Overreactions are a dime a dozen at this time of year, and they come with varying levels of optimism. Every embarrassing loss, or string of losses, will inspire claims of doom, while every well-rounded win or winning streak makes fans feel like their team is finally “getting right”. It would be easy to make either mistake and claim that the Kansas City Royals are either a big-time loser or a legit contender at this point in the season. Right now, neither can be proven.
The Royals regained a winning record by cooling down the Colorado Rockies in the last two games. The previously red-hot Rockies offense, which came into KC averaging 5.75 runs per game, was held to only five runs total in this two-game series at Kauffman. James Shields went seven innings and struck out eight yesterday on his way to the 1,500 strikeout milestone and his fifth win of the season. Today, the unbelievably reliable Jason Vargas gave KC another strong start that led to a Royals victory.
Only one man on the planet has as low an ERA as Vargas’ 3.00 with as many innings pitched. That man is Shields. This isn’t news, though — not for Royals fans. Fans know the pitching is there, despite Vargas’ efforts going way beyond what was reasonably expected of him. They know this team is, or at least should be capable of pulling off small winning streaks like this. That doesn’t make it any less sweet; it just helps to keep the goals for this year in mind.
The Royals won’t gain any faith in the baseball world, or the Kansas City community, with another hope-filled, on-the-brink, almost-there kind of season. They’ll actually lose a lot of it — in truth, they already are. The fears about this team don’t really come from the pitching staff or the lineup or the manager or the GM. These fears are born from decades of underwhelming production, consistent failure and consistent disappointment that almost makes fans feel emotionally abused.
What fans fear about this team is the inescapable notion that the wheels will fall off and the wagon will catch on fire once things matter, and you know what? Things matter this year, and already the offensive ineptitude of several key players set the metaphorical wagon ablaze and aimed it towards the nearest cliff, only to have the starting rotation grab hold of the wheel and douse the flames. Wagons have steering wheels, right? Whatever.
Now is perhaps the Royals’ best chance to push past .500 and prove themselves as a consistently winning team, which makes now the perfect time for the team to break down. Overreactions are poison to fair journalism, but I won’t hesitate to say that this is as important as regular season baseball can be for a team in the middle of May. The Royals need to finish the month strong — not solely for any logical reasons, but for emotional ones. They need to give their fans the right to hope.