When the regular season ended, Mike Moustakas had posted his worst offensive statistics as a professional. Eric Hosmer saw a summer sunk by a two-month slump and a month-long absence. Lorenzo Cain was a talented fielder with little national reputation.
Then came the playoffs, that stunning month for the Royals and for Kansas City. The club fell short of its ultimate goal when it dropped game seven to San Francisco with the tying run at third base. But the dividends of these recent weeks could transfer into 2015, manager Ned Yost believes.
Moustakas reestablished himself as a critical contributor. Hosmer displayed the depth of his talent. Cain emerged as a budding star.
“I think the way all three of those players stepped up in this situation was phenomenal,” Yost said. “I think definitely it takes the pressure off of them for next year.
“If we didn’t get into the playoffs, Moose would have went home having a horrible year. Hosmer would have went home having a subpar year. Cain would have went home having an OK year. All three of them went home having great years. I mean, phenomenal years.”
During the summer, as the Royals jockeyed for position in the American League Central, owner David Glass told The Star he expects the team to be even better in 2015. To at least improve on their 89-win regular season, the Royals require steps forward from this trio. They showed what was possible in October.
Yost felt his entire team benefited from the experience.
“All of a sudden, they went from trying too hard to believing that they belonged there,” Yost said. “And got real, real comfortable on the big stage. It was almost a joy to see. That these guys are totally confident, totally comfortable in the biggest stage of all of baseball.”
Moustakas may never win a batting title. Defensive shifts confounded him during the season. He hit .212 with a .632 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Both were career lows.
In October, Moustakas rediscovered the solution to the shift: Hit the baseball over the fence. He boomed five home runs in the postseason and broke Willie Aikens’ franchise record for homers in a postseason. The power compensated for Moustakas’ .231 batting average and provided a preview of his ideal production during a season.
Hosmer looked on the verge of a revival when a fastball from Jon Lester caused a stress fracture in his hand near the end of July. Hosmer missed all of August. By the time the playoffs arrived, he had found his timing.
He was a critical component of the Royals offense, clobbering the Athletics, Angels and Orioles pitchers. The Giants kept Hosmer in check during the World Series. Hosmer finished October with 12 RBIs and a .983 OPS.
Yet no Royal could claim a star turn close to Cain’s. He bolstered the Royals’ defense during their sweep of the Angels. He was chosen the American League Championship Series MVP after batting .533 in four games. When he was passed over for a Gold Glove during the World Series, the reaction throughout the industry was a mixture of confusion and apoplexy.
During the team’s postseason celebration at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday, the largest ovation belonged to Cain. He had gone from a bit player to a leading man, the No. 3 hitter on a World Series club.
“We’ll go get ’em next year,” Cain told the crowd packing the lower bowl of the stadium.
To get there, the team must hope Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas play like it is October all season long.