What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
The Kansas City Royals, otherwise known as the new Tampa Bay Rays, are the 2012 World Series champions! In one of the most stunning and unexpected playoff runs in recent memory, the Royals took the baseball world by storm by proving there are ways other than buying expensive free agents to win a World Series. How did it happen? Simple, it all comes down to drafting, developing and trading for the right players and making that timely run. Oddly enough, it was the Detroit Tigers signing of Prince Fielder that sent the Royals to the postseason, but we’ll explain that later.
The 2012 Royals offense transformed into an unstoppable juggernaut led by stud DH Billy Butler. Butler took his offense to entirely new level by hitting .320/.400/.587 with 55 doubles and 25 bombs. He always had the talent to launch himself into the MVP conversation and simply put, in 2012, he did it. What shouldn’t be overlooked are the contributions of a trio of young Royals who made up the middle of their lineup. First baseman Eric Hosmer hit .300/.350/.541 with 40 doubles, 25 home runs and even swiped 15 bases. Third baseman Mike Moustakas hit .280/.340 with 40 doubles and 20 homeruns while providing solid defense at the hot corner. Alex Gordon continued to prove that late production is always better than no production by surpassing career highs and hitting .310/.400/.524 with 40 doubles, 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases. At the end of the season voters were stuck deciding between Butler, Gordon and Albert Pujols for the AL MVP.
What some thought may be yet another shortcoming for the Royals ended up being a big reason why they were crowned champions of the world. The Kansas City pitching staff came into it’s own with the help of some big time trades and big time prospects. Jonathan Sanchez, the southpaw who came over from San Francisco in the offseason, rediscovered his 2010 form by pitching to the tune of 200 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 220 strikeouts. Aaron Crow’s transition from the bullpen to the rotation was a seamless one as he contributed close to 200 innings with a 3.20 ERA and close to a strikeout per inning. Bruce Chen proved to be an adequate inning eater for the Royals by reaching the 200 inning mark and posting an ERA slightly under 4. However the biggest difference maker for this pitching staff came by yet another trio of young players who stepped up down the stretch. Left Danny Duffy returned to the rotation and proved why he was once considered a top 100 prospect. Top prospects Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi also forced their way into the rotation in early August and provided the Royals with unheard of pitching depth.
Remember when I said the Detroit Tigers’ signing of Prince of Fielder was the move that eventually sent the Royals to the postseason? Well it happened. The Royals and the Tigers finished the 162 game season with an equal 92-70 record and played a one game playoff which pitted Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander against Jonathan Sanchez. Both pitchers would spin masterful performances, tossing eight shutout innings. Leading off the bottom of the 9th against a tired Verlander was right fielder Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur was hitless on the night but had managed to square up a pitch on Verlander that was caught at the wall in the 6th inning. With third baseman Miguel Cabrera playing back the Tigers weren’t expecting a bunt. Francoeur laid down a beautiful one down the third base line and reached first base. Had Prince Fielder never been signed, perhaps the Tigers would have had a better defensive third baseman to defend against such a move. Speedster Jarrod Dyson would be brought into the game to pinch run for Francoeur and Justin Verlander would be yanked from the game much to his dismay. The Tigers would bring in the left-handed Phil Coke to face the left-handed Eric Hosmer and to hopefully hold Jarrod Dyson at first base.
Going back to the Prince Fielder signing before we move on to the climactic finish, it was understandable why the Tigers made such a move. After all, missing Victor Martinez would undoubtedly diminish their ability to swing with the elite AL teams. Perhaps it was Prince Fielder’s presence alone that brought the Tigers to this game in the first place because without him the Royals probably would have won the division outright. But without Victor Martinez, the Tigers relied heavily on catcher Alex Avila. By the time game 163 rolled around, Avila was physically spent.
Phil Coke would toss over to first baseman Prince Fielder three times to keep Dyson in check before ever throwing his first pitch. The familiarity with his move ultimately gave Dyson the confidence and comfort to take a bigger lead and get a good jump in his attempt to steal second base. But the Tigers were expecting it, Phil Coke pitched out as Hosmer hopelessly waived at the pitch that was several feet outside. But Avila’s legs simply weren’t fresh enough, it threw off his entire throwing mechanics and the ball sailed into centerfield as Dyson rounded second base and slid safely into third. Coke would then be ordered to intentionally walk Hosmer and would be replaced by Jose Valverde to face Billy Butler. Valverde had recently had great success in striking Butler out and it was a smart move on behalf on manager Jim Leyland.
In yet another surprise move, the Royals would opt to give Butler the bunt sign, even with the infield playing in. Manager Ned Yost was so confident in Dyson’s speed and Cabrera’s inability to competently charge the ball and throw to home in time that he forced his best hitter and possibly worst runner to lay down a suicide squeeze. Dyson broke for the plate as Hosmer broke for second. Butler missed the bunt and Dyson was hung out to dry. But Dyson being the heads up runner he was stayed in the pickle just long enough for Eric Hosmer to round second base and take third. Now, with Hosmer at third and one out, the infield was allowed to play a couple of steps back. The next pitch to Butler was an inside fastball that he turned on. He hit a hard but routine ground ball just to the left of Cabrera. Cabrera attempted to backhand the ball but it skipped off his glove and into foul territory and Hosmer would score the winning run.
The Royals would use such momentum to propel them through the playoffs past the Angels, Rays and Marlins and to a well deserved World Championship.