For Royals fans on Friday night, the moon was a little brighter; the air a little warmer, and the night was almost perfect.
Though these fans were excited to end nearly three decades of futility, the Royals postseason appearance in 2014 might only be a tease. They play a do-or-die wild card game against an Oakland Athletics team that dominated the first half of the season. And they face John Lester. Jon Lester has performed great in the postseason; he has an ERA of 2.11 in 76.2 playoff innings. Historically, he also destroys Royals hitters; he holds them to an OPS of just .540.
This is a new kind of Royals team. They don’t win the way normal teams do in this era of baseball. They rely on pitching, defense, and speed. Hitting has been a struggle all year for them. They are the only American League team to ever rank last in both home runs and walks and still make the playoffs. Ever. They also lead the league in stolen bases and fewest strikeouts. They put the ball in play and force their opponents to get them out. They wear their opponents down. They make them nervous. And if you make it past their starting pitching, you have to face a historically good back end the bullpen.
Other teams don’t want to play against the Royals, because they can go head-to-head in a pitching duel, tie the game on a wild pitch, then score the winning the run on an infield ground ball, with the runner scoring from second base.
They can have there starting pitcher run his pitch count up and then bring in the three-headed dragon of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland to seal the victory. All three finished the season with an ERA under 1.50, the first time that has happened in MLB history.
The Royals defense, especially their outfield, takes hits away on a daily basis. Alex Gordon might be the best defensive outfielder in baseball right now. Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are probably in the top ten. Alcides Escobar makes difficult plays look easy. Salvador Perez is one of the top 5 defensive catchers in the game. He is an ironman that shuts down the opponents running game.
The Royals will host the Athletics on Tuesday night. The game starts at 7:07pm, and the Royals and their fans hope that this will only be the first step on their way to the World Series.
If the Royals can get past Lester and the A’s, they will face Jared Weaver and the Los Angeles Angels in a five game series beginning on Thursday, Oct. 2nd. Game two would follow the next day in LA. Then the series would shift to Kansas City for games three and four on Oct. 5th and 6th. The final game of the five game series, if needed, would be in LA on Oct. 8th.
After seeing what their unusual team is capable of, Royals fans aren’t content with a mere wild card game. Expectations are high. After decades of futility, one measly game isn’t enough to satisfy these fans who have stuck by their team. The fans want more. They want a World Series.