Nearly three decades of futility and disappointment were put behind the Kansas City Royals on Friday night. With a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox, the Royals clinched their first playoff berth since 1985, officially ending a 29-year postseason drought that stood as the longest in Major League Baseball or any of the other three major sports league for that matter.
The Royals, at worst, will play in the American League wild-card game scheduled for Tuesday evening, potentially against the Oakland A's. Kansas City maintained at least a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot over Oakland, pending Friday's results. Should they remain in that position through the weekend, Kauffman Stadium would host the wild-card game.
The Royals are also still alive in the AL Central race. With Detroit falling 11-4 to Minnesota, the Royals are only one game back with two left to play. So despite Friday's big triumph, there's still plenty to play for this weekend.
I've lived in Kansas City for eight years, and these were words I wondered if I'd ever get to write: The Royals are going to the playoffs.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 27, 2014
We're sure there are some who will insist anything less than an ALDS appearance is a disappointment for Kansas City, especially since failure to get there would again shut them out from meaningful games in October. But the drought itself is officially over, and the men in the clubhouse certainly deserve the celebration they are enjoying on Friday.
Many former Royals players, most notably Hall of Famer George Brett, are undoubtedly enjoying that moment right along with them. Brett understands and appreciates how difficult it can be to sustain success over 162 games. As a Royal at heart, Brett has suffered through the drought right along with Kansas City's loyal fans, and has awaited this night just as impatiently.
"If these guys only knew what this means to this city," Brett said on Thursday. "(Redacted), it means the world to me."
If they don't understand now, they will understand should they host a postseason game next week. The atmosphere will be electric.
That said, we're pretty sure they understand.
— MLB (@MLB) September 27, 2014
How the Royals got to this point is an entirely different, yet thoroughly interesting story in its own right. They simply don't look like your typical postseason team. Through 160 games, they've only hit 94 home runs, which ranks dead last in MLB. The St. Louis Cardinals, who are also in the postseason, are the next lowest team at 105. Kansas City has also drawn the fewest walks (373) in MLB, which according to Elias makes them the first team in MLB history to rank last in both offensive categories and still make the postseason.
On the flipside, Kansas City has struck out the least (970) and stolen the most bases (153). The idea is to get the ball in play and keep running, and the pressure that creates on opposing defenses has paid off beautifully. In fact, it led directly to their signature win against the White Sox on Sept. 15.
Kansas City's biggest strength remains its lockdown bullpen. Setup man Wade Davis has allowed eight earned runs all season (1.00 ERA), including the one run on Friday night, while striking out 109 in 72 innings. Closer Greg Holland has been nearly as dominant, posting a 1.44 ERA in 65 games. He's converted 46 of 48 save opportunities. That allows manager Ned Yost to shorten games and could prove to be a big edge in the postseason. Bullpen stability is not a strength for many of their potential upcoming adversaries.
In the short term, the Royals will have ace James Shields lined up to start a potential tiebreaker with Detroit on Monday or the wild-card game on Tuesday. Beyond Shields, Kansas City's rotation features veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, along with young flamethrower Yordano Ventura.
It's not a perfect roster, but it has been good enough to win 88 games. That's the team's highest single-season total since 1989. And now that they're in the postseason, there's no reason to think that can't or won't continue wreaking havoc deep into October.
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