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The 104-loss season of hope

“Wait ‘til next year!”

Kansas City Royals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Royals dropped their 104th game of the year on Sunday, which I’m sure you can tell is a lot of losses. Baseball has been played for well over a century, with a few thousand team seasons having been played, and just 62 teams in the history of baseball have lost more games than the 2018 Royals.

And yet, have you ever seen a fanbase more positive following 104 losses? Typically fans want to get a losing season behind them as quickly as possible. But this year, Royals fans seem to want more.

It is easy to see why. This year’s Royals were a complete Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The first half team was the team of Blaine Boyer, Lucas Duda, Ryan Goins, and Abraham Almonte. The second half team was the team of Adalberto Mondesi, Brad Keller, and Ryan O’Hearn. Tell me that bunch won’t give you more hope.

Infusing that young talent didn’t just translate to moral victories and hope, it led to actual victories, the kind that count in the standings. It is a small sample size sure, but after August 23, the Royals won 20 of 34. Only eight teams in baseball played better down the stretch, and six of those teams are in the playoffs.

That’s not to say this rebuild is complete. Dayton Moore may want to ban the word “rebuild”, but the truth is the team is still building towards a contender, they are not nearly there. They still need more pitching depth. The bullpen is still a mess. There doesn’t seem to be a solution at third base. There is no ball hawk in center. And we don’t know if some of the performances we saw this year were real or fluky.

Some of that help will come from the minors, a system that may be poorly ranked but is still capable of producing decent talent. Consider that just three years ago the Atlanta Braves had the 29th-ranked farm system. Sure, they improved it greatly in a year by trading veterans and hoarding draft picks. But that 29th-ranked farm system already had Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Johan Camargo - three players that would be starters on their team that won a division title this year. Maybe we have an Acuna in our system. Maybe we don’t. But we can hope.

The 2019 Royals aren’t likely to be contenders. But they aren’t likely to be god awful, old, and boring like they were in the first half of this year. We have seen Royals teams that were young, fun, and still lost lots of games before. The 2012 Royals lost 90 games, but they did it with an entire starting lineup under the age of 30. And many of those players - Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez - would be starters on a pennant-winning team just two years later.

The 2018 season is behind us, and when the Royals begin play on March 28, 2019 against the White Sox, they won’t be 40 games under .500. They’ll be 0-0, undefeated, tied for first place. It will be a new slate, a new opportunity, and really, a new team for the Royals. The Royals will transition away from the championship core to an exciting core of new characters that can lead this team back to contention.

At least I hope.