Royals Playoff Preview:
First Edition—Since 1985
Tonight, my beloved KC Royals will play their first post-season game since winning Game Seven of the I-70 Series in the autumn of 1985.
28 years, 11 months, and some spare change. Almost three decades. For those of us born in Kansas City in the Eighties—I was born in ’84 on the South side, just off Holmes Road—the mere mention of “1985” conjures up a cocktail of pride and fierce disappointment. For an entire generation, losing is all we know.
Sure, we had a few more years with George Brett, Frank White, and Company. Yes, we had Bo Jackson, the Greatest Athlete of All Time, sporting baby blue and breaking bats over his knee/head in his prime. OK, we had one winning season in 2003—but we were up seven games at the All-Star Break before an epic meltdown.
28+ years. Three decades. For many of us, a lifetime of failure and angst.
A life of losing should crush a man’s soul, but there in the dark places, where the wild things are, a deep and abiding commitment to team is instead cultivated. That is what sports is all about. The team comes first. Identity. Community. Fidelity.
I loved ESPN blogger David Schoenfield’s late-night article after our Monday win over Cleveland:
In the bottom of the first inning, leading 1-0 after the Indians gifted the Royals a run with some shoddy defense, Danny Duffy was suddenly staring at the bases loaded, no outs, and Royals fans watching with their guts in their throats. When you’ve lost for 30 years, a moment like this feels like the moment of the season, at least until the next one tomorrow or the day after that….
Yes, when you’ve lost a lot your brain goes to dark areas with bad thoughts. With the bases loaded, it seemed like everything in 2014 was on the line. Nobody knew that the Mariners were on their way to a 14-4 blowout loss in Toronto, or that Detroit would lose 2-0 to the White Sox.
And then Danny Duffy pitched out of it, and saved the Royals’ season.
Only a Royals blogger would need a sentence like “When you’ve lost a lot, your brain goes to dark areas with bad thoughts.” Yep, that about sums up the past three decades.
So tonight, in the waning hours before our first playoff game since 1985, underneath the weight of history, I can’t possibly recap 28 years of history.
First, let’s take a quick look at the 2014 Playoff Royals, and second, let’s take a look at tonight’s Winner Take All Matchup. And of course, a final score prediction from the Fidelity Sports Council of Champions.
The Hope of Decades
Eight years ago, the Royals organization realized that they could never compete perennially against teams with double and triple their payroll. Teams were beginning to see their payrolls clear $100 million, then $150, and even $200+. The Royals were lucky to field a team with a collective payroll of $50M. So how could we ever compete? We had to pick a year.
Many other organizations and franchises have done this, whether in a salary-cap sport like basketball or football or in this free-economy, you’ll-always-have-the-poor-among-you sport of baseball. You can only keep young stars so long, and you have to choose between winning 75-85 games every year, perennially losing the best, or you can bet the farm on one season. I mean go for broke: line up every star’s contract to expire in the same year, stretch your wallets as thin as possible, and hope for the best. Years ago, when the Royals chose the latter, they circled one year on the calendar:
This is it. In today’s baseball, the Royals just can’t compete every single season. Let’s take a quick look at the payrolls of our current playoff teams, by seed. (Remember: the Royals’ number is only this high because of the aforementioned go-for-broke-ing.)
1. Angels ($156M)
2. Orioles ($107M)
3. Tigers ($163M)
T-4. Athletics ($83M)
T-4. Royals ($92M)
Eliminated: Yankees ($204M), Red Sox ($163M), Rangers ($136M), Blue Jays ($133M)
1. Nationals ($135M)
2. Dodgers ($236M)
3. Cardinals ($111M)
T-4. Giants ($154M)
T-4. Pirates ($78M)
Eliminated: Phillies ($180M), Diamondbacks ($113M), Reds ($112M), Braves ($111M)
How flawed is Major League Baseball that the Dodgers can eleven $10M players while the Royals and A’s have two, and the Marlins have exactly Zero? IMHO, the MLB needs to adopt a firm salary cap in the offseason and let the other teams grow up into it over the next decade. In other words, pick a mid-to-high figure like $120M, force the top ten teams to reduce their player spending to that level, and resist increasing the figure until all 30 teams can afford it. Am I suddenly so liberal? You know baseball would become A LOT more interesting overnight. I mean, the Dodgers would half to cut half their entire roster.
Now, enough of the distractions… We know what’s at stake. We can only look forward. How are these 2014 Playoff Royals looking?
The 89-Win Royals
Take a look at this season in the three/four stages.
April—July 21: 48-50
July 22—Aug 27: 26-8
Aug 28—Sep 20: 9-13
Sep 21—28: 6-2
Oy! My stomach’s turning just looking at these numbers. Two-thirds of the way through the season, we were two games under .500, staring another losing season in the eyes with only 64 games to go. Critics were calling for Yost to be fired, for the Dayton Moore Era to be ended, for stars Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and James Shields to be let go in free agency. Essentially, it was the past 28 years for another four months.
There was this post-game interview with Yost, and I don’t remember the exact date, where he said the team was right on the cusp of something great. You could almost hear the reporters chuckling. But he was right.
Over the next month, the Royals would win 26 of 34 games (a .765 winning pct) to take sole possession of first place in the AL Central. Unbelievable. With only 30 games to go, it looked like the Royals were headed to the postseason. Fans were ecstatic. Skeptics and critics returned. Outsiders jumped on the bandwagon. Sports Illustrated put us on the cover.
And it all started to fall apart again. We won just 9 of the next 22 games, and after a second straight home loss to the Tigers just nine days ago (Sept 20), we were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. But we didn’t give up. (See my 22 Sept 2014 Monday Review for my resounding hopefulness.)
Needing to win at least five of the last eight games—seven of which were on the road—to make the playoffs, we won six for good measure, nailing a stake in the ground with a 6-4 season-finale road win in Chicago.
We made it. 28+ years in the making. An entire decade of scheming, dreaming, and money-pinching had paid off. WE MADE THE PLAYOFFS!!!!
So after all this, what’s going to happen tonight? I’m glad you asked.
Take a look at the matchup:
On Base Pct: Royals (.314), A’s (.320)
Runs: Royals (651), A’s (729)
ERA: Royals (3.51), A’s (3.22)
Runs +/-: Royals (+27), A’s (+157)
Based on these basic stats, especially the +/- runs, the A’s are the heavy favorites. That’s why six of six ESPN “experts” are picking the Athletics to win tonight. But they’re wrong, as usual.
(Seriously, after we picked the 3-point underdog Chiefs to beat the Pats by 24 last night and we won by 25, how can you second guess the Council?!?)
The Athletics have one All-Star quality pitcher, Jon Lester, and he is starting tonight. But the Royals will likely put four All-Star pitchers on the mound tonight, with Herrera (7th), Davis (8th) and Holland (9th) coming in for relief. Add the league’s best defense—the Royals may have SIX Gold Glove recipients out of a possible nine this year in Perez, Hosmer, Gordon, Moustakas, Cain, and Dyson—and you’ve got one heckuva game.
It’s Game Seven.
It’s Now or Never.
It’s Win or Go Home.
It’s World Series Or Bust.
It’s Three Decades in the Making.
And we’re going to have to agree with my stuffy, overpaid “experts” working for The Man. The Council is looking for a solid game in all three aspects. It will be close, and it will be low-scoring. This is the way the Royals season was meant to stay alive. Not by much. Not with much fanfare or a lot of homers—we were dead last in home runs and didn’t have a single guy hit 20. Nope, fall baseball isn’t about talent or payroll. It’s about hustle. It’s about heart. It’s about… wait for it… fidelity.