Somewhere long before Wednesday’s season finale– before Eric Hosmer’s grand regression, before all of the season-ending ligament surgeries, before Royals’ fans realized with wretched horror that Bruce Chen was the ace of this ball club– before any of this, Sports Illustrated was jinxing the Kansas City Royals, whether they knew it or not.
In their annual season preview, they picked the Royals to go 82-80, good for second place in the division just behind the Detroit Tigers. They spotlighted KC as a team to watch!, poised for a remarkable turnaround. They expected big contributions from Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Danny Duffy. They anticipated a call-up of Wil Myers and that Aaron Crow would be a fantastic addition to the rotation, stating “Hochevar and Paulino are the most likely to yield their spots” because of heavy ties—both financial and developmental– to Jonathan Sanchez, Chen and Duffy.
The biggest question facing this “team on the rise”?
What sort of impact will newly acquired closer Jonathan Broxton make? Will he make a big impact or will he make a little impact? Will he return to All-Star form, or will he drown himself in a vat of smoky pulled pork and blow his elbow-bones into a thousand little pieces while attempting to drill a hole in the catcher’s mitt?
What the writer chose to ignore, however, is that he was writing about the Kansas City Royals.
None of the questions he posed were of any relevance a month into the season, and none of his wild-eyed predictions—undoubtedly fueled by bath-salts and/or a light dusting of mental retardation—came anywhere close to fruition.
After an early April swoon that saw a train-wreck of a 12 game losing streak, the Boys in Blew were searching for Atlantis before the rest of the league had even unmoored their vessels.
Hosmer fell into a disturbing sophomore slump. Surprisingly good scrap-heaper Felipe Paulino ended up catching a Tommy John surgery. So did prospect-on-the-verge Danny Duffy, and old, reliable closer Joakim Soria. Jeff Francoeur proved yet again that he is incapable of quality back-to-back seasons and was unworthy of the contract extension he received in December of 2011. General manager Dayton Moore’s biggest offseason addition—left-handed starter Jonathan Sanchez—was an abject failure on every single level.
By July, when Kansas City was playing host to the All-Star Game, Broxton was on his way out, Sanchez was close and Wil Myers was toiling away in the minors, wondering what else a dude had to do to get a chance.
And though the bright spots were few and far between, they were there, provided you peeled back your cataracts of shame and looked hard enough.
Sanchez was flipped for Colorado Rockies’ butt-mop Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie, the one-time Baltimore Orioles ace, turned into a delightful surprise going 5-4 with a 3.66 ERA post All Star break. Prior to the trade, opponents were hitting .319 against him; after, only .260. If ever a case could be made for Coors Field Follies, Guthrie is the poster boy.
Alex Gordon—coming off of the “breakout year” that saw him win a Gold Glove—started off slow, but began a steady buildup that eventually saw him back to last year’s form. When the dust settled—despite drops in homeruns and RBI—Gordon had more walks and more hits than he did in ’11, and perhaps most impressively, a whopping 51 doubles, more than anyone else in all of baseball. He ended the season with 6.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), so according to Advanced Baseball Math Nerds (ABMN), Alex Gordon was the 5th best everyday player in baseball this year. The 5th best player in all of baseball. Congrats, Alex, and, I’m sorry about the mess.
Salvador Perez, hampered early in the season by a knee injury, came back to prove that he will eventually be the best catcher in the American League, period.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar had a remarkable season, starting pitcher Luis Mendoza was a pleasant surprise and our bullpen was mostly brilliant, too.
And finally, Billy Butler.
Billy had the best offensive season of his career, but if anyone wants unequivocal proof that God hates Kansas City sports, they needn’t look further than Country Breakfast’s 29 home runs.
29 home runs.
Oh sure, it was awesome that he had the best walk/strikeout ratio of any designated hitter, that he had a “runs created” (RC) figure of 109.6—20 runs better than any other DH—and that his batting average was 108 points higher than Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox. In the end, what I’ll remember most about this season is that he just couldn’t get that 30th home run.
To find the last Royals player who hit 30 home runs, you’ve gotta set your time machine all the way back to 2000 and locate Mr. Jermaine Dye.
The last year a Royals’ player hit 30 homeruns, Eric Hosmer was 11 and was probably much less bearded. He likely enjoyed Power Rangers, Fruity Pebbles for dinner and Sonic the Hedgehog marathons on his Sega Genesis.
Ditto, Mike Moustakas.
And I know ABMNs the world over say that homeruns aren’t NEARLY as important as we make them out to be, and quite frankly, they’re not, but there’s something SO annoying about sitting on 29. 30 is a sexy, round number.
Nobody cares about your 29th birthday.
Your 3rd marriage is nothing special.
And in the pantheon of idiosyncratic number fixations, 29 home runs is wildly disappointing.
It is, however, a perfect encapsulation of the Kansas City Royals history over the last 27 years.
You Gotta Believe.
Get in the Game.
This is Our Time.
See you next year, sports fans.