Later this season division titles will be won, leading inexorably to pennant winners and eventually another champion. Based on twenty to sixty at bats, a new doxology of the "Catechism of Clutch" will be compiled, complete with new saints and sinners. We'll spend half the winter likely thinking, "I still can't believe [Team X] won the World Series", and then, somewhere between the Super Bowl and Spring Training, it'll sink in, and we'll start looking ahead to the 2007 season. Positive history, the stuff that actually happens will be recorded and to the extent possible by our kind, remembered in some sense of the word's potential.
Sometimes history is unmade rather than made, the manifest events that don't end up happening because something mundane took its place. For most of us, slogging away in an anonymity bound only for oblivion, this is our fate. As Larkin said, "nothing, like something, happens anywhere".
Right now, across the dark heartland of the summer night, something terrible is dying, being erased from the history books of the future: The Kansas City Royals, almost inexplicably, are moving towards a merely terrible 2006 season, but they won't be the worst team of all-time.
June 3 Record: 13-40
July 2 Record: 27-52
In their last 26 games, the Royals have gone 14-12, winning more games in that span than they had in their first 53. The Royals have raised their season winning percentage from .245 to .342, which is harder than it sounds. Sure, its also fairly difficult to play that bad for the first two and a half months, but for once, its time to focus on the positives. Especially after a strangely magical 8-7 11 inning win in St. Louis.
We may be bad, but you can start putting the Royals and the Pirates in the same conversation now, and the Cubs aren't far behind.
Offensive Heroes of the Last 30 Days (from MLB.com sortables):
John Buck: .283/.386/.567
David DeJesus: .346/.443/.510
Emil Brown: .329/.385/.506
Matt Stairs: .288/.377/.500
Mark Teahen: .310/.362/.506
Doug Mientkiewicz: .292/.383/.449
Joey Gathright: .292/.414/.375 (in 9 games as a Royal)
Esteban German: .273/.333/.394
Thats almost a functional major league lineup core and two helpful fringe players if you look closely. Teahen's actually had two mini-flaming hot streaks and a terrible two weeks in between, which sorta gets obscured in his channeling of 1999 Joe Randa. Needless to say, its time to revive the TEAHEN FOR ALL-STAR!! campaign.
Together, Minky and Emil Brown are almost making Allard Baird seem wronged, while the emergence of a over .900 OPS John Buck is making the Beltran deal (which also included Teahen) look like a victory. Remember, the Royals didn't trade away 5 seasons of Carlos, they traded away two months...
On the whole, the offense has been surprisingly good, although a bit lucky. In the last 30 days the Royals are 9th in baseball in runs scored, at 144 in 28 games. This despite having a modest team OPS of .746, which ranks 21st. A team line of .267/.341/.405 doesn't exactly belie future success, but the Royals have clustered hits enough to milk out an above-average number of runs.
And sure, Buddy still indulges his Angel-fetish (.216/.255/.237 in his last 26 games) with pathological dedication, but at least we can relish the fact that the Gathright trade doesn't look entirely dullard-tastic yet. Royals Review, if it stands for anything, is about affirmation.
Pitching Heroes of the Last 30 Days:
Mark Redman: 4.42 ERA (38.2 IP)
Mike Wood: 4.56 ERA (25.2 IP)
Brandon Duckworth: 5.57 ERA (21.0 IP)
Elmer Dessens: 3.18 ERA (17.0 IP)
Jeremy Affeldt: 3.31 ERA (16.1 IP)
Jimmy Gobble: 2.25 ERA (16.0 IP)
Todd Wellemeyer: 1.13 ERA (8.0 IP)
Despite struggles from Self-Appointed Team Effort Inspector Scott Elarton (5.60 ERA in his last 27 IP) and the hurtful exposure of the real Bobby Keppel (6.18 ERA), the Royals have amazingly fielded an acceptable American League pitching staff. Sure, Brandon Duckworth's ERA is 5.57, but considering the context of his innings -- "hey, can you pitch for us? OK, cool, umm, here's a uniform" -- its the prettiest mid 5.00 ERA since, I dunno, sometime when some other random came in off the street...
Moreover, in a fascinating development, Buddy Bell continues to get good work out of Jimmy Gobble and Elmer Dessens nearly every night. Sure, the purported "stopper" Burgos has been, umm, "mercurial" during the hot streak (9.26 ERA), but we can't have everything go right. Gobble's even struck out 12 men in his 16 innings of work, which raises the question: why isn't every failed starter converted to reliever for awhile? It may be a reverse Weaverism, but given the current state of how pitchers are handled ("you've failed at this for 4 other teams, lets see what you can do for us") I don't see how it can be any worse.
The team ERA since June 2nd is at 5.09 (25th), essentially the mark of a sketchy staff, but not something that can't be worked around enough for a random run of .500 baseball. Considering the Royals' team ERA in April was 5.95 and an incredible 6.51 in the month of May. Still, we return to a more frightening question: is not a historically bad season a good thing for the franchise. As someone -- was it once Pat Riley? -- said, nothing clarifies like losing. On those grounds, yes, its hard not to imagine a 43 win season having a purgative effect, even in a media market as relatively tame as Kansas City, and even for an ownership as both fossilized and arrogant as la familia Glass.
On the other hand, we've already had the closest approximation of drastic change that I think we can expect with the firing of Allard Baird and the Dayton Moore hire. From here, its a more philosophical question, which depends on how you view a Major League roster. Is there some inherent difference between a 45 win team and a 55 win team, or a 65 win team? Does that difference usually manifest itself as something that can be easily added to, or is the scale different. Last week I lamented that a 120 loss Royal team could improve by 30 games -- itself extremely difficult -- and still be a 5th place team. Others felt, citing the 2003 Tigers, that the easiest portion of the path to respectability is those first 20 wins of improvement. If thats the case, then it may still be a net negative if the Royals don't lose 121 games this season, because the organization may feel more comfortable with what it has.
This is a blank truth thats hard to swallow, yet not hard to believe. But, regardless of what kind of GM Dayton Moore is, you have to believe he wants to do better, he wants to win, he wants to make a name for himself. That motivation should be there, no matter how the team plays. If Dayton's dumb enough to fall in love with Buddy Bell or Angel Berroa or Dougie, then so be it, it was probably going to happen anyway.