Judging the Royals

The Royals win the Central Division championship; now what?

Royals catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrated a division clinch Thursday night but have 10 more regular-season games to play.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrated a division clinch Thursday night but have 10 more regular-season games to play. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and suddenly decided to join the 21st Century by checking out this website, let me be the first to tell you: the Kansas City Royals beat the Seattle Mariners Thursday night and because the Indians also beat the Twins, the Royals are the American League Central Division champs.

Now what?

When baseball teams clinch a playoff spot they generally start giving players days off so they can be rested for the postseason. But the Royals had such a big lead they’ve been resting players for a while now.

The Royals have 10 games left in the regular season. They’ve got a spot in the playoffs secured, but are still battling the Toronto Blue Jays for home-field advantage and home-field advantage could turn out to be a big deal. If Kansas City has to play a series in a smaller ballpark — one that favors home run hitters more than fly ball pitchers — an extra game at home could be huge.

Wednesday night the Royals won an emotional, come from behind, extra-inning game against the Mariners. Thursday afternoon I asked Rusty Kuntz if a game like that could spark a hot streak and he said absolutely; Rusty thought that Wednesday night’s win was a big one and before the evening was over the Royals would win another game and the Central Division.

Royals fans have seen how easy it is for a team to lose its rhythm; games they were winning by one run become one-run losses. If the Kansas City Royals got their mojo working on Wednesday night and it carried over into Thursday’s win, they might be advised to keep their foot on the gas pedal.

Don’t change a thing; keep playing hard and win home-field advantage and hope that momentum carries over into the postseason.

After the Royals clinched the AL Central Division on Thursday night, The Star's Sam Mellinger and Andy McCullough assessed the team entering the playoffs (video by Chris Fickett, cfickett@kcstar.com)

Here’s why that might not matter

Wild-card teams have done remarkably well in the postseason and one theory holds that a wild-card team keeps playing, has a big, emotional win to continue their postseason and then feels like it’s playing with house money: they barely made it into the playoffs and now anything they do is icing on the cake. That makes for a loose, relaxed team and in 2014 Kansas City Royals fans saw how that can be an advantage.

Last season, before their final postseason game against the Angels, I sat in the third-base dugout with Jerry Dipoto, Angels GM at that time. Despite having a better record in the regular season, the Angels were getting beat in the playoffs by a team that got hot at the right time. Jerry said: “We’ve run into the emotional juggernaut that is the Kansas City Royals.”

When you get to the postseason it’s not the best team that will win; it’s the hottest team. Get hot at the right time and anybody has a shot.

It’s not voodoo

Good teams believe they’re going to win and look for opportunities to make that happen. They’re alert and ready to take advantage of an opposition mistake. If something bad happens — like Kendrys Morales overrunning third base and getting picked off — they shake it off and continue to play good baseball.

Bad teams believe they’re going to lose; they’re not alert and ready to take advantage of an opposition mistake. If something bad happens they think it’s the first of many bad things that are going to happen that night.

It’s not voodoo; attitude can have a real effect on what happens on a baseball field. Right now the Royals are on a roll — even if it’s just a two-game roll — and they need to keep it going as long as possible.

Sports at its best

If you want to see the bad side of sports, you don’t have to look very hard: PEDs, cheating or a coach who encourages a player to hurt a referee. But sports can also be positive and last night Kansas City Royals fans experienced what a sports team can do for a community.

I normally sit in the press box and cheering is not allowed. Jeering is OK, but express too much enthusiasm and you might be told to go buy a ticket if you want to cheer — and to be honest, that’s pretty much how it should be. The media is there to report on games, not root for the home team. But if I’m going to continue to be honest, reporters get to know the players and you’d have to be a robot to not feel some happiness when a guy you know and like does well.

Last night I had some friends at the game and went downstairs to sit with them and sitting in the crowd is a totally different experience than watching a game from the press box. When a team does well — and the Kansas City Royals are on that list — they can unite a community.

Total strangers are exchanging high fives and hugs when Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas hits a home run. A guy you don’t know from Adam leans in to tell you the Twins are losing. When the Cleveland-Minnesota score goes up on the outfield scoreboard, the crowd erupts as one.

And after the game, people don’t want to leave; someone set up a karaoke machine in the parking lot and once again total strangers formed a bond — they were singing and dancing to the B-52’s “Love Shack.”

If you’re a Royals fan and you were at the game or watched it on TV or listened to it on the radio, remember how you felt when the Royals won and clinched a playoff spot. If you high-fived somebody or ran to tell someone the news, remember how a sports team made you reach out to another human being. Sharing joyful moments with other people makes life better and a baseball team made that happen.

That’s sports at its best.

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