A few days ago, I spoke to the class I teach about this very lyric: “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.” I used it as an example of how frequently we take something out of context and make that thing mean what we want it to mean. For those of you who do not watch those VH1 countdown shows about one-hit wonders, this song is often misunderstood as a song of hope for the future. It’s actually a song about nuclear escalation told through the excitement of a young scientist who knows his business will keep booming.
While the deepest parts of my heart want to look at the Royals’ success over the last couple of months and see a bright, bright future, this song and the idea of how people used it force me to rethink.
I don’t mean to be the wet blanket, and I want people to have enthusiasm about the Royals. But we’ve seen this story before. The Royals’ inconsistency digs deep holes they’re never able to get out of, but then, they play well when the games mean absolutely nothing. Last season, the Royals were (15-10) in September, their only winning month since April. Some thought this was a positive sign that after a season of ups and downs, they’d finally found the lineup that would lead them into the future.
This season clearly proved that hope a pipe dream. Why? Because, just like our favorite 1980’s one-hit wonder, people took that time out of context. It was September, a time when if you’re playing for nothing, winning gets a little easier. It’s also a time when teams with comfortable leads start using players who they otherwise wouldn’t to rest players for a playoff push. But to have a winning record in September while out of contention is like dominating in a recreation softball league. It would mean something … if it weren’t a recreation softball league.
It’s easy to see why fans do this. We really want a winner. We want a winner so bad we’re willing to see one in a team not ready to start winning. Coming into this season, fans knew that the starting pitching wasn’t good enough, but we allowed ourselves to believe the lineup would be great. It hasn’t been. It’s been slightly below average (18th in runs scored). We allowed ourselves to believe that a great lineup could give us a .500 season. Sure, injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued the Royals, but that’s the thing about the fantasy scenarios we construct, nothing goes wrong in them. Injuries and ineffectiveness happen to everyone. That’s reality.
Since August 1, the Royals are 24-19. That’s a respectable record, and for the Royals, it’s a very good record. The team is playing well. Jeremy Guthrie has looked like an All-Star. Eric Hosmer is turning things around. Some of the young players, like Tony Abreu and David Lough, are doing well during their opportunity. And what does all of this mean? Not very much actually. In a game built entirely on consistency over the course of an entire season, playing well for two months means virtually nothing.
Does that mean the Royals will be bad again next year? Not necessarily. But we can look at the roster and very safely say that it won’t be that much better than this year’s. Maybe the Royals have the good sense to resign Guthrie. Maybe Jake Odorizzi makes the team out of spring training and is effective immediately (though I’m increasingly thinking this won’t be the case). Maybe, the Royals sign a starter in the offseason (I doubt they sign anyone of significance). But what will be significantly different?
Well, Hosmer might not slump the entire year like he did this year. Perhaps Luke Hochevar will no longer be on the team. Maybe Jeff Francoeur will finally be asked to just stop, and Wil Myers will get his chance.
These are all ‘maybes” and “what ifs.” So, I guess what I’m getting at is that if we are to avoid the let down that this season feels like, we need to see the future through shades that are more tinted with realism. Hope is good. We should feel hope. But let’s not let hope invade the territory of how we see reality. They can be separated, I think, and as someone who hates the let down of a 12-game losing streak and terrible Hochevar performances, I’m going to try to do that. I’ll root very hard that they play well, and I’ll hope. But I won’t see moments of Royals success and assume this means overall success is just around the corner.