The Royals squandered a completely winnable game last night, a refrain that has been repeated over and over again in a series of listless performances. The team has lost seven of their past ten games, including tying a season-high four game losing streak. From a high-level, simple analysis, the Royals haven’t been able to score runs lately. In their seven losses, the offense has averaged 2.6 runs per game. It is impossible to routinely win with 2.6 runs per game.
Last September, Kansas City had Royals Devil Magic. This September, it’s been more like Royals Devil Tragic. They’ve lost close ones, like last night’s 3-2 loss and one-run losses on August 30 and September 1. They’ve lost blowouts, like games on September 4, 5, and 7. They’ve lost with good pitching, and they’ve lost with bad pitching. But mostly they’ve just lost.
We can’t do much as sports fans, though this may shock you. Yelling obscenely into the void is our only real option. We cannot change the tactics or attitude of anybody in or around the team, nor should we. They are professionals; we are not. Baseball decisions based on emotion are almost always unmitigated blunders, especially the emotions of us who do not live and breathe baseball. Though it is a good thing that our shouts into nothingness don’t affect anything on the field, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Pain demands to be felt, regardless of legitimacy or quality.
Indeed, the biggest issue with losing is that it makes us feel so helpless, especially as the meaning of each victory and loss is magnified as the Earth moves closer to October. That helplessness, combined with a deep-seated fear in Kansas City sports that the worst can and will happen to the teams we love, exposes us to the cruel reality that baseball is often a random game. That randomness can give us October of 2014. It can also provide September of 2015.
All this emotion blinds us to the fact that the Royals are still in a solid position. Kansas City has not led the American League Central by fewer than ten games since August 8, and has not been in second place since June 7. The Toronto Blue Jays lost their game against the Boston Red Sox last night, maintaining a four-game lead for the Royals over the cloyingly persistent Canadians for home field advantage with only 23 games left. That is, realistically, a sizable lead.
The emotion blinds us to the fact that home field advantage is irrelevant if the Royals play bad baseball. The American League Divisional Series is only five games. If the Royals begin at Kauffman Stadium with limp offensive support of Johnny Cueto and a combustible start by Yordano Ventura, they could be facing elimination as soon as they leave Missouri. Just ask the team that had home field advantage last year – the Angels.
But it is the emotion that makes rooting for teams fun and interesting. It through emotion that we spend time to analyze and critique the Royals. “Its hard not to get romantic about baseball”, says Billy Beane in Moneyball. The game itself helps – baseball is truly unique. But wins are worth celebrating because of our investment. Losses are painful because of the same.
The Royals’ terrible baseball of late is indeed disturbing, but not for reasons that will change the likelihood of their results in October. Kansas City still has three weeks of baseball left, and are a resilient and professional team. It is disturbing because we wish we could do something to help the team, we wish that we could be heard, and we fear that this could continue.
We ought to be emotive about our teams, because otherwise sports is merely a collection of men doing odd things with balls. But, at the same time, sports are merely men doing odd things with balls. A little perspective goes a long ways.
Or at least until the Royals’ next loss. Then the cycle will begin anew.