The Royals can clinch postseason play today, Friday September 26, 2014. The last time the Royals ventured into the land of baseball that exists past 162 games was Sunday October 27, 1985. The Royals have since played over 4,500 games and there has been 10,561 days since then.
That's a long time. I won't go over how different the world is since then, as others have covered the topic already. I won't go over Royals history since then, as it has been a brutal trio of decades. It's been pretty awful by any and all accounts. Not even the Pittsburgh Pirates went 29 years between playoff appearances.
But what I will go over here a bit is the Royals' 2014 season. It was a crazy, insane run. It was also filled with a huge amount of disappointment and frustration, at least for me, and probably for many of you as well. While I'm sure we'll have a more complete look back at this season, it seems lots of us have (understandably) been lost in the recent playoff race, and it's good to look back at what was and what could have been over the year. So, I'll do a quick month-by-month organization, touch on some key games, and then continue to freak out over the possibility of allowing Ned Yost to manage a one-game playoff.
The season began on March 31. James Shields vs. Justin Verlander. The Tigers triumphed, as they did throughout the year, getting to Wade Davis in the ninth inning. Yost did put Greg Holland in but, alas, he had zero wiggle room with the bases loaded and yielded a walkoff single. The next game, in the 10th inning, the Royals again lost to Detroit in a one-run walkoff loss, this time given up by Tim Collins at the beginning of his implosion. Thankfully, the final game of the series was rained out, and the Royals went back to Kansas City to regroup.
In front of 40,103 fans, the Royals beat the White Sox 7-5 and proceeded to win that series and the following one against Tampa Bay. The Royals would set their season-long standard of wild win/loss swings based on their sketchy offense on the next road trip. Get this: on April 11, they began a stretch where they lost 3 straight to the Minnesota Twins, won 5 in a row against the Houston Astros and Twins, lost 4 of 5 against the Twins and Cleveland Indians, won 4 of 5 against the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays, and then lost 5 straight to the Blue Jays, Tigers, and San Diego Padres.
Concerns about the offense arose. Mike Moustakas began with 7 consecutive games without a hit totaling over 20 plate appearances. The Royals did not hit a home run for 8 consecutive games until Alex Gordon's bomb against Tampa Bay on April 9. But everyone was supposed to improve, right?
May was the Royals' worst month and, surprisingly, it was not the offense's fault. Royals' pitching/defense gave up 136 runs that month, 26 more than the next-closest month. The dismal performance included series loses to Detroit, the Seattle Mariners, the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Angels, and Houston. Indeed, Detroit and Houston even swept the Royals, both at Kauffman Stadium; the first lowering the Royals' record against Detroit to 0-5 and the second lowering the Royals record to 3 games under .500. It was an unfortunate month.
Trends that month were a continuing dread in the terrible offense, Jason Vargas' surprising and excellent performance, and Mike Moustakas' demotion to Omaha.
Kansas City stumbled into June 26-29 and left 43-39, even grabbing first place for a few days. It happened mostly due to an offensive surge that did not happen before and hasn't happened since. The Royals averaged a stunning 4.74 runs/game over that period and, when combined with their excellent pitching, lent itself very well to ticks in the W column.
At the tail end of May, a few key wins against the then-surging Toronto lended the Royals a little swagger. The Royals took 3 of 4 against cross-state rivals the St. Louis Cardinals and then...magic happened. On June 6, Kansas City lost to the New York
Yankees Derek Jeters. They did not lose again until June 19, winning 10 straight games in the meantime. After going 0-5 against the Tigers, Kansas City almost swept them, winning 3 of 4 games and capping off a 13 of 15 stretch. They stayed in first place...
...but only for 3 days. A poorly timed slump disappointed tens of thousands of excited Royals fans, and they fumbled away 6 of their next 7 games. This extended tumbling continued for the rest of the month and into July; after winning their 10th straight game, they did not put together 3 straight wins again until after the All-Star break.
July was a dark time. KC won only 5 of 12 games before the All-Star break. The bottom absolutely dropped out of the offense, and the Royals only scored 85 runs, a tiny number even for July. Three Royals were selected to the All-Star game: Alex Gordon, Greg Holland, and first Royals player to start since Jermaine Dye almost 15 years ago, Salvador Perez. The AL won, securing home-field advantage for all of the upcoming World Series games at the K.
Dayton Moore and Ned Yost stressed that this was a 'second-half team', and the Royals rewarded that notion by yielding an ugly sweep to the Boston Red Sox. This put them 8 games back of Detroit, and it looked like there was no way the Royals could compete with Detroit and the excellent Oakland A's. Kansas City then won 5 in a row because this season is bonkers.
At the trade deadline, Moore did...nothing. Absolutely nothing. That was far more infuriating as the Royals' ballclub, which had swerved around, clawing and tripping its way to a 55-52 record at the end of the month. Unfortunately, Hosmer hurt his hand, and would not return until September.
The month began with an improbable win against Oakland at their house. The final score was 1-0, not terribly crazy considering how the two teams are built, but the journey to that win was bizarre. Jeremy Guthrie outdueled Sonny Gray for 6 innings; meanwhile, ancient hitter Raul Ibanez hit a solo home run, the only score of the game. Herrera/Davis/Holland closed it out. It was indicative of the entire season.
Starting at the end of July, the Royals pulled their move, just like in 2013. From July 22 to August 23, the Royals won 24 out of 30 games, claiming first place on August 11 and holding it for the rest of the month. They soared from 2 games below .500 to 16 games above over that time period.
Integral to this month were three key events: 1) Billy Butler's offensive resurgence, 2) Moore's acquisition of Josh Willingham from the Twins, and 3) Alex Gordon's extraordinary hot streak. These three combined to push the Royals to 129 runs scored, their highest run total for any month (though only second-best in runs/game). These Royals looked unstoppable.
This month has been very Royal, as far as it being very up and down. The Royals began with 4 straight wins and 5 out of their first 6, which was followed by 5 losses in their next 7 games, 2 of which were to Detroit. Now, the Royals have a magic number of 1. One. Uno. There are three more games left to play, and it seems likely there to be champagne in a certain locker room in Chicago.