The 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals are returning the core of a team that advanced to the last two World Series. Similar to last preseason, however, the experts are disrespectfully sleeping on the Royals and despite crushing the New York Mets in five games to win MLB's Fall Classic, Vegas gives the Royals the 10th-best odds to win the title in 2016 at 18/1.
“We don't pay attention to any of that I don't know who comes out with the projections," Cain, who finished third in the MVP voting, told ESPN this morning. “ We are about going out and getting it done on the field. We focus on playing ball each and every night. I expect us to go back to the playoffs and take it from there.”
The Washington Nationals and LA Dodgers were the fashionable picks to win it all last season.
This season, everyone is infatuated with Joe Maddon’s baby Cubs, who probably have the dopest pool of young star power in baseball. They were upset by the Mets in the NL Championship last season. With one year of playoff seasoning under their belts, folks are picking them to be the team that breaks Wrigley's 108-year World Series drought.
If nothing else, it's a refreshing change for the Royals to be considered "the hunted." Cain said that the Royals will wear that X on their backs with pride and continue to do what they’ve been doing.
“It’s not a challenge for this team to be defending champions,” Cain said. “Everyone is about striving each year to become best player they can. Guys are going to go out and play the same as they have every year.“
Royals management didn’t have much time to bask in the glory of the franchise’s first c’hip since 1985. Locking down the core of the team and signing senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost to contract extensions was top priority.
They have re-introduced a culture of winning in Kansas City that has inspired the city and made Missouri a two-team baseball town again. Thanks to a productive offseason, they won't enter spring training with many questions.
The Royals have opened up the competition at second base between incumbent Omar Infante and Christian Colon, a former first-round pick and Game 5 World Series hero. The other main question in camp is which two pitchers will fill out the rotation behind Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Ian Kennedy? Fortunately there are a host of candidates, from Kris Medlen to Chris Young to Danny Duffy to Dillon Gee, which will keep camp competitive.
The heavy lifting, however has been done.
The Royals resigned Cain to a two-year deal. They also re-signed third baseman Mike Moustakas for two years, agreed to terms with outfielder Alex Gordon on a four-year-contract and eased the loss of Johnny Cueto (San Francisco Giants) by signing former Cy Young winner Ian Kennedy to a five-year contract. Locking up inspirational speedster Jarrod Dyson for another year was a shrewd move as well.
Cain’s career journey represents the Royals as a team. Cain is a late bloomer as an MLB stud. He didn’t even start playing baseball until he was a sophomore in high school and got cut from the basketball team. He tried out for the squad in jeans and didn't even have a glove.
He says it was a blessing in disguise and now understands that it was part of his destiny.
“Getting cut was a blessing. I had a buddy in high school who played and I asked him does he think I can go out and make the baseball team," Cain said. "I talked to coach, linked up with him and it’s been a long journey. It’s taken a lot of hard work and determination and I'm still in big leagues trying to improve each year.”
His natural athleticism and his intelligence has helped him make tremendous baseball strides in a short time. Cain admits that he is still a student of the game and he’s just entering his baseball prime.
"I’m also still working on things like overstriding when I run," Cain admitted with a chuckle. "It’s something I'm still learning even in the pros."
With a .307 batting average, 16 homers, 28 swipes and 72 RBI’s last season, Cain has distinguished himself as the lone superstar on a team full of very good "baseball" players. Players who have also improved each season.
"I went up to the plate and looked to drive ball more often than I did in past," said Cain, when explaining his breakout 2015 season. "I was looking to do damage every at bat and that was the big difference."
One year after ranking dead last in the AL in homers and scoring 651 runs, the Royals’ crew of crazy contact hitters clubbed their way to 724 runs in 2015. The improvement was created, in part, by career years from Moustakas, Cain and Eric Hosmer.
On paper, there are a bunch of teams that appear to be more talented than the Royals. However, history will tell you that chemistry and defensive wizardry is something the prognosticators often overlook when picking preseason champions. Few if any clubs are as exciting come playoff time or as close knit, dope-mitted, and committed to team goals as the Royals.
“Inside of the clubhouse, there’s a lot of laughing ...a lot of fun and a group of guys that get along very well,” Cain said. “People don't get to see that about us behind the scenes. Being around these guys makes coming to the ball park fun. I'm glad I’m a part of this group and will enjoy it as long as I can.”