The Royals ended last season by taking three of four from the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, and the mood in the clubhouse after the finale was bittersweet.If only there had been another couple of weeks to the season.
“Last year was a blast,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “When the end of the season came in Chicago, nobody really wanted to leave because they knew how close we were (to making the playoffs), and we were right there.
“It left a good taste in everyone’s mouth going into the offseason knowing how good we could be, that we had one of the best records in the second half of baseball. We know we have the experience now, we have the pieces to do it, that we just have to go out there, stay loose and be ourselves and let it all happen.”
The excitement of the Royals’ second-half success carried over to the offseason when the team added pitcher Jason Vargas and top-of-the-order hitters Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante.
Those additions, Hosmer said, should help the Royals score more runs. Last year they finished 11th in the American League in runs scored with 648.
“I think it makes our lineup a lot deeper, obviously,” Hosmer said. “(Alex Gordon) did a phenomenal job in the leadoff spot, but he’s big and strong and needs to drive in runs. If we can bump him down and have him come up with guys on base, that makes our lineup deeper.
“We get those two guys at the top of the lineup setting stuff up for us, you get any of those guys on and you’ve got me, Billy, Gordon, Salvador and Moose, there’s a lot of guys who have potential to knock them in. So if those guys are getting on and doing what they’ve done in the past, which we’re confident they will be, then we think it’s going to make our offense really good.”
Hosmer said the Royals’ success in the second half last season (they had the American League’s best record at 43-27) should help them avoid an extended slump. Last May, the team was 8-20, their only losing month of the season.
He admitted that when the losses accumulated in May the younger players tightened up, but they’ve learned you can’t end a skid in one inning or one at-bat.
“Everyone needs to take a step back and realize it’s a long season, we just need to relax and go out and play our game and that will take care of itself,” Hosmer said. “The main thing is you want to limit those losing streaks as much as you can.”
The Royals straightened things out (for the most part) after May, and Hosmer did the same. In fact, Hosmer seemed to benefit more than anyone from the additions of George Brett and Pedro Grifol as hitting coaches.
In the last four months of the season, Hosmer batted .318 with 26 doubles, 16 home runs and 63 RBIs in 109 games. The Royals were 63-46 in that span.
Hosmer said Grifol helped him in the cage, while Brett gave him good advice.
“One of the biggest things George told me was it’s a battle between you and the pitcher and you might not get him the first time or the second time,” Hosmer said, “but you’ve got to know that deep down he’s not going to get off that mound without you doing some type of damage to him.”
Hosmer added that he learned how better to approach each game as its own entity and not get caught up with what happened the day before.
“When I first came up, you’re doing stuff to get ready for the game, but you’re kind of just doing it, because you see the older guys doing it,” Hosmer said. “You don’t really know what you’re doing. For me, the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to prepare myself for a game and what I need to do before to get ready to go.”
Now he’s ready to go after an AL Central championship. But to do that, the Royals are going to have to not only pass the Indians, but dethrone the three-time division champion Tigers.
“We like playing the Tigers. We really do enjoy playing the Tigers,” he said. “Every time they come to town or we go there, it’s a different energy when we play them, and it has to be. They’ve won the division the last couple of years. They’re the ones we’ve got to set out to get. I think that’s the good thing of having such a young team, everyone is really hungry and they welcome the challenge.”