After another loss to the White Sox, the Royals have lost four straight games and seven of their last nine. In a stretch of games that really needed them to step up, the Royals have barely even showed up, at least at the plate.
And while crazy things can and have happened in baseball in the past – the Royals 17 of 20 stretch of wins is but one example – there’s no time to be giving up games to the White Sox. For a second night in a row, the Royals couldn’t do much on offense, and for the second night in a row, they gave up ground in the AL Central and in the wild card race.
To me, it brings up an idea in my head of how much more disappointing those losses feel after a taste of success.
I started blogging on this site in 2010, and at that time, the Royals were a lot of promise and not much else. Veterans were signed and flipped to stock up on younger players and look ahead. And in that first season of writing about the team, this part of the year was the worst. There were no meaningful games and there were no key prospects up yet. Each game was more of a tedious exercise to see if anyone would stand out for next year, but the results didn’t really hurt. The Royals were way out out of it. A win was fun of course. Winning’s always fun to watch. But the losses didn’t sting. At a certain point, I’d accepted that the Royals of that season were going to be losing more than winning.
But if anything, there was hope. This was the summer before the Royals minor leagues were proclaimed the Best Farm System Ever. Eric Hosmer was crushing the Texas League and dominating the playoffs. Mike Moustakas was cruising in Triple A. John Lamb started the year in Low A and ended it in the Double A playoffs. Mike Montgomery was solid, Danny Duffy was back after his hiatus, and a precocious catcher named Wil Myers was looking poised to do good things.
This year, most of those players are here already or are on other teams or have just fallen down the prospect tree. That hope of what Eric Hosmer might be is now clouded by what he is – still good and, in my opinion, still with the potential to be great. John Lamb isn’t the same. Mike Moustakas was days from being demoted back to Triple A – the same level he was destroying three years ago.
One element has changed, though. Wins. The Royals are a better team than they were last year. And a better team than the year before. There are two true frontline starters in the rotation. The bullpen is excellent. If the offense puts things together on a given night, they look nearly unstoppable. But the reality is that they haven’t been able to string things together enough and they lack the home run and extra base hits that convert a potential stranded runner into a run. In many cases, if the defense and pitching are there, the singles parade can be enough to win, but when those hit sequences don’t happen, it gets ugly.
Now, it’s happening at the worst time of the year for it to happen. A strong homestand (and that can still happen if the Royals turn it around quickly) would have kept the Royals in the race, maybe even made up some ground. At some point, though, the calendar becomes an opponent just like the other team on the field.
So the losses hurt more. The swings up or down seem more pronounced. I recall at some point last season talking with Yankees blogger Ricky Keeler on a podcast and I asked him what it’s like to be a fan of a playoff contender. What differences are there between following a perennial loser like Kansas City usually has been and following a team that’s always in it.
He tried to warn me about all of this. The podcast episode is no longer online, but he said something to the effect of “Every single night, you live or die, and if they lose twice in a row, your week is ruined”. That’s what it’s like.
Eventually, the Royals will make the playoffs, and they may even get back to the World Series. It’s not shaping up to look like it this year, but when it happens, I hope the anguish of these kinds of skids makes it worth it. I suspect it will be, but until I’m in that position, that, rather than Hosmer’s potential stardom circa 2010, will be my hope.