Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
In the movie version of the 2014 Royals’ season, which I picture as something like Major League, this is the part of the movie when the slow, sad music starts to play. This is the part of the movie when everything that had been going well for the scrappy underdog starts unravelling: the veterans start looking old, tired and the young phenoms start looking too young, too green. This is the part of the movie when you are not sure the team is going to pull off the underdog thing at all. Unfortunately, this isn’t really a movie, and the Royals’ offense is placing them on the verge of being the feel-good story of the 2014 season that almost was.
The thing about almost is that nobody seems to remember it all that much. People tend to remember the epic failures, the devastating fall-aparts, and the amazing underdogs, but the almost-weres are seldom much more than a fleeting memory, a hazy recollection at best. The 2014 Kansas City Royals are on the verge of becoming just that: a fleeting memory on the radar of baseball history. The reason for the sad music intro and the darker, closer camera angles now is that the Royals offense has gone cold.
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The Royals offense was on a hot streak from about July 22nd to August 20th. In that stretch, the Boys in Blue were demonstrably, indisputably the best team in baseball, streaking away with the AL Central and on their way to the first playoff berth for the franchise since 1985. With a 22-6 record during the streak, no one could really argue that the Royals were not on fire. They were burning bright and hot, and everything looked to be coming up Royals. They had feel-good story of the year written all over them, but then the bats when cold, very cold. During the streak, the Royals managed a team line of .272/.317/.411, which helped propel them into first. Things started to cool, however, in the Rocky Mountain air when the Royals split the series with the Rockies.
Since that time, the Royals have gone a paltry 9-8 and have a team line of .231/.285/.339, which is not what you want to see from a team trying to win the division. During the hot streak, every player got into the action a little, performing as follows:
By comparison, the Royals have been falling flat over the last 20 days or so. The Royals offense since August 20th has produced the following:
The drop off has been dramatic to say the least. The sample size is smaller, yes, but anyone who has been watching the Royals for a while certainly notices the difference. Salvador Perez is looking particularly lost over the last four games, going on an 0-17 streak with 5 K’s as well as no walks since August 10th. Alex Gordon has also been struggling in September so far, going 3-24 with 10 K’s. There may be some bad luck contributing to the recent slump, but the numbers don’t lie. The Royals offense has been royally bad as of late.
If you measure the team batting line in percentage change between the streak and the slump, it comes out something like this: -15%/-10%/-17.5%. This is not even close to the same team offensively as it was over the hot streak. The Royals have been struggling in every way imaginable offensively since August 20th to the tune of approximately 14% less offense. If offense were trans fat or sodium, this would be a good thing. Unfortunately, offense is more like life, and the Royals have 14% less life than they did over the streak.
Now, the Royals offense is a shell of what is was (or perhaps has just regressed back to what it was all along) and is putting undue pressure on the defense to win games. The defense has, of course, been outstanding enough to manage to hold the division lead for the team during this slump, and it is possible that the Royals’ defense can win a championship. The fact remains, however, that scoring runs wins games, and the Royals are have not been getting the job done lately with RISP. The level of production from the offense must improve if the Royals are to maintain the narrative they have been on since the end of July: the narrative of the underdog champs, the feel-good story.
Gordon has been having an MVP-calibre year, and three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland -Cerberus you might say- is mowing batters down with reckless abandon. The starting rotation has been solid all year, and all the Royals need to pull off this great story is a little spark of offense. The Hunt for Blue October depends on the how the Royals’ bats, not their defense and pitching, can perform down the final stretch. This is not to say all is lost. It’s not, and the Royals still have a chance to make something magical happen. Time, however, is starting to run out.
Only the Royals know how this movie will end. Whether it ends with the explosive thump of upbeat music, fireworks, and a party on the field or it ends with a sad, slow pan out over Kauffman Stadium, it is entirely up to the Royals’ offense. The difference is simply if this team can hit, get on base, and score runs. If they cannot do that, this ends as something that almost felt good, and the 2014 Royals’ will fade from baseball memory. If they can do that, though, this season ends with us all feeling good and remembering the 2014 Royals and the Hunt for Blue October for years to come as the reemergence of Kansas City baseball.