How on earth did Kansas City go from being under .500 in July last year to having the best record in the American League in 2015?
Don't look now, but that Kansas City Royals team that snuck in as the second wild card last season and came within a timely swing of the bat of taking the 2014 World Series away from the San Francisco Giants in seven games is now the odds-on favorite to win the 2015 Fall Classic.
Their current odds sit at 6-1, which makes their odds lower than the St. Louis Cardinals, who have basically been coasting way out in front of everyone in the National League, who sit at 8-1.
They went on 41-23 run to end the 2014 season and grab that wild card. Then they won the wild card game and swept the opposition in both the ALDS and the ALCS, and then they took the Giants to seven games.
How did they do it?
Well, their bullpen didn't regress. It's true that Greg Holland's ERA is higher this year (3.83), but he has had some arm issues. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis have been just as automatic as they were in the second half and the postseason last year. Adding Franklin Morales (2.13 ERA) and Ryan Madson (2.45) has given the relief corps a boost.
Luke Hochevar is still getting back to full blast after Tommy John surgery, but his ERA is a healthy 3.29. Jason Frasor had a 1.54 ERA when the team had to release him – because they had too many good relievers. This is why the Royals have won so many one-run ballgames this year – and it's why they are so tough to beat.
Other people thought their defense wouldn't be as good. The 2013 and 2014 Royals finished 88 and 75 runs above average defensively according to FanGraphs.
Those are the second and fifth best finishes in a collection of figures dating back to 2002. The 2015 team is already 61 runs above average with about a month left. The next best team? Tampa Bay, which is sitting at 22 runs above average.
No team has done a better job over the past three seasons at playing defense than Kansas City. So no, they didn't regress.
How about the free agent signings that GM Dayton Moore has contributed? James Shields, the 2014 ace, left for San Diego. He was replaced with Edinson Volquez, who is not dominant but still has a 3.27 ERA and has thrown 30 more innings than anyone else on the staff. Kendrys Morales has improved from an awful 2014 – but he missed spring training and April and May because of factors outside the sport.
This offseason, he spent six weeks at spring training to find his swing, and his timing is back. Alex Rios has been a bit of a disappointment, and he will probably not be back next year – but he's only on a oneyar deal.
So the defense has been just as good, the bullpen has been just as good, and the free agents who left were replaced with players who are just about as good. So why not? If you're going to put down money on a World Series team, think about the magic this team exuded last year. They have the clubhouse chemistry to do it again.