Alex Gordon

Alex Gordon plays Gold Glove defense in left and also improved his offense last season, hitting 19 homers with 74 RBI. [The Associated Press]

Just about the only way the Royals can build on last season is by winning it all.

The long-downtrodden franchise ended a 29-year playoff drought in a big way, winning a wild wild-card game and then streaking all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, where it finally fell to the Giants.

Kansas City lost one of the faces of the franchise in Billy Butler and a fiery, dependable ace in James Shields to free agency.

But the notoriously frugal organization paid out for Edinson Volquez, Alex Rios and Kendry Morales as replacements, and took a flyer on Kris Medlen, who is big on talent but coming off Tommy John surgery.

But for all the changes, the real key to this season may be the returnees.

Right-hander Yordano Ventura and left-hander Danny Duffy need to take the next step toward being front-line starters, making the loss of Shields a little easier to handle.

And position players such as first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas need to provide more consistent run production for an offense that is short on power.

The defense should remain strong with Gold Glove winners Hosmer, catcher Sal Perez and left fielder Alex Gordon, along with slick shortstop Alcides Escobar.

But can Kansas City’s historically dominant bullpen deliver again?

It returns intact with setup men Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis laying the groundwork ahead of All-Star closer Greg Holland.

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