Sure, there are five games left in the 2017 season, but the run for the championship core of the Royals is officially finished.
Although the standings kept showing them just out of the Wild Card spots, they’ve effectively been done for about a month. But it became official Tuesday when Minnesota beat Cleveland leaving the Royals too far behind with too few games remaining.
What a frustrating season. The death of Yordano Ventura in the off-season was by far the worst thing that happened to this organization over the past year. But then came a brutal start to the season that had us worried all the free agents to-be might not make it through June in Kansas City. The team steadied in May and then was blistering hot through June and July. They added instead of subtracted at the trade deadline, and it looked like it was going to be another exciting fall in KC. The team then promptly went to shit again in August. And September has been thoroughly mediocre. There have been injuries all over the roster. Players who put up the worst performances of their careers. Despite that great middle, it’s going to end up being a pretty meh season.
Time and again this team has had chances to get back into the heart of the race with just a solid week of baseball. But every week they muddled around, maybe 4–3, maybe 3–4, but never 6–1 or 7–0. Minnesota wanted someone to catch them, but no one ever did.
Honestly I began checking out about a month ago. I kept waiting for that spark to appear that ignited the team. It never came. Throw in kid sports and a flakey AppleTV and I wasn’t automatically turning the game on each night. Sure, I’d check my phone to see what the score was. Once the kids went to bed I’d turn on the radio broadcast and listen while I did other things. But I was far less invested than I would have been had they kept playing like they did in the heart of the summer.
So it’s been a sad week for a lot of us Royals fans. As the end drew near the blog posts and Twitter threads began popping up reliving the greatest moments of the Octobers of 2014 and 2015. I’ll admit I got a little emotional watching a few of them. We re-ranked our favorites, recalled how those months felt, and shook our heads in disbelief once again at what this team had done. If the end feels a little empty at what was not accomplished the past two seasons, it is with a greater appreciation for what was achieved the previous two years.
And now five games to say goodbye. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Jason Vargas are almost certainly all gone. Alcides Escobar may be back, but only because no one else is interested in paying him. Vargas missed the 2015, but the other four all accounted for some of the greatest moments in franchise history.
Hosmer tripled in the 12th inning in the 2014 Wild Card game then tied the game. He won game one of the 2014 ALDS with an extra-inning home run. He hit a massive home run in legendary game four of the 2015 ALDS. He hit one of the biggest singles in franchise history in game six of the 2016 ALCS. He doubled to bring in Cain in the 9th inning of game five of the ’16 World Series. Moments later he made his mad dash home to tie the game.
Moustakas won game two of the 2014 ALDS with his own extra-innings homer. He made an unbelievable catch of a foul pop-up in game three of the 2014 ALCS. He hoovered up everything hit his way, and was the “5” in the two 5–3 putouts that ended each ALCS. Along the way he reinvented himself, becoming the consistent hitter we had always hoped he would be. This year, became the Royals single-season home run king.
Cain could fill up a highlight reel with his catches alone during the playoff runs. He single-handedly broke Baltimore’s hearts in the 14 ALCS with catch-after-catch while hitting the shit out of the ball. And if he did nothing else, his scamper from first-to-home in the 8th inning of game six of the 2015 ALCS would earn him a spot in the Royals Hall of Fame. He went from a guy with potential to a complete player and became my favorite Royal along the way. Hosmer and Moustakas are going to get paid for sure. I worry Cain’s age is going to prevent him from signing a ridiculously huge contract. I think he deserves every penny, and probably a lot more, that he earns.
And Esky saved his best baseball for October. He was the catalyst for the offense, spraying hits down the lines and taking extra bases. He was the 2016 ALCS MVP for torturing Toronto pitchers with line drive after line drive. And his inside the park home run to open game one of the 2015 World Series was a quick reminder to the Mets that they were powerless against Royals Devil Magic. Oh, and he also played amazing defense throughout the runs.
What was great about all those guys was how we got to see each of them grow up in front of us. Moose and Hosmer were the high draft picks that were supposed to become All-Stars. It took awhile, but it happened for each of them. Cain and Escobar came over in the trade for Zack Greinke, but had yet to establish themselves as everyday MLB players. They fit right in and the fanbase embraced them. They, and the guys around them, had all this potential to change the course of Kansas City Royals history. Holy shit did they deliver.
If you’re a Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals, or (now) Cubs fan, you expect your team to replace your heroes when they depart. They’re going to sign the best free agents, or have a bunch of talent in the minors they can dip into when legends move on. For Royals fans we’re not sure what’s next. The minors aren’t brimming with talent. The payroll will no doubt get slashed as the team begins to rebuild. That, too, makes our relationship with the current guys more powerful. It might be another 5–10 years before we see a group like them again. And even then, there’s no guarantee the next batch of young talent will be able to do what this group did.
This group began hitting KC in 2011. That’s seven seasons which, on balance, had more frustrations and pain than success. But in those early years they were building to something, and even when it was hard for the fans to trust the process, the players did. Out of that came a year when they narrowly missed the playoffs, another where they narrowly made the playoffs – then made it to the last out of the last game, another year where they dominated for five months then won the whole damn thing, and finally two years where they began the season with legitimate playoff hopes only to come up short. Along the way they helped Kansas City fall in love with baseball again.
That’s not a bad run.