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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The 2014-15 Kansas City Royals Were One Of Baseball’s Great Underdog Stories

We love our sports forecasts here at FiveThirtyEight, but one of the things that make the games great is when a team comes along and takes prognosticators by surprise. So along with our Hall of Pretty Damn Good Players, we want to appreciate these unsung teams that nobody saw coming, in a series we’re calling the Little Teams That Could.

Before their magical playoff runs of 2014 and 2015, the Kansas City Royals had not exactly been a fixture in baseball’s postseason.

OK, talk about huge understatements …

Although K.C. had ranked among baseball’s best from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, the 1990s and 2000s were not kind to the franchise. Team cornerstones like George Brett, Willie Wilson and Frank White gave way to stars who didn’t stay long — Carlos Beltrán, Johnny Damon, Zack Greinke, etc. — and a host of lesser players who filled in the gaps. After winning the 1985 World Series, Kansas City missed the playoffs for the next 28 seasons in a row.1 And worse than merely being mediocre, Kansas City was almost always straight-up bad. From 1997 through 2013, the Royals finished better than 20th in our final Elo rankings just three times (19th in 2000, 18th in 2008 and 14th in 2013)....

And yet, the Royals started out steady in 2014 and exploded in the second half of the season — going an MLB-best 52-272 from July 22 onward (including playoffs). K.C. got an All-Star-level season (4.4 wins above replacement)3 from the late-blooming Lorenzo Cain in center field and an improved rotation, to go with manager Ned Yost’s core Royals formula: contact hitting, great defense, blazing speed and a lights-out bullpen. Kansas City made the playoffs for the first time since that 1985 championship and knocked off the A’s in an unforgettable wild-card game, then swept the Angels and Orioles to give themselves a perfect 8-0 postseason record en route to the World Series.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: November 11, 2020 at 01:44 PM | 2 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: royals

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   1. A triple short of the cycle Posted: November 11, 2020 at 04:56 PM (#5988351)
knocked off the A’s in an unforgettable wild-card game

Thanks for bringing that up.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: November 11, 2020 at 09:28 PM (#5988403)
going an MLB-best 52-272

It was a rough 2nd half for everybody. :-)

EDIT: Meant to add that 2014 just looks like a standard fluke -- decent team over-performs and manages to make the WC, gets hot at the right time. But following that up with 95 wins makes it all look very non-flukey. I don't imagine I looked too brilliant in my 2015 prognostication.

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