Alex Gordon & Billy Butler Finally Have Playoffs Within Their Grasp

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Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Butler joined the Royals organization in 2004, after being drafted in the 1st round, 14th overall. A year later, Alex Gordon was drafted 2nd overall. Both players have spent their entire professional careers with the Royals, playing a combined 2,184 games for the big league club. Since debuting in 2007, they’ve suffered through five 90-loss seasons. They’ve had 3 different managers, and a handful of different hitting coaches. They haven’t finished higher than 3rd place in the division in any of their major league seasons.

And they now find themselves one week away from the first postseason appearance of their careers.

There are only a few Royals on the current roster who have experienced the joy of the MLB playoffs, meaning there are far more who have yet to reach the top of that mountain. There are plenty of guys who have been around the league for a while without a playoff berth, but it’s hard to make an argument that any Royals deserve to taste the postseason more than Butler and Gordon.

Both players have already laid claim to careers that place them among the top hitters in team history, and could find themselves in the Royals Hall of Fame at some point in the future. But neither will likely be satisfied without that ever elusive playoff appearance.

Gordon and Butler both rank in the top 10 of nearly every offensive category, an achievement made possible thanks to contract extensions both players signed while the losses continued to pile up. Had either player declined to sign those extensions, it would be hard to fault them for wanting to pursue a championship elsewhere. Instead of requesting a trade, though, they chose to remain patient until the Royals were ready to compete, and in the meantime, the two continued to excel.

Gordon arrived on Opening Day in 2007 with far more fanfare than Butler, although the latter enjoyed a more successful rookie season. A brief stint in the minors in 2008 forced Butler to refocus, and after returning to the big leagues, all Butler did was hit, with a .302/.372/.469 line from 2009-2013.

Injuries derailed parts of three seasons for Gordon, and a demotion in 2010 led to the Royals pushing the former third baseman to left field. Following that year, Gordon told the baseball world he was going to dominate, and he lived up to that promise, posting a career season in 2011. Despite some natural regression, he’s still been a great hitter, with a .287/.357/.459 line between 2011 and 2013.

Two players with track records of individual success, but due to a poor supporting cast, those years of production were all for naught.

Enter the 2014 season.

The Royals had their best team in decades, and the two stars of the last 7 seasons finally had enough talent around them to expect something more than disappointment. Dayton Moore took a long time in building a winning roster, but this year had finally arrived. Preseason predictions placed the Royals on the fringe of playoff contention, if not actually breaking their 29-year drought. Butler and Gordon could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This season hasn’t gone exactly as either player planned, of course. Butler got off to a horrendous start, and still has just a 93 wRC+, the lowest since his 2008 season. He’s hit 9 home runs, his lowest total since 2007, when he played in only 92 games. He had a terrific August while playing at first base, but began to fade toward the end of the month, and September hasn’t gone well either. Butler hit .138/.222/.262 in 72 plate appearances between August 20 and September 19.

Gordon’s season was going much better, garnering a bit of MVP buzz toward the end of August, as the Royals were in first place thanks to their superstar putting up a 164 wRC+ last month. But even Gordon fell into a nasty funk, hitting .157/.302/.271 in 86 plate appearances between August 29 and September 20. His normally flawless defense wasn’t present either; the most recent gaffe coming on a misplay Friday night that led to 3 first inning runs for the Tigers.

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The Royals were slowly falling out of the playoffs, and the two players who had waited so long with this long-suffering franchise – the two players who deserve success as much as any of their teammates – were both in a terrible tailspin, unable to help a struggling offense steady itself. Detroit recaptured the division lead, and the other Wild Card contenders made the Royals’ postseason future much more clouded.

Gordon and Butler had waited so long for this opportunity, and they found themselves powerless to contribute to their cause. Following Saturday’s heartbreaking 3-2 loss, they were 2.5 games behind the Tigers, and only maintained a half game lead over Seattle for the 2nd Wild Card. The Royals looked lifeless, and this moment both players dreamed about for most of the last decade was slipping through their hands.

Until yesterday, when Butler strolled to the plate in the first inning and drove in Lorenzo Cain on a line drive single, giving the Royals an early lead they sorely needed. A few innings later, Gordon made a spectacular diving catch near the foul line. Later in the game, Butler blooped a single to right, and Gordon followed that up with a double to the wall in left field. Gordon’s RBI was only an insurance run in what was a 5-2 win, but one has to wonder if yesterday’s game could be the launching point the Royals’ duo needed to get back on track for this final week.

In the span of a few innings, the Royals had clawed back to within 1.5 games of the AL Central, built a 1.5 game lead over the Mariners, and their longtime cornerstones showed glimpses of bouncing back from their forgettable past few weeks.

A single day of success doesn’t guarantee future production, of course, but both players have proven throughout their careers that they are capable of catching fire at any moment, and both have the ability to drive an offense for long stretches of time. The Royals hope yesterday was the beginning of yet another one of those stretches.

For most of the previous seven seasons, the Royals have relied upon Gordon and Butler to carry the load in order to achieve any kind of success. In the next seven days, the two have an opportunity to do that once again. Perfection isn’t required, but both players surely want to do everything in their power to propel this team to the postseason for the first time in their careers.

After the season, Butler will likely become a free agent. Gordon has indicated he’ll be sticking around for at least the next two seasons, but this could be the last week for the two longest-tenured Royals to share a clubhouse. They’ve been through nearly every situation one can imagine, enduring countless months of frustration and seven years without October baseball.

With just over 7 games to play, Butler and Gordon have one more chance to produce as they have done so many times before. In the process, they can end their career-long run of disappointment – for themselves and for the Kansas City fanbase – and finally get a taste of the postseason.

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