Maybe it’s appropriate that the Kansas City Royals’ final six games of the season are at Kauffman Stadium.
Call this the Royals’ final victory lap. Maybe for a long time.
Sometime tonight, or maybe tomorrow or the next day, that slam you’ll hear is the Royals’ window of opportunity to win again and be relevant.
The window was wide open in 2014 and 2015, resulting in the sweet smell of fresh World Series rarefied air. Kansas City was the happening place in baseball in those two years, coming oh so close to winning it all in the former year before kicking down the door the following year, setting off celebrations that lasted for weeks.
Now the core group of those great teams is about to say goodbye. And Royals fans should pack The K for one last week to pay their respects to the players who raised the team from the basement doldrums to the luxurious penthouse.
Given this is September, and with the Chiefs on the tip of everyone’s tongue as the NFL’s best team, look for modest crowds as the Royals play three against a crumbling Detroit team and then three against playoff-bound Arizona.
For Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas (they’re seemingly joined at the hip), along with Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jason Vargas and Melky Cabrera, there are going to be many tips of the cap this week. How many of them will actually leave is still in question, but it’s safe to say most of them will be cheered by Royals fans next year even though they’re in different uniforms.
They were there when the Royals were still stinkingly bad, those years when they were hoping to avoid 100 losses. The usual 13,000 were showing up night after night at The K weakly chanting “Let’s Go Royals.”
But in 2013, the fruits of the former most-bountiful farm system in baseball had matured. KC won 86 games that year, 89 in 2014 and then 95 and the division in 2015. They were looking at another winning season in defense of their title in 2016 when the grind of playing into late October two years in a row finally caught up with them and they ran out of gas to finish 81-81.
The Royals are currently 76-80 as they’ll need to win five of six to get to .500, which is unlikely considering this team has hardly had a hot streak since the start of August. In fact on July 28 it stood at 54-47, but the collapse of the starting pitching has led to just a 22-33 record since then. The hitting also has been sporadic as it’s been feast or famine. The Royals haven’t won three in a row since Aug. 20-22 and they were left in the dust by an improbable 30-2 Cleveland run.
It’s hard to imagine this team next year without its horses. Hosmer could be wearing a Yankees uniform and Moustakas sporting a cap with an Angelic halo. Cain and Escobar, who came in the same Zack Grienke deal that started the franchise back to stardom, are possibles to stay because Cain is up in years and injury prone, while few teams other than the Royals will accept Esocbar’s low on-base percentage, though his last two months unfortunately (for KC) upped his price after his career almost look finished for four months of the season.
The Royals have drained everything out of Vargas that they’re going to get while Cabrera is on his second stint with the team and will be in demand because of his professional at-bats.
Kansas City will still have Salvy and Gordo, but after that it’s going to look like a team of spare parts. The outfield will have a look of Alex Gordon, Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler, who will be given another chance to make up for his total zero of a year. Maybe Paulo Orlando will bounce back as the top backup.
Raul Mondesi Jr. could be at short if Escobar doesn’t come back, while Cheslor Cuthbert will be in Moustakas’ stead. Brandon Moss could take over at first, though that will considerably weaken the Royals’ defense. Whit Merrifield might be the only infield starter back.
All baseball teams go through this, where they tear down and build back up. For the Royals, the build-back could take longer than normal because the farm system is scarce. Maybe they can find some free-agent bargains with all the money they’re going to save by cutting loose their stars.
It may be a long time before we hear the thunderous “Let’s Go Royals” again. At least they were able to win a second World Series in my lifetime, but I’ll probably be long gone by the time they make it three.