In sports there’s a popular phrase regarding a young team. Analysts and announcers alike love to talk about how young teams need to “learn how to win games.” Even more popular is the discussion of how young teams need to “learn how to win CLOSE games.” It’s taken some time for me to really understand what that phrase means. If it’s possible for a team to learn how to win games, why can’t any team do it? Why haven’t the Royals been able to learn how to win? I used to scoff when I heard it.
Hosmer’s walk-off hit got me to thinking about those words again.
As I’ve watched the Royals this year and compared them to the Royals of the last decade, I’ve finally realized that it makes sense. It’s a statement about young players and the evolution of their ability to win close games.
In 2009, the Royals were 28-32 in games decided by 2 runs or less. In 2010: 41-47. 2011: 34-46 (through Saturday)
Naturally, the Royals have experienced some growing pains this year and I think that this stat is where a difference can define success. Let’s say the Royals could flip their record in these games around. They’d be 46-34 in these important games and 79-74 overall. That’s a huge turnaround.
Granted, it could be difficult to make such a complete turnaround possible, but with the offense we have I’d take a .500 record in those close games and see what we could do with the rest of the season.
The ability to win a tight game is what separates the good teams from the bad ones. Will the massive amount of experience that all of our rookies have gained this year translate to a quick turnaround next year? That’s going to depend on whether we get some surprises from our pitching staff next year. But maybe a few of those guys like Teaford and Crow who have gained some experience and success in the bullpen can make the transition from bullpen to starter. Maybe Montgomery can have a solid spring and claim a starting spot for himself.
I agree with the common consensus that our pitching staff is the key to a better season in 2012. However, I think a big effect on how the Royals do next year will be based on the experience that they’ve gained playing together and the realization that they can keep themselves in games with their bats. We’ve got a potent offense that should be back in full force next year and that’s cause for excitement.
Our team is learning how to win. Learning requires growing pains. The fun part lies in seeing how quickly they can learn from tough games and find ways to win.
The Royals always play well in September, but this September feels different.
Looking to good things on the horizon.