The 1985 Royals were 12-13 after 25 games.
After Thursday night’s loss against the Indians, I’m happy to say that your 2011 Kansas City Royals were also 12-13.
A lot has happened in the first 25 games of this season, making for a roller-coaster journey to get us to the end of April. The expectations coming into 2011 were so low that all anyone could talk about were a handfull of guys who were cut from the major league camp & sent to Omaha. Then the Royals lost on Opening Day. The “see, I told you so” crowd reared its ugly head, and a number of fans gave up.
A four game winning streak which included walk-offs and extra innings came next, propelling the can-do Royals into first place in the Central. There was a heartbreaking loss in 12 innings to Chicago, which they should have won. (How long has it been since you were disappointed in a loss?) Next came the first road trip of the season, where they won more than they lost in Detroit and Minnesota. After returning to the K, the Royals took three out of four from visiting Seattle and sat tied atop the division again. Fans were climbing back on the bandwagon, pulling their folded up and forgotten about Royals shirts from a box in the garage. They weren’t talking about the Chiefs, they were talking about hitting streaks and playoff chances. Those guys in Omaha were put on ice for the time being.
Then the bottom fell out.
Including Thursday night’s loss, the Royals lost nine of their last 11 games. They managed a split at home with the first place Indians to sit at 12-7 on April 21st. Everyone still felt good about things. Then the team hit the road for the second time this season and came back from Texas and Cleveland battered, bruised, bombed, and swept. This road trip made Royals fans relapse to years past, where the team would seem to duck its head in the sand like an ostrich at the first sign of adversity. (they don’t actually do that)
It made me wonder how this team’s long and winding road to a 12 and 13 record compared to past years and if the first 25 games have any kind of effect on a full season.
Last season, the Royals were 10-15 after the first 25. That’s a win % of .400 and, in fact, is exactly their average over the past five years. Except for a 14-11 start in 2009, this team has had a losing record after 25 games in all of those years. That 2009 team sputtered and finished 65-97. You have to go back to 2003 to find the previous time they were over .500 at this point, and that just happens to be the last time the Royals ended the season with a winning record. The “Nosotros Creemos” Royals went 17-8 and won their first nine games. They managed another five game winning streak, before losing the last four to get to 25. They were winning at a .680 clip, but went 66-71 the rest of the way and missed the post-season.
In 1977, the Royals put together their highest win % for a season – .630. However, after 25 games, they were 14-11 – the same record as the ’09 squad. That team got better as the season went on, and was the second of three straight trips to the ALCS.
So with all of that said, does it matter? After all, 25 games equate to just 15% of the season, so it would be silly to think that this first chapter sealed the fate for the year. Sure, we’ve seen Royals teams of the past all but fold before May, but it isn’t necessarily a death nail. Last season, the San Francisco Giants took home the World Series trophy. They were 15-10, second place in the NL West. A good start, sure, but they dipped below .500 and didn’t see first place until September 10th.
Their World Series opponent, the Rangers were just 13-12 after 25 games. They were in first place, but were just one game over .500. In fact, after 22 games, they were in fourth place in the AL West, but three straight wins pushed them into first. They stayed there for almost the entire remainder of the season.
A recent example of not needing to have a good start to the season was the 2005 Houston Astros. They were garbage at the beginning, going 11-14 through 25 games. After 47 games, they were 15 games under .500. However, they went 73-42 (.635) the rest of the season, finished 16 games OVER .500, won the NL Wild Card and lost to the White Sox in the World Series.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 1906 Chicago Cubs share the record for most wins in a Major Leage season with 116. The Cubs did that in a 154 game season. Despite the win totals, neither team won a championship in those years. The Mariners were outstanding to begin that year, going 20-5 through the first 25. The Cubs were 18-7. Each had winning streaks of at least nine games. Both great starts, both went to the playoffs, but both came home empty-handed.
What about the best start ever? The record for most consecutive wins to start a season belongs to the 1982 Atlanta Braves and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers. They both opened 13-0, and both sat at 18-7 after 25 games. Great starts, but neither were able to sustain that success for a full season.
What fun would it be without mentioning the worst starts? The 1899 Cleveland Spiders were the worst team of all time. They started out 5-20 and ended the season 20-134 (.130) and 84 games out of first place. They didn’t have a team the next year. The 1988 Baltimore Orioles lost their first 21 games that year. They were 2-23 after 25 games and finished the year with 107 losses. Both of those teams were terrible.
So this is all fun and interesting, but what does it mean for the 2011 Royals? It means that all is not lost after 25 games. Being one game under .500 at this point is better than they typically are. It means that they have put themselves in a decent position to have a good season. The key is that they have to get better. Certain players or teams get away with more until opposing teams have a chance to figure out their weaknesses. Good teams are able to adjust, whether that means changing the batting order around, taking extra batting practice, or making necessary roster moves. You have to get better. If you get better, you contend. If you contend, then you become a buyer at the trade deadline rather than a seller.
Remember how low the expectations were at the beginning of the season? Well, after winning game one of the current homestand, the 26th game of 2011, the boys in blue are sitting at 13-13.
That’s one game better than those ’85 Royals.