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My new year’s wish: for the Royals to avoid big early season losing streaks

Losing early is deflating

Michael Massey #19 of the Kansas City Royals commits a fielding error on a ball hit by Carlos Correa #4 of the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning at Target Field on April 29, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Royals defeated the Twins 3-2.
Michael Massey #19 of the Kansas City Royals commits a fielding error on a ball hit by Carlos Correa #4 of the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning at Target Field on April 29, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Royals defeated the Twins 3-2.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

It is 2024, and I can finally write “this year” to refer to the season following the 2023 season, which essentially ended on April 21 when the Kansas City Royals lost their seventh consecutive game to fall to 4-16—tied for the worst record in MLB at the time.

You see, it may be another handful of months before the Royals play in a regular season game. But I’ve sent in a wish for the New Year, and that wish is for the Royals to avoid getting in such big of a hole so early like it seems they do every year, undergoing the inevitable losing streak and slipping into a crevasse that cannot be escaped.

This is one of those cases where perception is indeed aligned with reality. Since 2017 (not counting 2020 for obvious reasons), the Royals have, in aggregate, underperformed their final record through May, only once playing better than their final winning percentage. I’m using June as a cutoff in part because I have to cut off somewhere, and in part because after 50-60 games or so a team’s record at that point has a high correlation with their final record. Last year saw the Royals win only 17 out of their first 56 games, and it is the tip of the iceberg.

Early season records, 2017-2023

Year Final Record Final Winning % End of May Record Expected End of May Record Actual End of May Winning % Win Diff
Year Final Record Final Winning % End of May Record Expected End of May Record Actual End of May Winning % Win Diff
2023 56-106 0.346 17-39 19-37 0.304 -2
2022 65-97 0.394 16-32 19-29 0.333 -3
2021 74-88 0.457 26-26 24-28 0.500 2
2019 59-103 0.364 19-38 21-36 0.333 -2
2018 58-104 0.358 20-36 20-36 0.357 0
2017 80-82 0.494 22-30 26-26 0.423 -4

Overall, in the four most recent years in which the Royals have underperformed their final record through May, they have done so by between two and four games. That doesn’t sound that much of a big deal, but consider 2021, in which the Royals overperformed their final record pace by two games through May. If they had underperformed their expected record by two games instead, they would have been at 22-30 versus 26-26.

It’s true that most of the crappy April and May performances are due to the fact that the team on the whole was bad, and that the Royals would logically do better in those months if they were better, regardless if they underperformed or not. However, underperformance isn’t really what we’re thinking about in April and May; we’re thinking about how those months feel, and going 26-26 instead of 22-30 is an entirely different vibe.

That’s because there’s one point in the year when bad teams can pretend they won’t be that bad, and when mediocre teams can convince themselves of a playoff push: the first few months of the season. Baseball is a marathon, and the longer a team can stay “in it,” whatever that means for them, the more interest you can drum up in your club. Being bad right off the bat deflates a team’s record and fans’ reasons for showing up.

One thing that makes it feel even worse? A deluge of oppressive losing streaks that feed into an insurmountable hole in the games behind column. It’s one thing to slowly lose ground. It’s another to lose ground all at once, and the Royals have collected early season losing streaks like a kid collecting Pokemon cards in 1999.

Again dating back to 2017, the Royals have embarked on at least one six-game losing streak every year before the calendar rolled over to June. On average, the recent Royals have put together a losing streak at a tick under nine games and have put together losing streaks of three or more games a tick under five times in the first two full months of the season. Additionally, the Royals have averaged more than 11 games behind first place in the division over that same time.

Early season losing streaks, 2017-2023

Year Longest Apr/May Losing Streak Apr/May Losing Streaks of 3+ Games Most Games Behind
Year Longest Apr/May Losing Streak Apr/May Losing Streaks of 3+ Games Most Games Behind
2023 7 games 9 11.5
2022 6 games 6 12.5
2021 11 games 1 6.5
2019 10 games 5 19.5
2018 9 games 5 10
2017 9 games 3 7.5
AVERAGE 8.7 games 4.8 11.3

Worse, the Royals string together big losing streaks even before May is in full swing with frightening regularity. Every single year since Kansas City won the World Series—including 2016, and including 2020—the Royals have lost at least five games in their first 30 contests.

The Royals’ biggest issue is that they keep fielding bad teams, which usually means the first few months of the year are also bad. But even so, I am tired of the Royals looking so feeble and lost and uninterested in putting together competitive baseball right out of the gate. The fanbase is also tired of that.

Therefore, I beg the baseball gods in heaven above or Cooperstown or wherever else to please let the Royals kick off 2024 with a semblance of competency. Kansas City is scheduled to play 59 games before June, and let’s say that two of them get rained out and kicked down further in the year. I’m not asking for a miracle here. I’m asking for, like, a 27-30 start that avoids the giant losing streak that stops us from going “Here it goes again” like it’s 2006 once more.

One of the many, many frustrating thing about the Royals is that they aren’t even good enough for long enough to give fans a whiff of hope. Let’s start somewhere, like hope. Sure, a 27-30 start doesn’t suggest particularly good vibes about the team’s talent. But you can squint your eyes and think, well, maybe the season could turn around, unlike waking up on April 28, 2023 to remember the Royals are 6-21 and facepalming before you even get up. That’s what I want. Please. Good vibes only. For the love of God.