Promising year derailed by injuries, losing streaks
Soria, Duffy among four to undergo Tommy John surgery during season
KANSAS CITY -- Bad omen? Maybe. Just when things were going well for the Royals, Lorenzo Cain smacked into the wall at Oakland making a great catch and limped off the field. This was the fifth game of the season, which they won. But Cain was done for a while and so were the Royals.
They lost the next 12 games, including their first 10 of the season at home, and that was a slide from which they never fully recovered.
"The season boiled down to a having a poor April and a poor July," manager Ned Yost said. "We had two bad months. I thought we recovered nicely from the 12-game streak, but then July threw us back to square one and we battled to get over July from that point on. We've definitely taken steps forward and done a nice job doing that."
April resulted in a 6-15 record. Good thing the All-Star Game was at Kauffman Stadium because the rest of July was a forgettable 7-19 for the Royals. Jeepers, they played over .500 ball in the rest of the season, so if you could somehow eliminate those two months.
"Well, with [better] starting pitching you will," Yost said.
That, however, is something that never developed and the rotation ranks got thinner when Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino had to undergo Tommy John surgery, the same thing that took closer Joakim Soria down for the entire season.
Injuries, of course, are part of the game and the Royals had their share with Cain, catcher Salvador Perez and second baseman Chris Getz all missing significant chunks of the season.
This was supposed to be sort of a coming-out season for the young Royals after they'd injected so many of their hot prospects into the lineup in 2011 -- first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, second baseman Johnny Giavotella, Perez and Duffy.
But Giavotella didn't make the team out of Spring Training, Perez and Duffy were medical cases, Hosmer didn't come close to matching his 2011 batting blitz and Moustakas cooled off after a hot start.
Designated hitter Billy Butler, left fielder Alex Gordon, shortstop Alcides Escobar and Perez, after his return, did their parts to ignite the offensive attack, but while the club batting average ranked high, the resultant runs total was extremely low.
There were some shining moments, such as Butler's game-saving blast at St. Louis and his and Perez's back-to-back homers for a walk-off win over the Angels. Or Moustakas' five-RBI game in a win at Toronto and Escobar's two-homer game against Chicago.
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur struggled at the plate and stand-in center fielder Jarrod Dyson couldn't provide the muscle expected out of Cain.
"We went through a lot of positive-negative stuff this year. Stuff that hurt -- the 12-game losing streak, dealing with these young players with extended batting slumps and lowering production," Yost said.
"We got to a point where going into that trip before the All-Star break we won four [straight] games and were right on the verge of getting back on track. We fell down again and then got back up. And that's a good sign with a young club. You've got to learn to walk before you run, but you're going to fall down. But the thing you have to do is you've got to get back up, and these kids have done a great job of that. So that's a very positive thing."
The recovery over the last two months included a couple of pitching revelations.
Jeremy Guthrie, obtained 10 days before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, developed into a very successful starter.
At the same time, Greg Holland took over as the closer from traded Jonathan Broxton and was close to perfect.
"He could not have been any better," Yost said.
Record: 72-90, third in AL Central
Defining moment: A team entering a season with an "Our Time" marketing catch phrase and great expectations won three of its first five games. Then came a staggering 12 consecutive losses for a 3-14 record, good for last place and seven games off the pace. It was just April 24, to be sure, but the Royals really never recovered. From there through the end of June, they played over .500 (32-27) but were still six games out. Then a terrible July (7-19) was the final blow.
What went right: Despite losing Soria for the year, the bullpen was pretty darn strong throughout the season. Broxton filled in nicely as closer until dealt at the Trade Deadline and Holland was even better the rest of the way. Rookie Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins were the hard-working, largely effective others in the Fearsome Foursome. ... Butler, an All-Star, slugged his way to more than 100 RBIs for the first time, had a career high in homers and hit over .300. ... Gordon overcame a poor start and became a productive hitter, eventually settling into the No. 3 slot. ... Escobar complemented his superb defense by blossoming as an effective No. 2 hitter who could also bunt and steal bases. Dyson also piled up stolen bases and hit better than expected. ... Moustakas developed into a superb fielder, drawing support for a Gold Glove Award. ... Overall the defense was good, notably after the return of Perez in late June. The outfield again led the Majors in assists, Francoeur on top, and Hosmer was very good at first base. ... Late in the season, Guthrie gave the rotation a needed lift and Luis Mendoza had some impressive starts. Rookie Will Smith also showed promise as a starter.
What went wrong: Soria, during Spring Training, was just the first Kansas City pitcher to have Tommy John surgery. Three more were to follow -- reliever Blake Wood and starters Duffy and Paulino. Four TJs early in the season to key pitchers would be staggering to any team. ... That wasn't all -- Perez had knee surgery in camp and missed nearly half the season. That left the catching to backups Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero until his return. Only five games into the schedule, Cain, just installed as the center fielder, had the first of three leg injuries that would limit him to 61 games. ... The rotation, with Duffy and Paulino out early, lacked a strong No. 1 starter and never did get into gear. Offseason acquisition Jonathan Sanchez flopped and was traded, Luke Hochevar was occasionally brilliant, but mostly inconsistent and Bruce Chen led in wins for the third straight year, but had a high ERA. ... Hosmer, on fire as a rookie in 2011, crashed and burned at the plate in his second year and wound up batting in the eighth spot. Francoeur's production also fell off markedly from last year. Moustakas, after a fast start, struggled at the plate in the second half. ... Second base was an unsettled spot with Getz hurt, Yuniesky Betancourt released and Giavotella still finding his way.
Biggest surprise: Guthrie, once the ace of Baltimore's staff, was having a miserable time in his new Colorado home so the Rockies dealt him to the Royals for Sanchez, having a miserable time in KC. It worked out well for the Royals. After three losses, Guthrie put together a string of outstanding performances that included 22 consecutive scoreless innings and a near-no-hitter, putting the free agent-to-be in the Royals' sights for 2013.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.