“Royals World Series”: 1976 vs. 1975 (Wild Card Game)

So we are one game into our “Royals World Series“, as the start of the baseball season becomes murkier and murkier by the hour, as evidenced by this Tweet below:

Ugh. I can’t deal with this right now. But hey, Happy Friday all! Let’s begin this “George Brett” League wild card game between the 1975 Royals and the 1976 Royals.

1975 Kansas City Royals (91-71, 2nd in AL West)

The 1975 Royals put together a solid 91-win season, but still finished 7 games behind in the AL West behind the Oakland Athletics, who had the most wins in the American League with 98. The Royals excelled against AL West opponents for the most part, as they went 14-4 against the Angels, 14-4 against the Rangers, and 11-7 against the Twins. However, they struggled against the West’s top team, going 7-11 against the Athletics. The Royals did lead the division for 11 days, though that ended on June 3rd. Much like in years past, the Royals excelled at Royals Stadium, but were a mixed bag away from Kansas City. The 1975 club went 51-30 at home, and 40-41 on the road, a stark contrast that probably cost them a shot at the division.

The 1975 team had two managers, as Jack McKeon started the year, but was replaced after game 96, as the Royals sat with a 50-46 record. Former Kansas City Athletic Whitey Herzog took over mid-season, and the Royals finished strong, as they went 41-25 under Herzog, which included a 19-11 mark in September. The offense was led by John Mayberry, who posted a 168 OPS+ as well as 34 home runs, and accumulated a team-high WAR of 7.2 However, George Brett and Hal McRae weren’t far behind him, as they posted OPS+ numbers of 125 each, as well as 5.8 and 1.9 WARs, respectively. The speedy centerfielder Amos Otis rounded out the offense, posting a 103 OPS+, 39 stolen bases, and a WAR of 2.7. Speed and contact was the calling card of this 1975 offense, as they ranked first in the AL in triples, third in stolen bases, and second in OPS.

The starting pitching was top-heavy, as Steve Busby, Al Fitzmorris, and Dennis Leonard led the rotation for the Royals in 1975, each throwing over 200 innings. Busby was the best of the bunch, going 18-12 over 260 innings, while posting a 3.08 ERA and a WAR of 6.0, highest of any Royals pitcher, and second highest on the team overall. Fitzmorris posted a 4.0 WAR and Leonard posted a 2.7 WAR, further showing that the Royals top 3 starters were key contributors to their success in 75. Doug Bird led the bullpen with 11 saves and a 3.25 ERA over 105 innings of work. Overall, the Royals pitching in 1975 wasn’t one of the AL’s better staffs, as they ranked 4th in the AL in ERA, 2nd in innings pitched, and 3rd in stirkeouts.

1976 Kansas City Royals (90-72, first in AL West)

After falling just short in 1975, the Kansas City Royals got the job done this time in Herzog’s first full year as manager in Kansas City. The former Athletic and Senator led the club to a 90-72 record, which was actually a regression from 1975, but it didn’t matter, as the Royals finished 2.5 games ahead of the Athletics, who bested them the year before. In addition to winning the West, the Royals had a spirited series with the New York Yankees, whom they battled to five games in the ALCS. Despite the clinching game being in New York, the Royals took the Bronx Bombers to the wire, eventually falling though in the bottom of the ninth, with Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss hitting the game-winning home run. Though the 76 season ended in disappointment, it was the first of many AL West titles for the Royals until 1985. (They eventually won six between 1976 through 1985.)

Though Mayberry was the best Royals hitter in 1975, he regressed in 1976, hitting only .232 with an OPS+ of 94. However, George Brett and Hal McRae stepped up in his place, as they carried the Royals at the plate. Brett posted a 144 OPS+ and led the team in WAR at 7.5, while McRae barely trailed behind posting a 153 OPS+ and 4.7 WAR as well. Otis was also another key contributor to the Royals lineup, posting a 128 OPS+ and 3.2 WAR to go along with 26 stolen bases. Much like 1975, the Royals showed a lot of speed on the basepaths, finishing 2nd in the AL in Stolen Bases, and 1st in doubles and triples. However, they lacked home run punch, as they only hit 65 home runs total, which was the second-worst mark in the American League.

The Royals pitching proved to be a strength in 1976, as they finished with a team ERA of 3.21, which was the second-best mark in the American League. Dennis Leonard took the title of the Royals’ “ace” from Busby in 1976, as he pitched 259 innings with a team-high 16 complete games to boot. For the year, Leonard posted a 3.51 ERA and a WAR of 2.0. Fitzmorris also proceeded to have a solid year as the No. 2 starter in the Royals rotation, posting a 3.06 ERA with a 2.2 WAR over 220 innings of work. The Royals bullpen was a bit stronger in 1976, as Mark Littell took over the closer role, and proceeded to post a 2.08 ERA, 16 saves and a 3.1 WAR over 104 innings of work.

