I didn’t see the walk-off balk when it happened. It was a holiday and I was with my family. Fireworks trumps Royals baseball these days. Sort of… I was still following the game on my phone.

When I saw what happened – that All-Star Aaron Crow balked in the winning run – I laughed, send off a Tweet about the Buddy Bell Corollary (Help me out people, is this a corollary or an axiom? We need to settle this because it comes up at least once a month.) about never saying you hit rock bottom and then went about my business of drinking beer and shooting bottle rockets at my neighbor who is a Cardinals fan.

I’m numb.

Seriously… I just can’t get worked up about the way this organization loses. Not anymore. Seagulls in the outfield? Check. Letting a catchable flyball drop between a pair of outfielders? Uh-huh. Kyle Davies? Ohhhh, yeah.

At this point, if a T-Rex stomped out of the Royals bullpen in left and smashed Alex Gordon while he was trying to make a catch with two down in the top of the ninth, my reaction would pretty much be to shrug my shoulders and go hunt some nachos.

The Royals are my novocain.

Don’t take that the wrong way… I still love this team. It’s part of my DNA, part of who I am. Nothing will change that. (If 10 years of the dream team of Allard Baird and Dayton Moore can’t kill fandom, it’s damn near rock solid.) I just don’t get surprised at what I see on the field.

Take 2011. I’ve written many times that this season was supposed to be a transitional year. It was the year when we would begin to see the fruits of The Process at the major league level. And we have seen that. Crow, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas… It’s been exciting getting to see the new guys come up and have some success.

Am I supposed to feel better about the balk-off because Aaron Crow was involved and Chip Ambres wasn’t? I don’t know… Seems kind of the same to me. A loss is a loss is a loss. This is a huge issue. Huge. There’s a stench of losing that wafts around this organization and it’s been there for almost 25 years. It’s difficult to clean that off. Dayton Moore has paid a good amount of lip service to reversing the “culture of losing” that has permeated the Royals front office, but all he’s done is ratchet up the paranoia a few clicks past irrational and lost a ton of ballgames while treading water in a sea of substandard baseball.

By building the team through the draft (the correct way, in my opinion) Moore bought himself several years of a teambuilding. You can’t construct a winner with only one draft class. Duh. It takes years of quality drafts. And that’s something the Royals have done. The future! The Process! We’re going to build our team mostly with homegrown talent!

Yet they can’t shake the stink.

That stink masks the fact that there have been improvements. Gordon, Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas are playing everyday and can form a solid middle of the order nucleus for the next couple of seasons. The bullpen rocks (that’s our All-Star!!!). The Shortstop Jesus is waaaaay better than Yuniesky Betancourt.

Sadly, the successes can’t cover for the failures. Once GMDM knew he was trading Zack Greinke, he needed to find cover for the rotation. His gambles haven’t delivered and his trades are even bigger busts. Jerod Dyson is fun to have around as a pinch runner, but really has zero business being on a major league roster – even on a team that’s going to lose 95 games. Chris Getz is now the leadoff hitter. Kyle Davies has no business being on a Triple-A roster. Ned Yost is a unicycle away from descending into Trey Hillman madness.

As frustrating as this season has been, I’m still on board. Christ, I’m as insane as Yost.

If we’ve learned anything from 2011 it’s that pitching really, truly is the currency of the game. Moore was hung with Confederate money when he traded for Davies, O’Sullivan and Mazarro. Yet, the Royals are in ballgames because their offense works. This season, they are scoring 4.4 runs per game, their highest number in the Dayton Moore Era. That’s good. The fact that runs are down across the league as a whole makes it even better. Yes, there’s still a way to go to catch the big boys, but the bottom line is the Royals offense has improved while it’s taken a step back for most of the league. Read this again: Offense is down throughout baseball, but the Royals have taken a step forward with the bats.

It’s a chicken and the egg sort of thing… In order to shake the stench of losing, you have to win. And in order to win you have to have the players. In order to secure the players, you have to be a winner. Vicious cycle.

On Tuesday, Felipe Paulino scattered nine hits, but also chalked up nine strikeouts in six innings. These days, for the starting pitchers, it’s all about keeping the team in the game. And that’s exactly what Paulino did. Turn the game over to the bullpen with a two run lead and shut things down for the final nine outs. It’s a simple formula that would work more often… If we only had starting pitching.

I firmly believe we are on the cusp of leaving the days of walk-off balks and seagulls in the outfield in our rearview mirror. Tuesday was an example of where we can go if the Royals brain trust can simply cobble together a major league rotation. I know… Easier said than done. Especially on a budget. We’ve said before that the Royals can’t afford to make a free agent mistake. Flush $36 million down the toilet after Jose Guillen and that sets the organization back several years. Now that GMDM has learned a harsh lesson and is spending wisely, we need to extend the same school of thought to the trade deadline. If Moore and the Royals are going to be active sellers at the deadline, they absolutely have to find a way to get value in return. No more stiffs like O’Sullivan and Mazarro. The next round of trades has to secure at least one back of the rotation starter, who can be counted on to keep the team in games. We need another Felipe Paulino.

In many ways, the trade deadline at the end of the month is just as important as the draft or the international signing period which opened last weekend. With The Process rolling along, every move the Royals make is critical to the forward progress of this organization. The slightest error in judgement can have some serious repercussions.

Meanwhile, remember The Process and what it means… There’s going to be some good wins, but there will continue to be some really ugly losses. 2011 remains a transitional season. It’s not fair that we have to endure another season of stink, but it is what it is… And given the struggles of the top pitching prospects this year, it’s likely 2012 will bring the same issues. That’s why it’s so important that the Royals strike gold when looking to fill their pitching void… Otherwise, 2012 will be a carbon copy of 2011 and the stench of losing will hang around for yet another season.

Is Dayton Moore the guy to lead this team out of the fog? I have some serious doubts. For all the success in the minors, the Royals have had a helluva time identifying major league talent and assembling a coherent roster. Yes, the offense is better, but the starting pitching… That’s why the next 18 months are crucial times for the Royals and their movement forward. This is an improved organization and GMDM and his people get full credit for that. But if we’re handing out credit, we also have to deduct points for the failings… And there have been many.

It’s cliche, but the future truly does start now… With the prospect pipeline open, the trade deadline and what the Royals do this off season toward building their 2012 roster will give us a good idea if they will ever realize the fruits of The Process. This needs to move forward… Because I’m ready to care about this team. I’m ready to celebrate meaningful wins. I’m ready to be bothered by a meaningful loss. I’m ready to contend.

The novocain needs to wear off and this team needs to refute the culture of losing.

Eyes on the prize, people… Eyes on the prize.