A stark contract from the regular season when the Royals won 89 games, the fewest victories to reach the World Series since the 1973 New York Mets.

The Royals didn’t have an everyday lineup that sent collective chills into the opposing dugout. They ranked last in the majors in homeruns. No one in the lineup hit 20 and no one drove in more than 75. But an outstanding bullpen and stellar defensive plays carried the Royals.

But in the end, after forcing Game 7 of the World Series, San Francisco pitcher Madison Baumgarner was too much for the Royals lineup to handle. The Giants celebrated their third World Series championship in five years.

A much more confident bunch gathered in the Royals spring training clubhouse this season. But they’re still looking for respect from the experts. Sports Illustrated, for example, predicted a fourth place finish in the Central this year. That would not put them anywhere near the postseason.

Eric Hosmer, who emerged as one of the team’s few hitting stars last year, said the Royals aren’t concerned. “We don’t worry about that,” said Hosmer. “We worry about what goes on in this locker room. We realize the amount of talent and the type of team we have in here. We know that if we take care of business in here that we won’t have to worry about what any outside prediction or anything like that because we know we have the group of guys in here that can take us where we need to go.”

Gone are veterans like pitcher James Shields and designated hitter Billy Butler. Hosmer said it’s on his shoulders now to take a different role.

“There’s a good amount of us that have been here a couple years now and there’s a good amount of guys that are looked at as leaders of this team. That’s a role that you embrace,” he said. “It’s just being a good teammate. When you have young guys that come up, you make them feel comfortable and they feel like they belong here. We feel that brings the talent out of them as quick as possible.”

But the other teams won’t take the Royals lightly. With the title of “defending American League champions,” Royals manager Ned Yost believes his team will rise to the challenge.

“Look, we didn’t have that tag last year, so, trust me, I’d much rather have it this year. That doesn’t scare us,” declared Yost. “We’re ready to compete.”

And perhaps defy the experts once again, starting with a packed house on Opening Day. The Royals will open at home Monday afternoon against the Chicago White Sox.

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