On September 2, 2005, the Kansas City Royals lost their 90th game of the season. The 10-inning, 8-7 loss at home to the Rangers dropped the Royals to 39 games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox and also gave them the worst record in baseball….by TEN games. That they would almost play .500 baseball the rest of the way (13-16) is something of a miracle.
On September 2, 2018, the Royals completed a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles to up their record to 45-91, 32 games behind the division leading Cleveland Indians. If it was not for the absolutely atrocious Orioles, the Royals would have the worst record in baseball by nine games. Kansas City has won seven of eight games to get here. Five of those wins were over the Orioles and Tigers, so don’t think the darkness has ended, but it’s something.
Of course, revisiting 2005 makes some sense, given that was the year the Royals lost 106 games – the worst in their history and this year’s team was, at least until a week ago, making a helluva run at besting that. Similar results? Yes. Similar teams? Not so much. At least not anymore.
On that dreary night in 2005 (actually it was 81 degrees with a light breeze, the baseball was dreary, perhaps it was a delightful night to sip four beers and eat two hot dogs), your Kansas City Royals trotted out this lineup:
- Aaron Guiel, CF. He would go 2-for-5, upping his batting average AND on-base percentage to .148. The 32-year old was actually on the verge of getting hot and would record a trio of three-hit games in the next week.
- Terrance Long, LF. The 29-year old (I remembered him being older) would also go 2-for-5. He had that September and 12 games with the Yankees the next season left in his major league career.
- Emil Brown, RF. Finishing off the first of two competent seasons with the Royals, the 31-year old Brown went 0-for-3 with two walks.
- Matt Stairs, DH. The 37-year old Stairs would finish that year, one in which he played in 127 games, with a .373 on-base percentage. He would double and walk in five plate appearances and Chip Ambres would pinch run for him late. Ambres, by the way, would play 53 of 80 total major league games that year for the Royals.
- Mark Teahen, 3B. This was the season before ‘The Season of Teahen’, but the 23-year old rookie would go 4-for-5 with two doubles to push his average to .238 and edge his on-base percentage over .300!
- Angel Berroa, SS. The 27(?)-year old Berroa would go 1-for-5 in this game, one of 159 he would play that year. Angel would strike out 108 times in 2005….and walk 18. Say what you want about errors, but Berroa would make 25 that year.
- John Buck, C. The 25-year old was in his second major league season and his 0-for-5 that day would drop his average to .216. He would actually ‘get hot’ to end up slashing .242/.287/.389 for the year. In other words, he was John Buck.
- Justin Huber, 1B. My goodness I was sure that Huber was going to be somebody. The 22-year old had gotten a whole five games in June and was now back with the September call-ups. He would go 2-for-5 that day, play the bulk of September and do a decent job of tempering the excitement surrounding him. Players who also played first that year: Stairs, Mike Sweeney, Tony Graffanino, Joe McEwing, Eli Marrero and Ken Harvey. And you were mad Ned Yost was playing Lucas Duda too much.
- Denny Hocking, 2B. The 35-year old was in his last major league campaign. He went 2-for-5 in his eighth start in nine games.
- Zack Greinke, SP. The 21-year old would pitch into the sixth, allowing three runs on seven hits. This was the season before Greinke quit baseball for a time and he would go 5-17 with a 5.80 earned run average. While pitcher records and ERA are generally poor indicators, they pretty accurately reflect Zack in 2005. Greinke was followed by Andrew Sisco who gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning, Ambiriox Burgos who did the same, Juan Carlos Oviedo (Leo Nunez) who went two scoreless and Mike MacDougal who gave up a home run to Rod Barajas in the tenth. At the time, this bullpen had some hope as Sisco was 22, Burgos 21, Oviedo 23 and MacDougal 28 and all were entertaining/maddening.
Fast forward to the lineup of September 2nd of this year. If you are reading about the Royals at this point in this season, I’m going to assume you are die-hard enough to not need much player embellishment:
- Whit Merrifield, DH. (29)
- Alex Gordon, LF (34)
- Hunter Dozier, 3B (26)
- Ryan O’Hearn, 1B (24)
- Jorge Bonifacio, RF (25)
- Rosell Herrera, 2B (25)
- Brett Phillips, CF (24)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (31, but Mondesi is just 22)
- Meibrys Viloria, C (21)
- Jorge Lopez, SP (25, followed by Tim Hill, 28 and Kevin McCarthy, 26)
Now, we are a bit unfair to the 2005 team as the September 2nd lineup was missing the injured David DeJesus, a good player who was just 25-years old, and Mike Sweeney who was sort of that team’s Alex Gordon. Back then, there was hope – some of it logical – that Teahen and Buck would both develop into good regular players. Teahen actually did for a bit, but could not sustain it. That hope is probably little different from what we are currently thinking about O’Hearn, Bonifacio and maybe even still Dozier.
Greinke, after a couple of years, would turn into a star and the hope, of course and as always, is that the similarly-aged Mondesi will do the same for this version of the Royals. While you can say that Greinke helped the Royals become good by getting traded for Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar later on, the 2005 Royals were seven years from even being considered ‘decent’ and no one on that roster was part of them getting to that point.
Can we say the same of this year’s Royals? Cynically you can say yes and without question the lineup above (even with Mondesi and Perez in it) is not a lineup that gets to the playoffs next year or the year after, but it just feels like a better group than 2005.
One can say that mistakes were made and resources wasted at the start of the year that got the Royals to the point where winning seven of eight MIGHT save them from the worst season in franchise history. One could also say that mistakes were made and resources wasted during the season that are keeping this team from the number one draft pick. Intentionally or not, Baltimore has done a marvelous job of being so bad that not even the Royals can tank enough to win less!
Are the Royals seven or eight years away from being in contention again? Maybe, but I think there is hope that they are more like four years (with some luck and a hot start, maybe three) and if that is the case, there are names in the lineup from September 2nd that will be part of the next round of success.
If nothing else, that makes 2018 better than 2005 and, for the love of god, hopefully will make 2019 better than 2006.