Duffy, rookies shine in Royals' rocky '16

KC falls short of postseason as injuries, fatigue take toll

Duffy, rookies shine in Royals' rocky '16

KANSAS CITY -- The defending World Series-champion Royals arrived in Surprise, Ariz., last February with full intentions of a third straight trip to the World Series.

Ownership and management went all in, re-signing Alex Gordon, the face of the franchise, to a four-year, $72 million deal. Right-hander Ian Kennedy was signed (five years, $70 million) to strengthen the rotation and reliever Joakim Soria (three years, $25 million) was added to an already strong bullpen.

But it was clear from day one in Surprise that the same energy that catapulted the team to two straight deep postseason runs just wasn't there. Two shortened offseasons had taken a toll, and the 2016 Royals were characterized by injury and fatigue.

The champs slipped to a disappointing 81-81 and missed the postseason.

"I think they were disappointed," manager Ned Yost said of his players. "But, you know, it's like I tell my guys ... All you can do is, when you step on that field, just give all you have for that day, every bit of it.

"I think our guys at the end of the year, each and every one of them, they could look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'Hey, you know what? We gave it everything we had, it just didn't work out.' We had too many injuries, we just ran out of steam there at the end."

Here's a look at the top storylines from 2016:

5. The Injury Bug

On a sunny, late May afternoon in Chicago, Gordon and third baseman Mike Moustakas hustled after a pop fly in foul territory. What transpired in that moment altered the Royals' season. The two collided violently. Gordon suffered a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist, missed five weeks and never really was himself the rest of the way. Moustakas suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and missed the rest of the season.

It was just one of several injuries that dogged the Royals. Closer Wade Davis spent two stints on the disabled list with forearm issues. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain was limited in the final six weeks with a fractured bone in his left hand, an injury that hindered the Royals' valiant push for the playoffs in September.

Moustakas and Gordon collide

4. Down years

Injuries weren't the only culprit that derailed the Royals. Several players simply had off years. Gordon hit .220 with 17 homers and 40 RBIs. Chris Young, whom general manager Dayton Moore called the staff's "MVP" in 2015, posted an unsightly 6.19 ERA. And Soria (5-8, 4.05 ERA) came within one loss of matching the franchise record for losses by a reliever. Even Eric Hosmer, the MVP of the All-Star Game, hit .225 with a .296 OBP after that All-Star Game.

3. Rookies emerge

One of the bright spots was the emergence of several rookies. Cheslor Cuthbert filled in admirably for Moustakas, hitting .274 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs. Super utility infielder Whit Merrifield smacked 22 doubles and hit .283 with a .716 OPS. And left-hander Matt Strahm burst onto the scene in August and dominated in the bullpen, posting a 1.23 ERA in 21 games.

Cuthbert's two-run homer

2. Rally Mantis and late-season surge

On a sweltering August afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals' fading hopes took a sudden turn when a mantis showed up in their dugout. Newly acquired Billy Burns quickly became the caretaker of the mantis, which died a week later but was replaced with Rally Mantis Jr. The team took off and won 18 of 22 with their new good-luck charm before fading down the stretch.

Burns befriends praying mantis

1. Danny Duffy comes into his own

Perhaps the top bright spot for the Royals was the long-awaited emergence of Duffy as the team's ace. Duffy started the season in the bullpen but switched to the rotation after injuries to Young and Kris Medlen. Duffy responded with a 12-3 record and a 3.51 ERA. His most dominant game came in August against Tampa Bay when he threw eight shutout innings, giving up one hit while striking out a franchise-record 16.

Duffy's 500th career K

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.