Culbreath: Baseball royaltyWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | email@example.com
Maybe it’s because Bud Selig finally managed to get the juice out of the game. Maybe it’s because of Moneyball. Maybe it’s because every once in a while, we need to be reminded that what makes sports so dang cool is it’s unpredictability.
But one thing is for certain: small ball is in in baseball, and the Kansas City Royals are living proof.
Home runs continue to dwindle in the majors, and they don’t matter much once you hit postseason: Only three of the top ten teams in home runs actually made it into the playoffs, and all three are already out. Baltimore led the league with 211 (and Nelson Cruz won the Home Run crown with only 40. Forty!), only to get swept by Kansas City in the ALCS, who was dead last in the majors with 95. Yeah, the same Royals that swept number 9 on that list — the Los Angeles Angels — in the divisional series.
I love the story of the Royals, because they’re the exact opposite of what’s happened to Detroit. I wrote about this last year: when the big bats go dead, you’ve got nothing. That’s where the situational hitting and speed come into play. Enter the Royals: they led the league in stolen base percentage this year. 8th in bunts. 7th in “productive outs” percentage. They’ve managed to make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1985, and they’ve done it without the power guys. Above average pitching helped, something that was most definitely not in Detroit’s favor this year: the Tigers managed to plate 757 runs this year (2nd best in the Majors), but gave up 705 (9th worst). The Royals weren’t shutdown masters, but a team ERA of 3.51 and 53 saves has got to have you feeling really good about what your guys on the mound can do.
I don’t mean to pick on Detroit, but it does reflect what I hit on in last year’s “When The Power Went Out”. When teams are built on power hitters and the long ball, eventually you end up in a situation where the long ball no longer goes far enough. Can your team effectively change when you can’t rely on the big bats? It burned them last year. This year, you can lay the blame on the rotation (and, to a lesser extent, Dave Dombrowski for not fixing that. But sweet David Price trade, bro.)
I will freely admit to cheering on the Royals this year. That is a long-suffering fan base who has been nothing but supportive to it’s team year in and year out. Tuesday’s highlight grab by Mike Moustakas couldn’t have been more symbolic of that: as he tumbled over the railing into the dugout seating to grab that foul ball, the fans didn’t reach out to try and snag the ball from him (Hello, Steve Bartman), but rather set themselves up to break Moose’s fall. They, quite literally, supported their team.
But if not for the sentimentality, I’m cheering on the Royals because they’ve finally built that small ball team that’s winning. It’s not necessarily about dirt cheap players, but it is about scoring more runs than the other guys. Home runs are tough. KC is showing that running the bases works just as well as trotting.