Last night the Baltimore Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays with two-run home run in the ninth, officially eliminating the Kansas City Royals from post-season contention. Although their t-shirts read “ALWAYS OCTOBER” last year, there will be no October baseball for the Royals in 2016.
It wasn’t that long ago that Royals fans were just happy the team was in contention. In 2013, Justin Maxwell hit a grandslam (off Joakim Soria, believe it or not) to beat the Rangers and keep the Royals in the Wild Card race heading into the last week of the season. They were eliminated just a few days later, but the exhilaration of being relevant, of being a team listed in the Wild Card standings on ESPN, was the high point of a decade of Royals baseball.
Most years, September was a month to check out, or tune in only to see any September callups. Here are the dates the Royals were eliminated from post-season contention in previous seasons.
2006 - August 30 (Game 134)
2007 - September 11 (Game 144)
2008 - September 9 (Game 143)
2009 - September 14 (Game 143)
2010 - September 12 (Game 142)
2011 - September 6 (Game 143)
2012 - September 21 (Game 150)
2013 - September 25 (Game 158)
2016 - September 28 (Game 158)
Times have changed. Expectations are higher. Even had the Royals made the Wild Card and lost immediately, the mood in Kansas City would probably be about the same as it is now. It just isn’t enough anymore. And the players get it too.
“It’s great that we have a .500, winning season,” Gordon said. “But after the last two years, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We have confidence in this room that we can get back to where we were. And that’s our main objective.”
It is really amazing that the Royals made it this far. Most projection systems had them at or below .500. They lost their All-Star third baseman for a great majority of the season. They suffered major injuries to stars like Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis. It is not that they suffered more injuries than any other team, it is that the Royals lack the depth needed to overcome those injuries more than most teams. Losing those players should have been a death knell. But it wasn’t.
It sure seemed like it was in July, when the team went 7-19. Starting pitchers were giving up home runs at record rates, the offense couldn’t buy a hit with a runner at third, and even the once great defense seemed to falter at times. Some fans proclaimed the team had given up, packed it in, exhaustion after two deep post-season runs.
But they came back. The Royals went on a tear in August, climbing right back in the middle of the Wild Card race. Up until mid-September it seemed as though they could reach October baseball again, if they could just get one more hot streak.
They could not.
Had the Royals not won a championship last year, this year would be agonizingly frustrating. For such a flawed team, there are a million things you could point to, that had the Royals done differently, they might have won a handful of more games to make the post-season. Don’t pitch Joakim Soria in the eighth. Bump Alcides Escobar from the leadoff spot. Play Whit Merrifield over Omar Infante and Raul Mondesi. Don’t pitch Chris Young in the rotation. Teach Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon not to collide with one another.
But most Royals fans aren’t irate at the team for falling short of a post-season run. I don’t necessarily subscribe to Bill Simmons’ “five year grace period” after winning a championship about not complaining about your team for five years after a championship (and he violates it all the time), but certainly it is hard to be upset about the franchise the year after they win it all.
On the other hand, we know the window is small. One more year without a championship is another year closer to free agency for Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and Kelvin Herrera. The Royals have to make the most of every opportunity they have, because they don’t have the money or the farm system right now to create another one in the near future.
The Royals have a pretty pivotal off-season to deal with this winter. They have decisions to make on potential free agents Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales. They have an offense that was second-to-last in runs scored in the American League. They have a starting rotation that went through some major struggles through the year. They have a bullpen that no longer delivers with machine-like precision. They have an aging team, with several players on the wrong side of 30.
There will be no post-season in Kansas City this fall, giving a reprieve to my wallet, and opening some free time for all of us. The Royals fought valiantly this season, but when teams become successful, expectations become higher. A taste of success makes one hungry for more. We’ll never forget the 2015 championship, but I’m greedy. I want another. And I’ll be very interested in what the Royals do this winter to put themselves in a position to be right back in the mix next October.