The Royals are in an unfamiliar situation. While they were somewhat competitive down the stretch last year, they were never in first place in the division. This year, the Royals have spent some time in first place in mid-August. There is a palpable buzz about the Royals-at work, around the city, maybe even inside your own head. With buzz comes expectations.
Naturally, as loyal fans for untold numbers of years, and having lived through the Dayton Moore era, we have high expectations. We're in year 8 of The Process, and we've yet to see a playoff appearance. We expect it. Kansas City expects it. What exactly are we expecting?
With the recent change to the playoff structure, we now have this one game playoff thing that is very reminiscent of the silly play-in game for the NCAA basketball tournament. Now, I arrive at the crux of this article, and something with which I have been struggling for a good part of this season. Is an appearance in that one game cameo enough to call the season a "success"?
Imagine this scenario. Playing decent enough baseball for the rest of the season, but not quite good enough, the Royals lose the division lead and fall back into the second wild card spot. The Royals travel to Los Angeles to fight the Mike Trouts for the right to play a division series. The Royals lose. Technically, yes, the Royals made the playoffs. Is that satisfying? That's not good enough for me. This second wild card bull is no different from a game 163 to facilitate tiebreakers, except the second wild card team is likely inferior to the first wild card team. However, this technically goes into the history books as a playoff appearance. The streak would be over.
However, imagine another pair of scenarios. Playing good enough baseball for the rest of the season, the Royals win the division and play in a division series. They get swept out of the division series. Or, playing decent enough baseball for the rest of the season, the Royals fall back into the second wild card spot, but they win the wild card game. Then they get swept out of the division series. Is there a difference between either one of these scenarios? The Royals technically won a playoff game. Does winning the wild card game make losing the series more palatable? Is winning the wild card game enough?
Given the amount of time it's taken to get to this point, and potentially the decrease in future talent and increase in salaries coming up, it feels like this is the best chance. Maybe not the only chance. But the best. The Royals need to maximize this chance. A one game playoff won't be good enough for me. There will be many people who say, "After such a long drought, any flavor of a playoff is nice. In fact, after such a long stretch of failure, even TALKING about the playoffs is nice." Those people have a case, but that's settling for something less than what can, and should, be achieved. I won't settle for less. After 8 years of Dayton Moore, we should expect better than a wild card playoff appearance.
Any playoff experience won't feel real to me unless there are games at Kauffman. There won't be a game at Kauffman if the Royals get the second wild card and lose. Division series or bust.