I had forgotten this feeling. It’s a weird one. At the end of a season without the postseason, it’s always sort of a relief that the year is over. If you’re like me, you can’t look away even though there’s not a ton to look toward. But at the same time, while it’s a relief that a seemingly lost season is over, it’s also sad. When I leave Kauffman Stadium for the final time in 2016 this season, I’ll likely turn and look at the banners hanging. The next time I’m there, there won’t be World Championship signs and the players won’t be wearing a patch signifying their reign at the top of baseball. It’s kind of a sad thought, too.
I think back to the 2014 Wild Card game. You may remember it vaguely. It was the bottom of the eighth inning and the Royals were trailing 7-3. I had been basically silent for two full innings as the end of the season seemed to be fast approaching. It was at that point that I thought to myself that I might as well cheer. This is my last chance to see the best Royals team of a generation. So I cheered. And then they scored a run and another run and eventually won the greatest game I’ve ever seen and likely will ever see in person.
I’m not sitting here telling you that a grand comeback like that is happening and that the Royals will make the playoffs, but the message is the same. Why not cheer? The Royals are in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of season in franchise history. Sure this season hasn’t gone as we had all hoped, but why not enjoy the last week of it? It’s supposed to be beautiful this week in Kansas City and the team has a chance to finish over .500 for the fourth consecutive season. The last time that happened was 1977-1980. That was the final four years of a stretch of six years above .500. They reached the playoffs four times in those six seasons. I’m not sure I’d agree with it, but you could make an argument these four years have been better than those six given the two trips to the World Series and the championship. It’s a special time to be a Royals fan. Don’t let a mediocre encore to a champion wipe that from your memory.
So what is there exactly to cheer for in this final week of the season? The games against the Twins coming up certainly don’t mean anything to anyone. The Twins aren’t even jockeying for draft position. They’ve locked up the top pick. I guess the Royals could still finish in either fourth or second, but neither one is likely. They’re 4.5 games ahead of Chicago and 4.5 games behind Detroit with a week to go.
We get to root for fast finishes. What a guy does in the final week doesn’t mean anything for him statistically heading into 2017, but some confidence is always a good thing. Sure it’s been a lost year for Alex Gordon, but he’s hitting .251/.330/.451 with 10 homers over his last 55 games. Is that great? No. It’s still underperforming to his contract, but a huge final week and maybe he gets that up to .270/.351/.491 over his final 61 games. That’d be a nice boost heading into the off-season. We can hopefully see Eric Hosmer finish strong and maybe even Salvador Perez.
On the subject of those two, there’s a little housekeeping left for each of them. Hosmer already reached the 100-RBI plateau, but he’s sitting at 24 homers. A nice, round 25 would look awfully good on the back of his baseball card. Perez has more work to do to get there, but he’s at 22 homers. A big week (and facing the Twins, anything can happen) and maybe he can get to 25, too. That’d be noteworthy because the Royals have never in their history had three players with 25 or more home runs. And hey, maybe Morales can continue his insanely hot hitting and get eight more RBIs this week to get himself to 100 for the second straight year. I’m not exactly expecting seven more homers to break the Royals dainty record, though. But you know, he’s been on fire for awhile. It’d be fun to see him deposit a couple more balls into the fountains for old time’s sake.
I want to see Duffy have a good final start. I’d like to see Ventura end the season on a high note. I’d even like to see Joakim Soria escape and keep a lead in tact without giving anything up. Okay, maybe some dreams are too difficult to ask for.
And finally, let’s take a look at Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi. With the Royals budget, one or all of them is going to have to play a big role on this team next season in their attempt to make it back to the postseason. I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen from Dozier in limited action. He’s clearly a work in progress in right field, but one stupid play made me a believer the other day. There was a base hit to right center field and the way he attacked the ball and got it back into the infield was something you see from veteran outfielders. It was nice to see. Maybe there’s your right fielder in 2017. The numbers haven’t been great in very limited plate appearances offensively, but I’ve enjoyed his approach and I like his swing a lot.
So no, you likely won’t see a Wild Card game preview or an ALDS preview or anything else on this site this fall like I had hoped when the season began. And it’ll be awhile before this season is classified as anything but a disappointment considering the expectations and the hopes, but when it’s over, that’s the last we’ll have of Royals baseball for five long months before games start up in Surprise. It gets cold without baseball, you know. Let’s enjoy this last week and continue to celebrate one of the greatest eras of Royals baseball this city has seen.