Lost in the meandering September malaise that surrounds seemingly every Royals season since the Clinton presidency is perhaps the best stretch of baseball they have played all year. "But even this, in itself, is nothing new" you might say, while twirling a clutch of brandy and hoisting a fine cigar to your face. After all, they did go 15-13 in September in 2009 (and 0-3 in October, for a "last month" record of 15-16). And the year before that, they went 18-8 in September (after going 7-20 in August). And you may be right, Baron of the September Swoon. But, consider the following:
- The Royals are 15-8 this September. If they win the last two games, it will be the first time they have won twice as many games in a month since that 18-8 September three years ago. The last time before that? 2003, when they went 16-7 in April.
- The Royals run differential is astounding. In September 2008, they were +37 through 26 games. This season, they are +33 in only 23 games(with two games left).
- In 2008, the Royals scored 7 runs or more seven times in the last month of the season. This year: ten times, including five times of ten or more.
If you are wondering by now why I keep comparing this year's final month to the halcyon days of 2008, there are three main reasons:
1) It was the last time the Royals were productive and winning. Between the end of September '08 and through the end of August 2011, the Royals are 188-273.
2) 2008 is kind of the year that spawned the whole "Royals are good in September" mindset. Going 18-8 in a month will do that. It was also the first time since 2000 when the Royals were playing well at the end of the season (in '00, they went 15-14 in August, 14-14 in September, and 1-0 in October). The argument doesn't hold much water, though. They were 15-16 in their last 31 games in '09 and 11-19 in 2010. So, this will be their second successful last month to a season in the last decade. Progress.
3) Last but definitely not the lesser, nor even the least, is who the Royals have been getting their production from.
This didn't really dawn on me until I woke up and looked at the box score this morning. The difference between the "talent" on the 2008 roster and the talent that exists on this year's roster is staggering. Quick question: Without looking, how many homegrown players appeared in the Royals game last night? To give you some time, take a look at the lineup that was trotted out three years ago, on September 27th, 2008 to face the wily Minnesota Senators:
(Of the 14 players who appeared for the Royals in 2008, only 4 were homegrown (Butler, Gordon, MITCH, and Aviles)
The answer to today's trivia question is: 9. Of the 14 players who appeared in last night's game, 9 of them have been in the Royals system for their entire professional career. Only Paulino, Cabrera, Escobar, Cain, and Collins were not drafted or signed by the Royals and only Paulino, Cabrera, Cain and Escobar have appeared in a game for a team other than the Royals. Missing from the list above is Alex Gordon, who has been a revelation this season, and is another homegrown player.
All this to say that, as much as we moan and groan about "The Process", or Dayton Moore's wherewithal to competently perform the duties of a general manager, the Royals organization as a whole have been moving and building towards something, and the early indicators are that it will be something very special. I don't mean to sound as some sort of GMDM apologist, but a lot of what you are seeing on the field in the last month is a result of what he has put together in the last five years. He has made mistakes. There have been bad trades, poor evaluations, and player signings that confound all five senses. But, he has also put together a roster brimming with organizational talent. The starting pitching remains as an endless array of question marks for next year, but the everyday lineup has come together quite well. Something that you haven't been able to say in over a decade is that for the better part of the last month the Royals have fielded an everyday lineup consisting of good, quality, homegrown players. A lot of conversation is given to the Dye-Beltran-Damon-Sweeney era, but there may be a time ten or twelve years down the road when we reflect on the Gordon-Hosmer-Moustakas-Butler era as perhaps the greatest lineup the Royals have fielded in the last thirty-five years.