Before the 2014 MLB season began, I predicted the Kansas City Royals would follow their semi-breakthrough 2013 season with a decidedly more broken campaign.
I caught a lot of flak for saying the Royals would be a sub-.500 team (I pegged them at 78-84 after KC won 86 games last year), but as time has worn along, nothing I have seen from the 2014 Royals has me believing they are closer to a playoff berth now than, oh, say, any time over the last decade. Or closer to general relevance, for that matter.
Reason being? These are the Royals. And that is all the explanation you should need.
This is a team 30 years removed from greatness and a squad that has spent the past dozen years or so fleeing from virtually every on-field opportunity to make its fans and the rest of baseball take it seriously. Not just as a contending franchise, but a competent one.
The shortcomings of the current front office and managerial components are well documented. What is disturbing is the 2014 Royals look like virtually every other Kansas City team since 2003 in one phase: when the stage is the biggest, when the moment calls for greatness, the Royals play very, very small.
As if they haven’t learned how to win at this level.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Remember all the accolades poured like syrup on the farm system back four years ago. Everything was supposed to jell for 2012. Then 2013. Then, when a horrific first two months of the season proved too much to overcome even with a potent second half, 2014 was the year it was all supposed to fall into place. They were a year older, wiser. That would translate to a year better.
Except it hasn’t worked like that.
Billy Butler has no power and no bat speed. You could tell Eric Hosmer the first four pitches he would see in an at-bat would be a foot outside the strike zone and he would still swing. Nori Aoki can’t hit and can’t field. Mike Moustakas can hit curveballs, but only if they are mistakes — and good luck seeing him catch up to the hard stuff. James Shields has looked positively below average the past two months, and that’s being kind.
That’s just on the field. Butler has called out Hosmer after Butler was dropped in the batting order with his hitting struggles while Hosmer was pushed up despite his batting woes. Moustakas went passive-aggressive with the media shortly before he got an overdue demotion. Manager Ned Yost has said the team is lacking leadership.
Lacking leadership. These guys have been together at least three years, if not quite a bit longer. What a damning statement about the team and The Process.
Pressing? Perhaps. For years, Kansas City had opportunities to sneak up on the baseball world but never took advantage. It’s the first year in I can’t remember how long that the Royals went into a season with bona fide playoff aspirations — no, expectations.
And the Royals respond like they have for years: poor performances in front of big crowds, being swept by another division’s last-place team, listless offensive performances against middling pitchers, boneheaded strategy, waiting until the moment has passed before both playing as if they are true playoff contenders and dismissing the lack of faith brought on by their failure to perform. Which brings the harsh lights back to KC. Which starts the process all over again.
Let’s face it, Royals fans. Kansas City is one good 3-15 stretch from another lost season and another rebuilding project. And we haven’t had that now obligatory, customary, soul-flattening annual dive into the abyss of fan despair. At least, not yet.
Sam Mellinger, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, hit the nail on the head when he said KC was most comfortable being mediocre. The sad part is the Royals will tell you they aren’t, even when it’s painfully unavoidable they are.
After years of seeing this cycle, it’s time to consider that maybe what we’re seeing out of the 2014 Royals is as good as Kansas City fans can expect. Not saying much, is it?
The Royals haven’t given themselves a lot of legitimate chances to be considered a model franchise ever since the days of Ewing Kauffman. This was easily the best chance in years, but so far, the 2014 season isn’t shaping up to be any improvement.