Herzog’s club parlayed a hot start to the season to long-term success, as the Royals 20-10 in May and 19-10 in June, with a 51-31 first half record. However, the Royals ran out of gas down the stretch (or at least got complacent) as they finished the second half under .500 at 39-41. While the Royals still showed well in the playoffs, it would have been interesting to see how the Royals would have done against the Yankees had they had more momentum going into the ALCS.

1975 vs. 1976 Inning-by-Inning Recap

Note: 1975 is the home team due to a better regular-season record.

1st Inning

  • Steve Busby takes the hill for the 1975 Royals, and immediately gets 1976 leadoff hitter Freddie Patek to ground out to second. However, DH Tom Poquette proceeds to get an infield single, and Hal McRae hits a groundball single to left centerfield to put runners on first and third with one out. Cleanup hitter George Brett then its a double to right field which scores both Poquette and McRae. Amos Otis is the second out of the inning as he grounds out to third base, but catcher Bob Stinson keeps the inning alive with a deep infield single to the shortstop. Busby though limits the bleeding by getting John Mayberry to ground out to first base and end the inning.
  • Dennis Leonard takes the hill for the 1976 Royals with a 2-run lead to start. However, Otis gets a bloop single to center field to start of the bottom of the inning. McRae grounds out third base, but advances Otis to second. Mayberry advances Otis again, grounding out to first base, but putting Otis on third with two out. DH Tony Solaita drives in 1975’s first run with line drive single to right center field to score Otis. However, Brett ends the inning by flying out to right center field.
  • After 1, the 1976 Royals lead 1975, 2-1.

2nd inning

  • Busby gets things under control with an easy 1-2-3 inning. Second baseman Frank White flies out to shallow center; Al Cowens grounds out to third; and Freddie Patek grounds out to second base to end the inning.
  • 1975 Al Cowens starts the inning off with a single up the middle past the pitcher, 1975 Bob Stinson does the exact same thing to put runners on the corners with zero outs in the bottom of the second. Patek is unable to bring Cowens in as he flies out to shallow left for the first out of the inning. However, Cookie Rojas smokes a line drive single to left center field which scores Cowens and moves Stinson to second. Unfortunately, that’s all they can do, as Otis flies out to shallow right field, and McRae grounds out to short to end the inning.
  • After two, the 1976 and 1975 Royals are tied at 2.

3rd inning

  • It’s another easy inning for Busby, as the 76 Royals go down 1-2-3. Busby strikes out Poquette looking, gets McRae to ground out to first, and finally, gets Brett to swing out of the zone for the strikeout. Big inning against the heart of the 1976 lineup.
  • Mayberry starts the inning off well for the 1975 Royals, drawing a walk. Solaita strikes out with Mayberry on first for the inning’s first out, but George Brett keeps the inning alive by smoking a single to center field which puts runners on first and second with one out. Cowens continues the inning by hitting a single to center which loads the bases with one out. However, Leonard escapes the jam with zero damage, as he gets Stinson to fly out to shallow center field, and Patek to ground out to shortsop.
  • After three, 1975 and 1976 are still tied at 2.

4th Inning

  • Busby makes it nine in a row, as he has been dominant the past three innings after a rocky first. Otis grounds out to short, Stinson grounds out to first, and Mayberry ends the inning with a shallow flyout to McRae in center.
  • Rojas grounds out to start the bottom half of the inning, but Otis walks to put a runner on first with one out. Otis then proceeds to steal second off a slow-to-the-plate Leonard, which puts Otis in scoring position with less than two out. However, Otis’ stolen bases goes for naught, as McRae grounds out to short (which fails to advance the runner), and Mayberry strikes out swinging to end the inning.
  • After four, it is still tied at 2 between 1975 and 1976.

5th Inning

  • Busby continues his dominance, as he makes it 12 in a row retired. Both White and Cowens ground out to second baseman Rojas, while Patek strikes out swining to end the inning.
  • Solaita breaks the tie and gives 1975 the lead with a leadoff home run that clears the CF wall at Royals Stadium. Brett builds on that momentum with a double that skies over the right field off the wall. While Cowens strikes out swinging, and Stinson grounds out to second (though that advances Brett), Patek continues the 1975 scoring by hitting a line drive single to center, which scores Brett from third. Rojas continues the inning with a single to left field, but Otis grounds out to 76 Brett to end the inning.
  • After five, the 1975 Royals lead 4-2.

