The Kansas City Royals and the Playoffs, Esoterically

“There’s no reason this team can’t go on a run where you win 15 of 20.” – Dayton Moore, July 18th, 2013, Royals’ GM Dayton Moore: ‘We’re Going to Keep Pushing’

As Dayton Moore uttered those words the Kansas City Royals had not had a stretch of winning baseball that long and that accomplished in a decade. Not since the oasis of April of 2003 had the Royals won fifteen out of twenty, a damning statistic for a General Manager who had held the reigns to the franchise since June, 2006.

Today, not even thirteen months later, the Royals are smack in the middle of their third such streak, the first of which began mere days following his seemingly inane proclamation. This particular streak, buoyed by a seven-game winning streak coinciding with Sung Woo Lee’s arrival in the world’s finest city, has been the most impressive yet, as the Royals could lose their next two games and still qualify.

On the surface this all feels like vindication for the much-maligned General Manager of the Royals, fulfillment of the brighter future he has been selling locally and nationally going on a half-dozen years now. And yet this team remains as flawed as ever; still overly-dependent on clustering singles together to generate big innings, still waiting for the highly touted minor league proteges of Moore’s Best Farm System of All Time to consistently produce at the major league level, still outperforming their second- and third-order winning percentages.

This team is legitimately better than any team which took the field in the decade prior to Dayton Moore taking over, without question, and he should be appropriately praised. He, accompanied by a rather significant hike in spending by David Glass and Co., has transformed the franchise from absolute doormat to mediocrity, from 100-losses to .500.

And this team, for all of its flaws, both obvious and hidden, is pretty damn good. Their outfield defense is historically good, probably the second-best in the past dozen years of baseball, and the back-end of their bullpen is similarly dominant when compared to recent history. His last start notwithstanding James Shields has fallen short of the ‘Ace’ tag so willingly applied to him following The Trade (which we will not mention again in the interest of maintaining as positive of an attitude as possible) but has continued to take the ball every 5th day, as promised, and become the unquestioned leader, in the clubhouse if not in FIP, of a quality rotation. Salvador Perez, both for his meager signing bonus and, especially, for his contract, which is borderline prosecutable theft, represents Dayton’s finest moment. He has become, legitimately, the best catcher in the American League, which is fun.

During winning streaks, like the two extended runs this club has ripped off this season, all of the pieces seem to fit together and the possibilities seem as far-reaching as Sung Woo’s dedication to the Royals. The lineup has table-setters, Omar Infante’s sub-.300 OBP and Ned Yost’s insistence on hitting him second anyways notwithstanding, the members of the old guard, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, provide enough pop to keep the engine chugging along and the pitching can labor through six innings, aided by the best defense in the American League, before handing the game over to the shutdown trio of Herrera-Davis-Holland. The playoffs seem imminently in grasp, likely even, and the optimism flows.

During losing streaks, however, the team seems nothing more than a facsimile of a playoff team, blustering through three-hit performances and watching balls soar out of Kauffman Stadium by those in away uniforms, those parking lots be damned. The inexplicable decisions made by Ned Yost loom larger and Moore’s faith, seemingly undeserved, in the status quo becomes increasingly more aggravating. The general backwards nature of the organization is highlighted and, despite the undeniable progress made during his tenure, Dayton’s job is justifiably called into question.

***

To be a fan of an up-and-comer is to hope that things go right. To be a fan of a contender is to pray nothing goes wrong. In essence, optimism is more fun than anxiety.  — Seerat Sohi, Andrew Wiggins and the power of potential

There is a comfort in constant, unceasing losing. Wins are desired for a night then forgotten about the next morning as you scan the previous night’s minor league box scores, scoping out a potentially brighter future. A promising young player having a quality month can overshadow an otherwise lackluster 10-17. The results are secondary to the process of building a better team, permitting some buffer zone between the disheartening performance on the field and the general attitude of the fan base.

The second The Trade was constituted (okay, I lied) the flip switched on the Royals from “up-and-comer” to “contender,” at least in roster construction and attitude. Results became expected and wins suddenly seemed necessary, not pleasant surprises. Last year was deemed both a success and a disappointment, depending on who you ask, but in reality it likely, as most things do, lied somewhere in the middle. It was the first pennant race in decades, brought our first winning season in a similar length of time, the fluky oasis of 2003 notwithstanding, and brought meaningful baseball to Kauffman Stadium in September. It also merely served, in cold, tangible terms, to give us a lower selection in the Rule 4 Draft.

