For the first time in 30 years, the Kansas City Royals are Division Champions.
Winning the division is the entire reason teams play a grueling 162 game schedule that stretches from reporting to camp in February until the end of the World Series scheduled for the first part of November. It is the all encompassing hope and desire to be rewarded with a berth in the postseason that teams look towards when the first pitch of spring training is thrown.
It seems many fans are already willing to begin dismissing the notion that the Central Division Crown is anything but a monumental achievement for an organization that has NEVER WON ONE. If it was truly something so casual as to be cast aside as a forgone conclusion then one would think the Royals would already have trophy cases full of them. That is obviously not the case.
The Royals had won 6 division titles up until and including 1985 and had a grand total of 0 since. Of course back in those days, it was simply the AL West that the Royals won up until the leagues split into 3 divisions in 1994. It was then that the American League Central was born, and since that time, the Royals had managed to finish second a grand total of twice and never first until this season.
Aside from finally being able to check off one more "to do" on the list of things Royals fans haven't seen since 1985, winning the division carries with it another more important meaning.
Winning the Central means they have already punched their ticket to the ALDS. They are the first AL team to lock up a playoff berth, and have done so knowing they will not have to play in the brutal one and done Wild Card game. If the saying holds that anything can happen in a 5 or 7 game series, then look no further than last years AL Wild Card game to see what can happen in a 1 game series.
The Royals have had a pretty good idea that barring historic collapse, they would eventually reach the point of winning the division. Since the All-Star break, most fans had already begun making plans for the playoffs but they had not actually had that X put next to their names in the standings yet. They hadnt gotten to pop the champagne or celebrate with the fans. There were not yet any "We Own the Central" t-shirts or POSTSEASON caps being passed around. There hadn't been an emptying of the dugout to celebrate on the field while being hounded by reporters. Thats an important part.
Alex Rios had NEVER gotten to celebrate a playoff berth in 12 years in the league. This was all a new experience to him. Seems a fair assumption that having managed to be a true contributor to this club in the second half of the season (since July 18th Rios has hit .298/.320/.436) Rios takes great pride in being a part of a playoff team for the first time in his career.
Luke Hochevar was there, but as a spectator last season and before the season began had stated that the thing he was going to miss the most in losing his 2014 season to Tommy John surgery was not being able to be a part of the dogpile at the end of the season. This season, he got to do it as a PART of the 2015 Royals. This was his first celebration as a player.
Ryan Madson had not pitched in a Major League baseball game since 2011 until doing so as a member of the Royals this season. He has a 2.28 ERA and thrown 59 innings as part of a dominant KC bullpen. The comeback stories of him and Kendrys Morales make their success this season a vital part of enjoying the first Central title in club history. Kendrys had an abysmal 2014 campaign in which he only managed a slash of .218/.274/.338. Franklin Morales found himself looking for a job after the 2014 season as well, after sporting a 5.37 ERA in 2014.
Paulo Orlando is a 29 year old career minor leaguer who is playing in his first ever season at the big league level.
Kris Medlen faced the unknown after having not pitched since 2013 after having to undergo his SECOND Tommy John surgery. He now finds himself as a part of a playoff rotation.
Chris Young was the 2014 Comeback player of the year, and yet could not find anyone to sign him in the offseason.
So many new stories are a part of this club. So many of them seemed like head scratcher pickups at the time. So many have become incredible come back stories.
General Manager Dayton Moore has experienced pretty much every kind of criticism and slur possible only to continue to preach the need to stick to the process. Ned Yost has experienced much the same, or quite possibly even more. They have had thousands of people calling for their jobs. Saying they were unqualified to do what they spent countless hours a day trying to master. These guys have lived the Royals for year after year and up until the last couple of years had been rewarded with the same compassion as a common criminal.
I guarantee winning the Central Division is an incredible accomplishment for Ned Yost and Dayton Moore. Winning it means as much or more to the players he took a chance on before the season started, many of them castoffs looking for an opportunity to contribute.
Winning the American League Championship will always be on a higher level then a division crown, thats for certain. But it is comparing apples and oranges.
There is no such thing as being "World Champions or Bust" until you make it to the playoffs. After an entire season filled with ups and downs, the Royals have played their way to a golden ticket. What happens next is just the icing on the cake. And lets face it, truly anything can happen. Sometimes a hot Wild Card team sweeps out all of the teams who have worked so hard to get there.
If you lose sight of the fact that the Playoffs are nothing more than a crap shoot, then it becomes to easy to dismiss the things more in the control of the team and front office. They don't plan for a 5 game series in October, they plan for the 162 game series that gets them there.
When it comes to that 162 game series…well, the Royals won theirs in 2015.
If you STILL feel like bashing the Royals, then read this instead.
As you may recall a few weeks back, Kansas City Native and a Member of the Reds Double-A club the Pensacola Blue Wahoo's Ray Chang, officially played all 9 positions in one minor league game. The Wahoo's had clinched a playoff berth the night before, so ... Read more