EXPECTATION — 2014 Kansas City Royals

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The typical year for a Kansas City Royals fan has pretty much remained unaltered for the last two decades…..


 It begins in October. After the fanfare of the World Series begins a cycle in which all teams are equal in the standings, 0-0. The faint glimmer of hope typically starts to take seed of a Royals fan about this time. Sure, we just lost 97 games, but those young guys sure put on a show in September!!! If only Player X or Player Y could figure it out, if only so and so makes it up from Omaha, if only….if only.


Every year this glimmer of hope crescendos up until the time in early spring when we can see all of our hopes showing promise in Surprise during spring training. The Royals typically do well, flashing a vast array of young players who give promise to what the future might hold.  We listen to the coaches, and the Royals brass tell us that this is the year that pitchers like Hochevar, Kyle Davies, or any of the other myriad of underachieving pitchers are going to come around and have a solid year. This is the year Angel Berroa breaks out, or the year John Buck finds his home run stroke, or Yuni does a great job….well, you get the picture. Every year, we have hope. Every year, we squint just enough that we can actually make out the silhouette of a good baseball team in blue running out to take the field on opening day. 


 Hope typically carries us through some point in May, where the Royals have once again begun the decent to the cellar of the division, and have usually begun the fight to stay out of the top 5 of next year’s draft. This begins the transition to the next stage, which is usually anger….hope has faded, and someone is most certainly to blame. Certain players act as though they don’t care, the owner hasn’t spent enough, the GM is incompetent, the coach doesn’t have a clue what he is doing, how can we run bases so BAD! The sad thing…for the most part, most of those complaints have been very valid year after year after year.


Then depression sets in…when yelling at the radio and TV doesn’t seem to have any results, and the Royals continue to slip farther and farther into irrelevance, we realize there is no getting back out….all the hope is gone and we realize we are horrible, and it’s not going to get fixed THIS year.


This…this begins the second to last stage, acceptance…that this band of lovable losers is what you have this year, so cheer ‘em on, because they aren’t getting any better. Every game becomes the same, not really mattering or caring whether or not we win or lose. Simply enjoying individual achievements by the players night after night, week after week…until….SEPTEMBER CALLUPS!! Ohh man, that Hosmer is going to rake, look at the arm on this Hochevar kid, can you BELIEVE we went 17-7 this month? This young group is going to be GOOD next year! Which…leads back to….Hope. The beginning and the end to every cycle. As much hope as a fan base can have for a team who was fighting to stay below 100 losses…again.


And then there’s the 2013 Royals…


The rollercoaster ride that was 2013 for the Royals was one I doubt we will ever get to truly experience again. In no way did it follow the typical emotional path we were accustomed to following. Waking up to a text letting me know we had just traded Wil Myers for James Shields was where it all began….this year was going to be different…if for no other reason that it FELT different. We were putting players on the field who were supposed to win. The number of unknowns was incredible.


Would Moose hit? Would Hosmer hit? Could Gordon and Butler sustain? What on earth was Cain going to do IF he managed to stay healthy for once? Could Jeremy Guthrie repeat his Royals performance the year before? And on…and on…and on. There wasn’t really one single position the Royals were fielding that felt like a constant…except Billy Butler and James Shield. Some would say you could throw Alex Gordon into that mix, and I wouldn’t argue that too much, and I think we all expected the bullpen to be solid once again, but beyond that….question marks.


Aside from James Shields, we had a staff of pitchers who recently had been classified as horrible. Guthrie was traded to us for Sanchez, in a trade where the two players were so bad for their respective teams, it was a “here, I’m going to get fired if I let this guy pitch for my team anymore…” move. Luke Hochevar….well, why even waste time and space. Mendoza had had spurts but never a solid ERA over any length of time. Davis was demoted in Tampa for failing to impress as a starter. Ervin Santana was rated as one of the poorest starters in the majors in 2012…..and with all of this…the trade for Shields signified the greatest glimmer of hope the Royals have had for a single season since sometime during the 2003 campaign. Dayton was sending a signal to all of the young players that no longer are we expecting to prepare for the day our young core was ready to compete for the division and the playoffs….we ARE competing for the division and the playoffs.


The decision to sign Shields quickly became a hot button topic among many of the writers who frequently analyzed the moves made by the Royals. It was mostly panned by many who follow the team closely, but surprisingly, many outside the critical core group of Royals analysts didn’t feel it was as one sided as a large sect of Royals critics made it seem. Wil Myers absolutely raked in 2012 in the minors, and was already being anointed with the crown of Rookie of the Year before he even step foot on a major league baseball field. He was to be an important part of the Royals future, considering we had a complete disaster in right field with Jeff Francour putting up numbers that made your eyes burn. He had a place on the Royals. He wasn’t being blocked, and looked as though he could come up and contribute as soon as the Royals were ready to make that call.


The only call that came, however, was the one telling him he had been traded to the Rays, where, as many prophets had proclaimed, he eventually took home the Rookie of the Year award. Many critics felt that the trade for Shields was not enough to push us over the playoff barrier. Royals writer and enthusiast Rany Jazayerli has widely panned the trade, and he himself ended up projected the exact win total of the Royals at 86.  All of the points raised were valid, all of the naysayers were exactly right….it wasn’t enough for the Royals to make the playoffs.


Once again the Royals ended October without a playoff spot. Once again, a promising September and once again a rash of criticisms for how the team was handled. Bad pinch hitting, poor base running, misuse of the bullpen. All of the pieces of a typical Royals year seemed to still be in place. But this year….this year was different. Every single time the stage of depression was about to take over, they seemed to pull out of the tailspin. They decided to do something totally different….fight back. Most of the year seemed to be stuck in the anger stage mixed with an entirely new feeling in the entire cycle. Something that we hadn’t had a chance to truly experience, not even in 2003.


The trade for Shields brought more than just an ace pitcher with excellent stuff, it brought this new feeling. Hitters still struggled, pitchers still had bad games. The bullpen blew some leads, but we weren’t stuck waiting for one of these to happen EVERY SINGLE NIGHT like we had been accustomed. For once, they seemed like painful outliers. Things that should have been avoided, and BETTER be avoided tomorrow. It brought accountability in that one player could not afford to be responsible for letting down his team.


The resolve this team showed after the absolute disaster that was May was one that we haven’t enjoyed from a Royals team in decades. James Shields didn’t bring that all by himself, much of it was a byproduct of a gutsy decision by a general manager, right or wrong, to bet it all on this team. He gave up the single greatest prospect he had brought up through his stint as GM to do something that is greater than simply plugging numbers and statistics all around the diamond in hopes of breaking the Divinci Code of playoff berths.


With one move, he changed the culture of the Royals, something that any team must do if they ever want to actually become successful, and in the process gave us a whole new feeling going into the offseason. We no longer hope to break the barrier next year. We no longer hope to be a respectable baseball team or for our players to give it their all and come into spring training ready to play. We no longer hope to simply achieve a winning record or to be part of the conversation in September. For the first time, we get to experience something completely new leading up to the 2014 season…….expectation.

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