A relatively quiet September day off for the Royals. Not much in the way of news. Even McCullough’s Friday mailbag turned to music questions early.
That, of course, leaves plenty of room for angst. Hey, it happens when you win just three out of nine on a homestand.
Frankly, it’s difficult to care about these September games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it for another 19 days, the contests this month are all about positioning. It’s about determining who is fit and and who is worthy of being on the postseason roster. It’s about getting to full health. It’s about configuring a pitching rotation that makes sense for a short series. Basically, September is a luxury for the Royals. They have this ability to rest and shuffle parts around that other teams in tight pennant races don’t have. This is a good problem to have.
Let’s look at a couple Septembers past for this franchise:
The 2014 Royals clobbered September. They made it their month. Who could forget some of those wins? (My personal favorite would be Terrence Gore scoring from second on an infield grounder.) The club won 15 out of 26 and made up enough ground in that time that they found themselves hosting the Wild Card game. They won that one and swept through the playoffs and ended up in the World Series.
On the other hand, take a look at the 1980 Royals. When September opened, they were 39 games above .500 and held a whopping 20 game lead in the division. They promptly won only eight games that month. Eight wins out of 26 games. Yet they swept through the playoffs and ended up in the World Series.
The point is, every team takes a different path. What works one season isn’t exactly a repeatable blueprint for success.
I don’t think anyone is panicking about finishing second in the Central, or about missing the playoffs altogether. Which is a good thing. But something I’m hearing is fans are worrying about home field advantage in the playoffs. Sorry, but I just don’t understand this line of thinking. Is it because Kansas City fans have been more invested in the team across the parking lot and are applying football thinking to baseball?
I saw in the comments section at Royals Review that in something like the last 48 playoff series, the team with home field advantage has won 24 times. That means they’ve lost 24 times as well. A .500 record. (My recollection – and raw numbers – may be off by a series or several, but the .500 point stands.)
Home field is nice to have, but last October should remind anyone that it’s not imperative. The Royals, of course, won two series when they didn’t have home field. And don’t forget the Giants. Also a Wild Card team, they won three series where they lacked that alleged advantage of home field.
In my mind, the most important thing for the Royals at this moment in 2015 is to win the AL Central. That gets you a flag on the Hall of Fame in left field, and as everyone should know, flags fly forever. Besides, with all the Royals success the last two-plus seasons (they have won more games than any AL team since 2013 – wrap your head around that one for a moment) they have yet to win a division. It used to be a regular occurrence in Kansas City. I’d like to get back to that.
Sure, it would be ideal for the Royals to have the advantage of playing the most games at The K in a short series. This is a team predicated on pitching and defense and speed, which is one way of saying the Royals were constructed with their stadium in mind. Besides, who wants to go to Toronto and face a must-win game? Here’s a dirty little secret: The way the playoffs are built means the Royals will have to, at some point, win at least one game in Toronto. Home field isn’t some crazy advantage. Is it ultimately an advantage? Of course it is. Most teams play better at home than on the road. Is it necessary for postseason success? Absolutely not.
This isn’t to say this is a team without flaws. Right field is an issue. Alex Rios wasn’t driving the ball before he had chicken pox. The starting rotation runs hot and cold. Greg Holland is raising the worry meter with two consecutive appearances where he struggled to hit 91 mph on the radar gun. (The worry meter ticks up a notch or two when you realize there has chatter that the gun at Kauffman has been running hot by a couple of mph. Think about that in relation to Holland. Or maybe you shouldn’t.) The bottom third of the lineup is pretty much three automatic outs. And so on…
Yes, this is a team with some issues. But they’re not the only team with issues. All the contenders have some problems. This is baseball. There are no perfect teams. In October, you only hope those flaws don’t overtake the reasons your team actually made the postseason.
The Royals magic number is in a holding pattern at 13.