Every day is now a new experience for a whole generation of Royals fan. And it’s an opportunity to recall decades earlier for the older fans. Last year, while the Royals played in the World Series, there was no “march to the championship.” The club didn’t lay waste to the opposition in what was some sort of inevitable push to the postseason. They did win five in a row at one point in April and finished the month with 14 wins against 11 losses, but stumbled in May and spent most of that month under .500. The Royals have played some strong baseball out of the gate in season’s past, but they’ve never piggybacked a successful April on a successful October.
When a team plays in the World Series and then dashes out of the gate to open the following season, people tend to take notice. Bandwidth gets filled with national hot takes. “Are the Royals for real?” A national internet baseball writer asks. “The answer is no, of course they’re not for real.”
The real answer to that question can be found on the Magic 8 Ball: “Reply hazy. Try again later.”
That’s not to put a damper on what has been a helluva fun start to a season. That’s simply because after seven games in a 162 game schedule, we can’t draw many – if any – conclusions about this team. We know they will have more power in their lineup, but they are on pace to hit 231 home runs. Not even the most star-struck Royals fans would concede that’s possible. We know their bullpen is nails, but they aren’t going to go the entire season without surrendering a run. We know the defense is great, but… Wait. Never mind. Their defense is the most wonderful thing since Justin Bieber stopped making records.
There were a bunch of projections and predictions that had the Royals finishing fourth in the Central. There were also a bunch that pegged them second. Or third. (The Twins, as we have witnessed, have the basement locked up all to themselves.) Basically, no one said the Royals were going to win the division. While Jon Morosi called attention to himself with a brilliant flip-flop over the weekend, I would be inclined to hold onto my own predictions for longer than a single week of games. Although I can certainly listen to the argument for revisions. The Royals aren’t just winning games, they are pulverizing the opposition, outscoring them by 34 runs and becoming only the second team in baseball history to win their first seven games of the season by a margin of two or more runs. Nail biters? Those are for losers.
The season is long and we are just getting a taste of how things are going to play out going forward. The only thing we can definitively say was the first week was a rousing success for our team. We could reconvene here in three weeks and have a completely different feeling. Because that’s baseball.
We are Royals fans, so we want to believe this was close to the real deal. We want to believe the power is real, the bullpen is spectacular and the defense is the best thing since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line . I think there are only positives that can be taken from this week plus of games. The Alex Rios injury the exception. And Alex Gordon’s start. And Omar Infante’s presence in the lineup. Oh, crap. We’re doomed.
No joke, there are certainly a few things to be concerned about. And they aren’t going to continue to post a .401 OBP. They aren’t going to keep slugging a league leading .532. And their .353 BABIP is certainly in for a correction. Injuries and underperformance are going to happen. We’re watching them happen at this moment. And yet, the Royals are 7-0. That’s good news. Maybe in a week when the bats go into a slumber (it will happen) the pitching will step forward and steal a few wins. Remember last year, Denny calling Gordon’s walkoff home run and mentioning that sometimes, things just go your way and how this may be the year? Maybe it’s still the Royals year. Maybe there’s some magic left and they outperform the projections and the predictions. Or maybe not. Seven games in to the season, it’s probably a little too soon to tell.
Wherever you may land on the fan spectrum, know these seven wins are important.
Seven wins in the early part of the season means the Royals are seven wins closer to the postseason. Think about it. April is just as important as September and at some point in the 2015 season, we will gain some clarity of exactly how many wins it will probably take to advance. It may be 89 like last year. Or it could be 92. Whatever the number, as it currently stands the Royals have a lower number to reach than all the other teams in baseball by virtue of their seven victories in the early stages of the regular season. That gives them a greater margin of error. Seven games in a 162 game season doesn’t exactly provide a comfortable margin of error, but it’s better than the converse of losing the first seven games of the season and having to figure out how to get on track.
The only thing you can speak to with any certainty in baseball is the past. Seven wins is seven wins. The Royals may go on a five game losing streak starting tomorrow, but those first seven games reside firmly in the win column. They’re not going anywhere. Maybe they account as a cushion. A brace against what will certainly be a regression. Maybe the Royals will ride away with the division and clinch in mid-September. The more likely scenario is this race will go down to the wire. Every one of those seven wins matter. They matter because it’s one less win this team needs to throw into the win column down the road. They matter because any time you can put a little distance between yourself and your competition, that’s a good thing.
Maybe there was some luck involved. The Royals didn’t face Chris Sale in the opener. The BABIP fairy has been awfully good to this team. The home runs the Royals starters have been serving haven’t hurt as only one of the six have come with runners on base. Every team steals a win – or seven – during the season. Maybe this is the week where the Royals use all of theirs. Or maybe luck didn’t have so much to do with this streak. They won all their games by two or more runs. It’s not like we had a player scamper around from second on a wild pitch in the ninth inning to steal a win. That’s so last year.
In his post, Rob Neyer mentioned the Brewers and the Rockies as teams who set the early pace in 2014, but faded. They’re not the first teams to have dropped from contention after a solid start. They won’t be the last. More injuries, Moustakas starts going pull happy again, Hosmer goes into another one of his extended funks, Perez gets overworked… It really wouldn’t take much for the Royals to be lumped into this group. We want to think it’s not going to happen – They were in the World Series last year! – but if you’re being honest with yourself, last year’s World Series appearance doesn’t mean anything this year. New year, new team, new challenges.
While we are a long way from the finish line, let’s not kid ourselves: This feels different. It does. It feels different for exactly the reasons I wrote didn’t mean anything in the previous paragraph. The World Series changed the calculus of this organization and its fanbase. Already hopeful for a repeat, the hot start is rocket fuel. That’s what makes sports fun. We know the darkness. The last year and a half, we have seen plenty of light. That doesn’t mean this is going to end in success, or that it will even continue. It just means it feels different to me, from say, 2003. Or other years where there have been successful Aprils.
Who knows what tomorrow brings? I just know I’m having a blast today.