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A reminder to baseball fans: it’s a marathon, not a sprint

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It’s easy to get too into it

Right fielder Jorge Soler #12 of the Kansas City Royals catches a fly ball hit by Amed Rosario #1 of the Cleveland Indians during the seventh inning of the home opener at Progressive Field on April 05, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Right fielder Jorge Soler #12 of the Kansas City Royals catches a fly ball hit by Amed Rosario #1 of the Cleveland Indians during the seventh inning of the home opener at Progressive Field on April 05, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Last year’s season had all the fire and fury of an extended postseason, in addition to its extended postseason. To only play 60 games is to make every game important, with very little delineation between teams. Consider: 15 of the 30 MLB teams—half!—won between 25 and 32 games in 2020. One poor week was literally the difference between a top ten draft pick and making the playoffs. On August 17, the Colorado Rockies lost their ninth game on the year. They lost every game they played until the following Monday. Eventually, they missed out of a playoff spot by three games, and will pick eighth in the 2021 MLB Draft.

However, it’s important to note that the margins for error are significantly larger in a 162-game season. Kansas City Royals fans looking for an example don’t have to look very far. In 2015, the Royals went 4-11 in a crucial 15-game stretch in September. In 2014, the Royals went from one game above .500 to four games below .500 in a 13-game stretch in May. Either series of games would have probably doomed Kansas City in a 60-game season. But as you’ll recall, the Royals made the playoffs—and the World Series—both years.

As baseball ramps up to something approaching normalcy thanks to the brilliant and dedicated scientists that have brought COVID-19 vaccines to the world, we’re getting used to a lot of things that were previously commonplace. Fans in the stands are one. The marathon of baseball is another.

Royals fans are also getting used to one more fact of baseball life: sometimes your teams aren’t actually awful. Since 2018, Royals teams have been truly, truly awful. And when your team is out of it a month after the season starts, well, it simply doesn’t matter if the baseball season is a marathon or a sprint; your team sucks either way.

This year is going to be different. How different they’ll be is a matter of opinion, but it’s within the realm of possibility that the Royals will win somewhere between 15 and 25 more games than they did in 2018. That’s a lot of wins! And that excitement, combined with the general excitement that happens every time a new baseball season starts, encourages overreaction.

But don’t get pulled in.

Does this seem like a silly thing to address? Absolutely. Baseball fans know that the regular season is 162 games long. Is it important to address? Again, absolutely. We can know something is true but not feel that it’s true. As the phrase goes: it’s hard not to be romantic about baseball. It’s equally hard not to get drawn in by a combination of narrative and newness.

Baseball is unique because it is both long enough for a season to entirely turn on its head and because the length of time to pull that 180 can and does take weeks. During the All-Star break in 2013, the Royals stood at 43-49, probably their lowest point in recent memory. Craig Brown, Royals Review’s Managing Editor at the time, openly advocated for the firing of general manager Dayton Moore. Moore still believed, though.

There’s no reason this team can’t go on a run where you win 15 of 20. So I’m not going (to put myself in a position) to look back and say, `I wish we hadn’t done that.’

“We’ve won 18 games before in September with lesser talent. So I’m going to stick with the plan.”

The Royals responded by going 17-4 in their next 21 games—15 and 20 and then some. Even so, it took them until nearly mid-August for it to happen, a span of almost a month, and even so a seven-game losing streak functionally tanked their chance at a postseason.

Maybe I’m spending too much digital ink here preaching to the choir. Most of you already know not to take a hot start or a cold start too seriously. But for every ten dutiful singers, there’s always one who’s off key. And besides, it’s always worth a reminder. We won’t know if the Royals are a playoff team or on their way to another single-digit draft position this week. We won’t know it this month. And we won’t know it next month, either. That’s ok. Step back, take a deep breath in, and enjoy the baseball.