At the start of the season, anyway, the composition of the 2016 Royals was remarkably similar to the 2015 World Series championship version.
Other than the profound loss of Ben Zobrist, a mixed blessing in the departure of the baffling Johnny Cueto and the exit of Alex Rios after a fine postseason, this essentially was the same team.
Even if you saw discouraging signs at times, sheer logic offered the consolation that they should — or at least could — be contenders unless there was an inexplicable, abrupt team-wide collapse.
At least until five weeks into the season, when starting pitchers Chris Young and Kris Medlen went on the disabled list on the same day — a sense of attrition compounded by the loss of a far more pivotal pair on a freak play last Sunday in Chicago:
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All-Stars Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas collided chasing a foul ball, pursuing it with the sort of abandon that led to the iconic Moustakas catch in the 2014 playoffs or sent Gordon flying into the bleachers at U.S. Cellular Field last year.
Only this time neither went unscathed, with Moustakas out for the season with a torn ACL and Gordon likely out a month with a broken bone in his right wrist.
All of which could only leave you skeptical about what lay ahead, at least until Gordon’s return, even after the Royals had recovered from a 4-12 funk to win four straight series.
But if some of the parts are missing or balky, plenty of that certain something still appears ingrained in a team now suddenly infused with fresh faces.
And if the 7-5 rally over the White Sox on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium is any indication, the combination suggests the Royals have a chance to stay afloat regardless of how rotten their luck has been.
“We’ve got special kids; that’s all I can say,” manager Ned Yost said, referring to the poise of Brett Eibner, Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert and adding, “It’s in their makeup. It’s who they are.”
The victory over the first-place White Sox came in their first game since the extent of the Moustakas injury became known, so it was a moment of truth of sorts, even if the marathon season has many of those.
A starting lineup you might need to get used to bore a remarkable resemblance to the hodge-podge sort you might see in spring training, in this case with five players standing in for others who had been in those roles at the beginning of the season.
That included Eibner making his major-league debut in place of the slumping, injured designated hitter Kendrys Morales (finger injury, day-to-day), Merrifield at second base in his sixth major-league start and Cuthbert at third in his 35th game in the bigs.
It also meant Jarrod Dyson in left and Danny Duffy making his third start after beginning the season in the bullpen.
If that all sounds like an unknown, unpredictable commodity … you should have seen the dizzying game.
Nursing a 1-0 lead, Duffy was unbreakable into the sixth inning, “absolutely” the best Yost had ever seen him pitch.
He retired the first 16 batters before Avisail Garcia broke up the perfect game and shattered the dam.
Four batters later, it was 5-1 Chicago after Melky Cabrera’s grand slam and Todd Frazier’s solo shot back-to-back.
In an instant, Duffy’s inspired performance had evaporated into deflating chaos, setting up an exasperating defeat that seemed like the kind that could linger.
But Eric Hosmer homered in the sixth to rekindle the imagination some.
Then the rawest new Royals were instrumental in the four-run seventh, triggered by Eibner’s double for his first major-league hit and marked by Merrifield’s two-run single to cut it to 5-4.
Hosmer drove in the go-ahead runs with a bloop single to left, the Royals added a run in the eighth and Wade Davis closed it in the ninth.
Out of nowhere at all, the Royals had won for the ninth time in 13 games and had landed a game out of first.
None of this assures anything going forward, naturally, especially if the Royals have to absorb more injuries.
And there’s simply no way to know if these Royals can do what those Royals did a year ago when they actually concocted a better record with Gordon out injured (31-17) than they did before he was hurt (49-33).
Under duress Friday, though, they offered a statement that just because this isn’t exactly the same team winning precisely the same way as its swashbuckling recent predecessors doesn’t mean it can’t find its own way.
Among the established players, Yost said, “there’s no trepidation, there’s no wonder, there’s no panic” about the influx of youngsters.
And at least for a night, that reasoning could resonate with an anxious fan base fighting trepidation and left to wonder where this is all going.