What if I told you the Royals would win 95 games? Is that something you’d be interested in?
On Sunday, the Royals wrapped the most memorable summer since 1980. It was a summer where the team kept pace early, then flicked on the afterburners and pulled away from the rest of the division. By the end of July, the division title was obvious. By September, it was reality.
It was glorious.
When the season ended, in the American League only one team had qualified for the playoffs the last two years. Yep. The Royals. After 29 years of unprecedented October drought, Kansas City now has the longest current streak of reaching the playoffs. (Sure, it’s only two, which seems like a modest number. It is. But it’s still fun.)
By scheduling all of the final regular season games on Sunday, major league baseball figured a way to put the bow on the season. How perfect was that? The Royals controlled their own destiny for home field advantage. Win, and it was theirs. The games started at 2 PM, Central. By around 2:45, it was pretty clear the Royals were going to own that best record in the AL, no matter what happened in their game. In Tampa, the Blue Jays went sentimental, starting Mark Buehrle, in an attempt to get him the two innings he needed to reach 200 on the season. That’s a mark Buehrle has reached every year since 2001. That’s a helluva streak in the current game. Sometimes, the baseball gods spit in the face of sentimentality.
Buehrle lasted just two-thirds of an inning. His defense betrayed him, committing errors on the first and fifth batter of the game. Eight runs. None of them earned. And any hope Toronto had for home field, washed into the bay.
That meant the game on Sunday for the Royals became a coronation. A victory lap. Perfect for the best Royals season in 35 years. I’m loath to ever say a sports team “deserved” something, but damn if this team didn’t deserve some time to bask in their accomplishments while on the field, under the sun. Baseball is meant to be fun. That was in short supply in Kansas City for the last couple of decades. The clinch of September, 2014 and the Wild Card game brought it back. The 2015 Royals sustained it. And Sunday, it was time to reflect on the season, prepare for the next series, and enjoy the moment.
We didn’t hear much from the Royals Panic Squad the last week of the season. The group who was fretting over the September slide and the potential of losing home field advantage. While I hate to paint any fan or group of fans with a broad brush, the fans who were panicking, felt very much to be new fans to the team and baseball in general. The baseball season is a long one. It’s a grind. Teams rarely play at peak level for the entire six months. The Royals clearly took the foot off the gas in September. They knew the division was theirs, and the intensity we saw as early as April evaporated. I understand how some could worry. Hell, I was starting to get a little nervous myself. There is no “switch” to flip. Certainly, the playoffs would bring new energy to the team, but the losing in September (and the ways they were losing) was borderline ridiculous.
Now, the Royals close the 2015 season with a five game winning streak. They have home field advantage. They finished exactly the way you wanted them to finish.
Everyone should not only be happy, they should be thrilled.
It’s custom for the Royals to hand out some hardware at the end of the season, awarding the Player and Pitcher of the Year. I’ve long lobbied that blogs be represented in this voting, but the Royals insist on keeping it closed and available only to the Kansas City chapter of the BBWAA. In some ways, the Royals remain stubbornly rooted in the past.
That won’t prevent me from picking my own award winners. If only we had a budget for a trophy.
The Royals Player of the Year
This is an easy choice. Lorenzo Cain.
Cain led the Royals in batting average (.307), runs (101), and steals (28). His .360 wOBA and 129 wRC+ was second on the team. He was third in OBP among qualified batters at .361 and second in slugging at .477. And he did it all by playing All-World defense in center field.
Royals Pitcher of the Year
Yordano Ventura had a helluva second half of the season and emerged as the true ace of the Royals rotation. Edinson Volquez was steady all year. Yet I’m going to go against my personal convictions and hand this award to a reliever: Wade Davis.
Davis was simply dominant. He became the fifth reliever since 1969 to throw at least 60 innings and finish with a sub 1 ERA. He posted a 10.43 SO/9 and a 2.67 BB/9. His 2.0 fWAR was tied for fifth among all relievers in baseball.
Normally, I’d throw my vote to a starter. However, Ventura’s first half of the season was pretty awful. Volquez did well, but just didn’t excite. Ventura and Volquez both finished with a better fWAR than Davis, but on a team built on defense and a stalwart bullpen, Davis was hands down the best, and most reliable, reliever.
Maybe I’ll give out some other awards later this week. No promises.
So now we take the next three days and exhale. The Royals finished the 2015 season exactly as we had hoped. It’s an opportunity to watch the Wild Card games secure in the knowledge the Royals will open their defense of the American League title on Thursday at The K.
It’s good to be a Royals fan.