For the second time in as many years, the Kansas City Royals are going to the Major League Baseball playoffs, this time as winner of the American League Central. They’d never won the Central previously, and hadn’t won their division since 1985, the very year they won their only World Series title.
These are all things you probably already know.
You’re probably also aware that they haven’t been having the best September and that a lot of people are anticipating some sort of postseason crash-and-burn. (Hopefully you’ve listened to enough people to realize that they didn’t have the best September last year, either, and neither did the eventual world champion San Francisco Giants, may they forever burn in all of Hell’s eternity. But I digress.)
I think a big part of this trepidation stems from the fact that, last year, there was very little in the way of expectation. Hardly anyone figured the Royals would surge into the postseason, and fewer still thought they’d steamroll through the first three rounds in the way that they did. (I’m counting the Wild Card because that’s technically considered “the playoffs,” whether or not I agree.)
It all—and excuse me for this in advance—seemed to come out of left field.
This year has been different in a multitude of ways. First, nobody expected the Royals to compete at all. (Go back and look at the playoff predictions from your website of choice. I’ll wait… Okay, did they have the Washington Nationals beating the Detroit Tigers in the World Series? The Royals finishing behind Detroit, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox? Of course they did.)
So anyway, once it was clear that the Royals had somehow retained their status as Unbeatable Juggernaut, and this legitimacy was confirmed by way of dominance, it seemed impossible that they’d have so many question marks working through the final month of the season.
But really, why are we so surprised?
The superstar left fielder injured his leg and missed over a month.
The right fielder (Alex Rios) brought in to replace the not-that-great right fielder (Nori Aoki) turned out to be worse than his predecessor.
The second baseman (Omar Infante), prior to his season-ending injury, was one of the worst everyday hitters in baseball.
The lights-out closer (Greg Holland) was pitching with selective efficiency and a torn UCL that eventually caught up with him.
The “ace” from 2014 (James Shields) signed somewhere else in the offseason, and was replaced on opening day by a head case (Yordano Ventura) who was an injury away from a trip to the minors.
The number three starter (Jason Vargas) tore HIS UCL. (Which paved the way for the head case’s return.)
The other young gun starter (Danny Duffy) was (recently) demoted to the bullpen because he couldn’t throw less than 40 pitches in an inning.
The number five starter (Jeremy Guthrie) had two starts where he went less than three innings while giving up nine earned runs each time, becoming only the third pitcher in 3,000 years to accomplish such a feat. (He too was banished to the bullpen.)
The superstar trade deadline acquisition (Wiggles Cueto), brought in as a legitimate ace, with numbers proving him to be one of the five best pitchers in baseball over the past three or four years, looked good for a couple of games, then promptly shit the bed like a potty-training toddler for five solid starts, making everyone ask something along the lines of, “wait—is this real life?”
Chris Young became a key contributor. (!)
Joe Blanton started meaningful games. (!!)
Anyway, nothing in this equation added up to “return to the postseason, target still on backs.”
But yet here they are, on the precipice of greatness. And I, for one, am excited. Perhaps this rough month of baseball has tempered my expectations; it seems clear to me now that the Royals won’t sweep in the ALDS, sweep in the ALCS, and maybe also—what the hell—sweep in the World Series.
This offense is horribly streaky. The rotation has taken a step back, for sure. And the bullpen, once the most infallible in all the land, has regressed, much as I’ve spent the better part of two years predicting. (I’m not kissing my own ass, here—I thought it was going to happen last year, then for sure this year. It seems to be doing so now, but only after another five months of invincibility. [So I was super wrong for like, two years, then finally right for a month, if you’re keeping track at home.])
This postseason, I think they may have to fight and scratch and claw for any success they may find, but in the end, I think it’ll be entertaining as hell.