Oh, the curse of expectations.
Last year, the Royals finished 71-91, but it wasn’t a lost year because Eric Hosmer debuted and looked good. Mike Moustakas debuted and tore up August and September pitching. Johnny Giavotella came up, Danny Duffy was pitching late, the bullpen was looking like a major strength. Luke Hochevar finally – FINALLY – seemed to figure it out. There was hope.
The Royals launched the Our Time campaign and make no mistake, this wasn’t just talking about the All-Star Game being in Kansas City. They’ll tell you that now, but comments by Ned Yost suggested that this team intended to win, thought they could win, and were approaching the year as if they would contend. After finishing sixth in the American League, a lot of people believed them. Many felt that 81 wins was possible. Nay, 85 wins! Victor Martinez succumbed to a knee injury. An opening! There was hope.
Everyone looked pretty good in spring training.
But the season started up. The Royals won two of three against the Los Angeles Angels and Hosmer hit two homers in the series. The Royals had the lead in the last game against the Oakland Athletics and could have returned to Kansas City at 4-2. Then the hope died a little.
Jonathan Broxton beaned two batters in a row to bring in the winning run. Hochevar gave up seven runs before many Kauffman Stadium attendees had reached their seats. The Royals lost every game of the ten game opening homestand and lost twelve in a row. That streak haunted the team the rest of the way.
But hey. Danny Duffy was looking good. Felipe Paulino came off the disabled list and looked dominant. Mike Moustakas was hitting well. Alcides Escobar was hitting. Broxton, filling in for Soria, was saving games (albeit on a tightrope). There was (a glimmer) of hope.
Duffy’s elbow gave out. Shortly after, Paulino’s did as well. Jonathan Sanchez got rocked in start after start (when he wasn’t hurt). A troupe of replacement level starters who didn’t fare well. Despite all of that, on June 29, the Royals were 35-39. Fans wondered “what if this happens?” or “what if that happens?” and the hope had returned. Luis Mendoza was on a roll. Hochevar was showing occasional signs of improvement. Bruce Chen had some good starts.
Three weeks later, the Royals were 39-51. The “Our Time” slogan was tweaked to promote the All-Star Game and Kansas City. Hope was dashed. Hosmer’s slump continued. The pitching plateaued. Even with the return of Perez and Lorenzo Cain, the hole was too deep.
So what’s the difference? Last year, the Royals finished one game worse than this year, but there was optimism after. This year, fans expected more and, technically, they got more. But it’s still a 90-loss season in a year when .500 felt like a legitimate goal. It’s akin to turning into a restaurant and ordering something that you know might not be great, but you have to eat. Then the next day, you go back and order a slightly different meal thinking “well that has to be better” and it’s still just another meal. Your hopes are raised and the mediocrity stings a bit more. If you don’t expect things, you can’t be hurt.
But that’s the thing. After two and a half decades of futility, the hope returned. Expectations were increased. And it wasn’t just pie-in-the-sky hoping. There was real reason to believe this time.
The Royals lost 1-0 on Wednesday night, ending a season marred by injuries, slumps and some missed opportunity. But next year. Next year, there’s hope.