Heading into Tuesday's game against the Miami Marlins, it seemed like the Royals could do no wrong post All-Star break. The team had gone 19-5 since resuming play, a run that placed Kansas City in the thick of the Wild Card race and still alive in the AL Central.
The Royals have since lost three straight, two against a terrible Marlins team, and have four more games this weekend against the division-leading Detroit Tigers. The three-game skid is no reason to panic, but it feels like someone has dumped a cold bucket of water on my face, waking me from a wonderful dream. I desperately enjoyed the Royals winning streak, relishing the chance to be a fan instead of an amateur GM, but l still find it difficult to envision this club actually reaching the post-season.
I had written the 2013 Royals team off during the ASB. The team had lost five in a row, including a three-game sweep to the Cleveland Indians, finishing 43-49 during the first half of the year. A potential trading partner for Ervin Santana was much more pertinent than scoreboard watching, and I fully endorsed Craig's plans to fire Dayton Moore.
Then the team started winning: 2-of-3 from the Tigers, 3-of-4 from the Orioles, two straight sweeps against the White Sox and the Twins, 2-of-3 from the Mets and Twins, 3-of-4 from the Red Sox. The Royals won in close games, and they won in blowouts. The team won with terrific pitching, and they won with an impressive offense.
Not only did the winning seem contagious, but excitement about the team spread like a plague. Ratings soared on FSKC, making the Royals the talk of the town. Even we curmudgeons at Royals Review couldn't help ourselves, collectively beginning to dream about October baseball in Kansas City.
As one of the many young Royals fans whose fondest memories of the team revolve around a club that went 83-79, I couldn't help but be hopelessly drawn back into the season. The Royals I loved had never been capable of a 19-5 winning streak before, and I didn't quite know what to do with my hands after each victory.
Reading other people's reaction on Twitter and RR gave me the impression that I was hardly alone. For so long Royals fans, especially the ones who frequent this website, have resembled baseball analysts and front office personnel more than diehard supporters. The Royals had given us little reason to cheer, so we spent time imagining how we could fix the team and focused less on the day-to-day results.
Most of us quickly returned to fanatics, completely invested in winning here and now instead of focusing on the future. The winning was intoxicating, causing me to overlook the Royals still quite low percentage chance of reaching the post-season and imagining how I was going to afford playoff tickets instead. The club had already pulled off a minor miracle forcing their way back into playoff contention; qualifying for the playoffs was going to be the easy part.
The three-game losing streak has been sobering, a quiet reminder of this team's flaws and how far they still need to go to pull of the miracle. Bruce Chen, Jeremy Guthrie and Wade Davis, no matter how well they have pitched so far in the second half of the season, should not be 3/5 of a playoff team's pitching staff. Recently lineups have had Chris Getz hitting leadoff, and injuries to Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas have revealed a startling lack of depth. The emotionless projection systems predict the Royals will play under .500 baseball over the final 43 games of the season, and the past three days have made those projections easy to understand.
I haven't given up on this team completing a second miracle and sneaking in the playoff, and a doubleheader sweep of the Tigers on Friday would be a great way to start a second winning streak. During the past few weeks, I actually expected the Royals to win, but I have quickly reverted to a guarded optimism, hoping for a victory instead of believing it could actually happen.
I've been given a taste of what my baseball fandom should look like, not what it has resembled during the past decade. The portion may be laughably small to fans of consistently successful teams, but for those of us who have been starved of winning for so long, a 19-5 winning streak this late in the year feels like a feast.
Three straight losses haven't sent me back to the pits of despair, but it's definitely easier to look at this team with more analytic eyes. The fan in me wants nothing more than to watch a contender over the final six weeks of the season, but it's hard to see how the Royals could pull off another run. It's likely that at the end of the season, I'll still be dreaming of October baseball in Kansas City, waiting for that reality.