Tuesday marked the end of the longest active postseason drought in baseball as the Royals returned to the playoffs after 29 long and painful years. For the past six months, Kansas City fought tooth and nail to earn a postseason spot alongside October regulars. After their nail-biting win against the A’s, they’ll travel to Anaheim to begin a series against the best team in baseball. Now that their first postseason game in decades is in the books, this much is clear: you can’t help but love them.
This is the Royals first playoff appearance since 1985, when they won their only World Championship. Back in ’85, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were called the California Angels, and the Washington Nationals took the field at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium as the Expos. Since then, life has been tough for Royals fans, with the team finishing last in the division eight times during this stretch. The Royals, as the second smallest market in baseball, have been consistently spurned for the bright lights of New York, Boston, and L.A. No one can question the loyalties of Kansas City’s fans, who stuck with their team despite humiliating performances, heart-breaking losses, and plenty of October golf.
Outside of Kansas City, few people know much about the Royals. In fact, the common fan probably couldn’t name a single player besides the ace, James Shields. Despite this season’s success, I would still be shocked to spot someone sporting a Nori Aoki, Billy Butler, or Alex Gordon jersey. Even the focal point of Tuesday night’s heroics, catcher Salvador Perez, is a relative nobody.
The Royals compensate for a lack of star-power with some good old-fashioned small ball. Kansas City led the league in steals this season, with 153, 15 more than the second-place Dodgers. With frequent stealing and the constant possibility of a squeeze play, the Royals have become the most fun team to watch in the league. There is a “sandlot” feel to the way they play. On Tuesday night, small ball beat Moneyball.
On paper, the Angels should have no trouble taking care of business in the ALDS. But the Royals clearly do not read the papers. The two teams split their six regular season games. If the Royals knock out the favorites, it will be impossible to deny the legitimacy of small ball. My prediction: Royals after five, and a sudden rise in base-stealing sweeping the league in 2015. Too bold? Probably. What can I say, I have a soft spot for these guys.
In reality, the Royals do matchup pretty well against the Angels. The Angels’ banged up pitching rotation is far from intimidating, leaving plenty of opportunities for the Royals to get on base and start running. Kansas City’s rotation is far more impressive. That being said, it’s going to be Mike Trout, not Coco Crisp, at the plate. Nonetheless, with plenty of assets in the bullpen, and a little help from Lorenzo Cain’s defense, the Royals should succeed in limiting the damage.
The Royals are the epitome of the underdog. They don’t have any big personalities. From their modest location to their pitiful recent history, there is no reason they should be able to compete with the postseason perennials. And yet they are.
So in the next few weeks, expect more 12-inning thrillers, daring steals, and clutch strikeouts. These guys are for real, it just took us a while to start paying attention.
Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images