This year’s team, believe it or not, is relatively similar to last year’s outfit. The competition is significantly weaker, however, most notably the Detroit Tigers, and thus our playoff odds are way, way higher. There is more reason for optimism, ranging from the Royals’ upcoming schedule to the continued calamities befalling the Tigers, and it is impossible not to get caught up in the fervor of a playoff chase after year after year after year after year of afterthought. This season is undeniably more exhilarating than any other of my life as a Royals fan, with the highs cresting higher and lasting longer. Of course, there is an equal and opposite reaction to any action, and this has made the pratfalls all the more depressing. The four-game losing streak following the All Star break seemed to be a death knell, leading to a steadfast contingent of fans promoting the idea of selling off James Shields, Greg Holland and just about anybody else past three seasons of service time not named Salvador or Alex, loading up and getting ready to fight another day in 2015 or 2016. Granted, Dayton wouldn’t be the one leading the rebuilding charge in a perfect world, but maybe the swing-and-miss The Trade (there it goes again) would have officially, undeniably become at that point would have been enough for Glass to cut the cord.

It was a plan I supported, albeit not full-fledged. In a vacuum it was the right call, and remains the right call today winning streak be damned. But after nearly three decades of losing, would it be the worst thing in the world for the Royals to stand strong behind their imminently flawed team in a dilapidated Wild Card field? I mean, they had a chance at least, which is more than all but two teams (2003 and 2013) had been able to say in the past twenty years.

So Dayton Moore did nothing. He did not sell. He did not buy. The latter is only acceptable, perhaps even preferred, considering the “buying” would have been on players, such as Marlon Byrd or Alexis Rios, who are tangibly worse than the Royals current 4th outfielder Jarrod Dyson, the man they would have been stealing playing time away from. In essence, Dayton made the team better by refusing to “buy” as opposed to renting an overpriced, over-the-hill, mediocre slugger. So, kudos, I guess.

Essentially, Dayton doubled down on his quote sitting at the top of this article. There was no reason to assume the Royals could go on such a stretch, and yet, in this crazy game of baseball, in Dayton’s hopelessly optimistic mind, I suppose there was no reason to assume they couldn’t, either. After all, they had no business doing it last year.

Alas, here we sit. Riding a 15-3 streak in their last 18, winners of seven in a row, a mere half-game behind the Detroit Tigers. A game-and-a-half ahead of all Wild Card challengers. How the Royals got here doesn’t exactly make sense. Dayton Moore still (probably) deserves to be fired. The team remains as flawed and the organization as obtuse as ever.

But that feels almost irrelevant for the next six weeks. All that matters, in this moment, is that the Kansas City Royals actually might make the playoffs. It makes every win sweeter and every loss more painful. It brings a host of new emotions to a generation of fans only accustomed to despair and disappointment from baseball.

You can (correctly) cite second- and third-order winning percentages. The inevitable gravitational pull the other shoe dropping will have on this team’s inexplicable run of recent success. That’s all well and good and statistically sound and, over a large enough sample size, correct. But sometimes, that merely leads to getting lost in the forest staring at trees. Ultimately, the goal is to win a World Series.

And, as this team has proven multiple times in the past thirteen months, make a sample size small enough and some wacky things can happen. So let’s just see where this wild ride takes us, whether it is a cathartic monkey-off-the-back moment for a city starved for postseason success (apologies, Sporting Kansas City) or another heartbreaking finish to a growing list of them in Kansas City sports lore.

It doesn’t make much sense, and falls well short of serving as vindication for a flawed organizational philosophy headed by below average General Manager, but that doesn’t diminish the glee felt with each #HEYHEYHEYHEY, the out-and-out joy of watching the Royals ascend the standings.

Sometimes sports make no sense. That’s what makes them so damn fun.

And, you know, there’s no real reason this team can’t go on a run where it wins the World Series.

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About Cory

I'm just an idea, nothing concrete
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