When the Kansas City Royals announced that they were going to play three exhibition playoff games before the truncated 2020 season, my first thought was, “Wow! Games against other teams to be broadcast on television!” My second thought was, “Fantastic; I can finally make use of my overpriced YouTube TV subscription!”
I did not have a third thought, which was my folly, because in hindsight it would have been, “Gee, another three games that the Royals can lose! Yipeee!”
Lo and behold, the Royals did lose the three games, and none were ever particularly close. In two games against the Houston Astros, a very good team despite their penchant for cheating, the Royals never led. Against the St. Louis Cardinals, a good team that constantly competes for postseason berths, the Royals did manage to eke out a lead—for exactly one inning. The Royals lost all three exhibition games by a combined score of 27-12.
Does it matter that the Royals lost all three exhibition games in such a definitive fashion? In a broad sense, no. Millions of years from now, when the husk of the earth is a forgotten and invisible sphere strewn across someone else’s night sky, it will not matter what happened from July 20 through July 22 of the year 2020, nor will anyone remember any of our names or the sport of baseball (eat Arby’s).
But that’s true even if the Royals had won all three games. So, to refocus in a more specific sense: Does it matter that the Royals lost all three exhibition games in such a definitive fashion? Again, no. They’re exhibition games with no impact on players’ salaries or the teams’ records. They’re tune-up games. Heck, in the 15-6 splatfest that was the second game against the Astros, Houston rolled out their standard lineup that included All-Stars such as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. The Royals did...not do that. Not much you can glean from those guys rocking Braden Shipley.
However, as a writer and, ultimately, a storyteller, I think there is some sort of poetic meaning in these three exhibition losses. Namely, that they’re a reminder that the Royals ain’t gonna be any good this year, a reminder that a team fresh off back-to-back 100-loss seasons ain’t gonna compete for much of anything this year other than what might be charitably termed as “moral victories.”
The real question you might ask, though, is does that matter? In the middle of a pandemic that will end up claiming hundreds of thousands of human lives? When the unemployment is higher now than it has been since the great depression? Should we even criticize the Royals if they, like everyone in baseball seems to have predicted, end up an embarrassment this year—again?
More importantly, do we get to criticize the on-field product when we are blessed to be able to have one at all in the midst of everything?
This situation was not in our textbooks. We can’t flip it around to hunt for the answers in the back, under the chapter “2020” and the lesson “Why Is Everything on Fire.” I don’t have an answer either, other than a simple observation that we have been able to avoid the Royals being bad for nearly a year and I at least have forgotten what it’s like to see my favorite team fail to play competent baseball.
Bad baseball is better than no baseball. That’s truer than it has ever been. But, ah, Covid hasn’t changed the talent level of the team. The real question for this year’s Royals is not that they will be bad but how bad they will be.
Thankfully, Royals fans are used to it. Bring on the peanuts and cracker jacks. In our homes, of course.