Has anyone seen the Royals today? Nope – because they’re hiding again. Oh – wait…there they are! Taking the first two games from the Tigers as they try to fight their way back into first place.
All year long, this team has been playing Peek-a-Boo baseball. Plain & simple – when the stakes are low and all is lost, the Royals play their best. When people start paying attention, they coil up and run for the hills.
You know the trend. The team gets off to a promising start, then craps out quickly, struggles to find an identity, struggles with a youth movement, falls miles out of first place, then rallies in September to give you hope for next year. I know it’s not in the same exact order every season, but in general, this is the fate we are dealt on a yearly basis.
I’m tired of it. And I say that as I watch it all happen again.
This year seems to be even more harsh than usual. I’m sure it has something to do with the way we all bought into the youth movement, thinking that these guys had accumulated enough major league experience over the second half of last year to show up in 2012 and dominate the AL Central. I admit, I was on board. Like everyone else, I want SO BADLY to see a winner in this city.
With the precursor of “Our Time”, I sat in the upper deck during the Home Opener and watched the Cleveland Indians score seven runs in the top of the first inning. My first Opening Day landed with a gigantic thud. That loss helped spiral the team into a 12 game losing streak and an 0-10 start at home. The bullpen struggled, the much hyped offense sputtered, and just like that, Royals fans had to laugh at everything they’d been sold and call the season a loss.
The Royals sat at 6-15 after the first month of the season. After everyone else went searching for another team to root for in 2012, the team came out of hiding and started to figure things out. Alex Gordon started hitting again out of the leadoff spot, the bullpen found its good stuff, and we even got good starts out of the rotation from time to time. While nobody was watching, the Royals put together back to back winning months in May and June.
I wrote an article on June 28th because I had been awoken from my 2012 slumber and noticed that the team was playing good baseball. In this article, I saw a path to where the Royals, just five games under .500 and five games out of first place could be both of those things in time for the All-Star Game. I believe that everyone woke up around this time and the excitement for the All-Star Game and the potential of what the team could accomplish by then had the city buzzing. The team must have sensed this, because they promptly dove underneath the bed.
The team went just 3-8 over their next 11 games and found themselves watching the festivities 9 1/2 games out of first place. The losing continued, and the team finished the month of July with a 7-19 record. The team found themselves with the worst record in the American League. They were 13 1/2 games out of first and sat 18 games under .500. Frustrated fans were joyous for the start of football season, for school to start up, or for anything else that would help them forget about the so-called baseball team that occupied the K.
Once again, sensing that the coast was clear, the Royals showed up again. We’re almost to the end of what has been a fantastic month of August for this team. A couple of personnel changes has rid the roster of most of their black holes. The starting pitching has come around with the help of Dave Eiland. The team has fought hard and pulled out some amazing wins. With two games left, the Royals are 16-11 this month and find themselves in 3rd place in the AL Central. Are they within striking distance of the White Sox & Tigers? No. But they have a chance to finish in a respectable manner.
This will be the team’s first winning August since the year 2000.
So what will happen in September? We all know the trend. Typically, the Royals play well enough during September to raise some eyebrows and generate a lot of buzz heading into next season. There are tons of possibilities as to why – people are watching football, the young guys figure things out, or we’re playing more games against other young guys who are just now making their way to the major leagues.
In the past four seasons, the Royals have put together records over .500 in three of those. They are a combined 58-48 over those four seasons. In 2008, they went 18-8 to close out a season in which they only played .500 baseball in one other month. All four were losing seasons, but three of them ended on a high note. It was enough to keep people hanging on for high hopes when Spring Training rolls around.
Any way you slice it, it is incredibly frustrating. You see glimpses this year of a team that is good enough to compete, but those possibilities are overshadowed by horrendous failures at the times where it matters most. If these guys were able to avoid the gigantic pits that they so predictably fall into each year, they’d be right in the hunt for what all of a sudden is a winnable division.
Was this the year? Was it “Our Time”? It’s possible. If the team had not played .382 baseball for two months of the season, they’d be gunning for 1st place right now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. I was raised on “ifs” when it comes to the Royals. “If…Johnny Damon“. “If…Ewing Kauffman”. “If…National League Central”. It only matters what they DO. If they DO finish strong this year, hopefully it will bring improvement in next year’s team in the same way that we saw over last year’s team and the hiccups and hiding won’t be as prominent in 2013.
Color me hopeful…or just a sucker for hide & seek.