The 2014 Royals came within a game of winning the World Series by playing like a great version of a 1980s National League team. It was all pitching, defense and speed — a team that wore you out if the game was close and late.
It felt to some like a fragile way to live. In particular, it felt that way to Baseball Prospectus’s projection system. After that 89-win season and World Series berth, BP projected the Royals would take a huge step back and win just 72 games in 2015. They were wrong. Terribly wrong. They took their medicine — kind of, in a manner that reads to me as more explanation than excuse — but nonetheless they were so very wrong. The Royals are world champions, and in the process they might have proved that not only were the past two years not flukes but also that they have found the modern blueprint for winning in the post-steroid era.
Their offense was plenty good — 7th in the majors in runs scored, with better-than-average slugging and OBP. That cannot be understated because it’s not like they were just winning every game 3-2. But really it was a sum-of-its-parts roster, with tough outs up and down the lineup and speedsters off the bench who could turn any late leadoff single into a double. It was a bullpen that had an ERA four-tenths of a run better than any other team in the American League during the regular season and was still dominant in the playoffs in spite of losing closer Greg Holland.
Again: can that be copied? Sure. Is it easy? Not at all. The Twins, for instance, have the makings of a similarly homegrown lineup that could be pretty good for years to come. Their defense, at least in the outfield, could be lights-out if it’s a combination of Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario.
What they really need is for two of their starting pitchers to develop into truly dominant guys who can thrive against tough postseason lineups. Jose Berrios could be one of them; I’m not sure who the second one is at this point, and Berrios is still a big if.
The relief pitching portion is the biggest overhaul. The Twins averaged 6.85 strikeouts per 9 innings out of their bullpen this year. The Royals averaged 8.38. The Twins bullpen needs to be completely overhauled. And as much as it might pain Trevor May, he might need to stay there because he has a better chance than anyone in the mix right now to be a shutdown guy to complement a healthy and effective Glen Perkins. A dominant reliever is arguably more important right now than a slightly above-average starter.
The Twins won’t be able to do it all at once, but it will be interesting to see if they are able to build something that resembles the Royals roster. This much I know: nobody should put any stock in a projection that has the Royals backsliding in 2016. They’re legitimate, and their roster construction is brilliant.