6th Inning

  • 1976 shows some life with Poquette drawing the leadoff walk, and McRae hitting a single in the gap to right center field, which advances Poquette to third. Brett hits into a 4-6 fielder’s choice, which scores Poquette from third. Brett makes up for his ground out by stealing second base to put him in scoring position with one out. However, the 1976 Royals are unable to take advantage, as Otis hits a shallow flyout to left, and Stinson hits a shallow flyout to right.
  • After McRae flies out to left to start off the inning, Mayberry rips a double in the left center gap. Despite a runner being in scoring position, Leonard gets Solaita to chase out of the zone for the strikeout, and also gets Brett to ground out to third to end the inning.
  • After six, 1976 cuts the 1975 lead by 1, as it now stands 4-3.

7th Inning

  • Busby gets back on track with a 1-2-3 inning. Mayberry and White both ground out, with Mayberry grounding out to second and White to third. Busby then gets Cowens to fly out to center field to end the top of the 7th.
  • Reynolds gets Cowens to ground out to short to begin the bottom half of the seventh. Stinson does add some life to 1975 by getting a single up the middle to center. Unfortunately, Stinson’s hit remains the lone highlight of the inning, as Patek lines out to Brett at third, and Rojas follows it up with a groundball to Brett who puts him away easily.
  • After seven, it still remains 4-3 in 1975’s favor.

8th Inning

  • Patek and Poquette start the inning off with groundouts to shortstop and third, respectively. After two quick outs, McRae keeps the inning alive for the 1976 Royals with a groundball single up the middle to center. However, the 1976 Royals are unable to keep the inning alive, as Brett grounds out to short to end the inning.
  • Much like the 1976 squad, the 1975 team starts off with two groundouts in the bottom of the 8th, as Otis grounds out to third, and McRae grounds out to first. Mayberry prevents it from being a 1-2-3 inning by hitting a line drive single to right, and Solaita keeps the inning alive with a walk to put Mayberry in scoring position. However, Brett is unable to come through, as he flies out right center field with Otis making the snag in the gap.
  • After eight, 1975 still leads 1976, 4-3.

9th inning

  • Otis begins the ninth with a double down the left field line, putting the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. Stinson flies out to deep right field, which then allows Otis to advance to third with only one out. Mayberry doesn’t just drive in Otis, but also himself, as he hits a two-run home run to give 1976 the lead. After giving up the lead, the Royals bring in Doug Bird to relieve Busby. Bird is able to get White to line out to shortstop for the inning’s second out, but he gives up a bloop single to Cownes that falls in left field. Bird is finally able to end the inning by getting Patek to ground out into a 6-4 fielder’s choice.
  • 1976 Herzog keeps Leonard in the game and he proceeds to get Cowens to ground out to shortstop for the inning’s first out. However, Stinson hits a groundball single to center to put the game’s tying run on base. Leonard then walks Patek to put the winning run on first and tying run on second, and Herzog ends up pulling Leonard for closer Mark Littell. Littell gets the inning’s second out by getting Rojas to fly out to shallow center field. However, though the game looks done, Otis plays the hero for the 1975 squad, hitting a line drive double over left fielder Cowens, which scores both runners, which wins the Wild Card game for 1975 and advances them to the Division series.
  • Final Score: 1975 Royals 6, 1976 Royals 5 (click on the link for full box score and play by play).

Post Game Wrap Up

Hal McRae was the star for the losing 1976 Royals squad, as he went 3-for-4 in the game. Mayberry, who only had one hit in the game for the 1976 team, also came up big, with a two-run home run in the ninth that nearly clinched the game for the 1976 away Royals. However, while Leonard went into the ninth, it seemed to be a questionable decision for the Royals, as he gave up 15 hits and 6 runs while throwing 136 pitches.

Otis is definitely the hero for the 1975 Royals, as he not only went 2-for-5 in the game, but also hit the game-winning double which drove in the games winning runs in the bottom of the ninth. Busby was a little more efficient than Leonard, only giving up eight hits in 119 pitches, but his bad first inning, and two-run home run in the ninth prevented him from getting the win. Stinson also stood out in the game, as he had three hits, and six players had two hits for the 197 Royals as well (Otis, Mayberry, Solaita, Brett, Cowens, and Rojas).

Yes, the 1976 Royals made the playoffs and the 1975 ones didn’t. But in this Wild Card game, the 1975 Royals proved that they were a better team in this walkoff contest. The 1975 will play the 1977 Royals in the “George Brett” League divisional series in the next round of the “Royals World Series.”

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