The New York Metropolitans collapsed late in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series, allowing the Kansas City Royals to put together an unlikely comeback. That implosion put the Mets down, three games to one, and just like that the series was all but over. Maybe the Mets didn't play all that great, but the Royals absolutely deserved to win. They catch the ball and hold onto the lead.
It was a nice, if unexpected, return to the World Series for Kansas City. After making a slightly under-the-radar run in 2014, only to lose in seven games to the San Francisco Giants, the club that Dayton Moore put together for 2015 didn't actually look like an improvement. On paper, it looked worse. Here's what I said about the Royals in my 2015 Twins preview back in March:
James Shields is out, replaced by Edinson Volquez. Billy Butler is out, replaced by Kendrys Morales on a contract that should remind Twins fans of Mike Pelfrey (only worse). Nori Aoki is out, replaced by Alex Rios. There's still a lot of talent on the roster, from Yordano Ventura to Greg Holland to Alex Gordon to Salvador Perez, but if the Royals are going to threaten in October again you'd have to imagine that the offense and pitching will need to step it up a notch.
In the end I predicted Kansas City to go 81-81. It was better than the Twins (77-85) and the White Sox (70-92), but worse than the Tigers (90-72) and the Indians (89-73). My predictions turned out to be pretty terrible, but I wasn't alone. Not even Royals fans thought they looked like a contender for a repeat trip to the game's pinnacle event. Here's a telling clip from a season preview over at Royals Review:
Fangraphs projects to Royals to win just 78 games next year while Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system is even more pessimistic with just 72 wins. Those models seem a bit too critical of the Royals, and PECOTA vastly underrates the Royals starting pitching staff, which is likely an average-to-slightly below average pitching staff. Bovada Sportsbook in Las Vegas has the over/under on the number of Royals wins at 80.5, which seems a bit more likely.
Yet here we are. The Royals are the 2015 World Series champions, kings of baseball. It's why you play the games; it's why you can never truly predict a game that's played over six long months; insert all the can't-predict-ball platitudes here until your heart's content.
Suddenly it's en vogue for critics and fans alike to look at the Kansas City Royals and say "See, how that is how [YOUR FAVORITE TEAM] should be put together!" The Twins are no exception.
KC winning the World Series should sting a lot for the #MNTwins. Both teams w/ similar mid-market status. Royals just do it better.— Phil Mackey (@PhilMackey) November 2, 2015
As far as the Twins go, it's not a bad comparison. Similar-sized markets, each with an emphasis on building from within; the Royals have been more aggressive in trades (James Shields, Johnny Cueto first and foremost) over the last two years, but they were also seen to be closer to contention than has been Minnesota. Still, when teams win their blueprint becomes the sexy blueprint. Terry Ryan's blueprint was the lovechild of all baseball pundits throughout the 2000s.
Whether Mackey is actually right, I'm not convinced. If you take Mackey's words as gospel, then perhaps big market teams should be feeling the sting a bit more. After all, if a mid-market team with mid-market resources can win the big one, what does that say about how good those big-market teams with the big-market resources are at their jobs? That will be a common criticism, but in a sport where only one team walks away victorious - and in a sport where a new champion is likely to be crowned just 12 months later - it's also a knee-jerk criticism. Holding up a championship trophy as the only measure of success isn't the actual barometer by which success is or should be judged.
Over the last few years, it's safe to say that the Royals have done a better job than the Twins at winning ballgames. Most teams have been. Since 2011, the worst teams in baseball have been Minnesota, Houston, Miami, Colorado, and the Chicago Cubs. Seattle and the White Sox haven't been far off. So sure, in recent history the Royals "just do it better," but it's a low bar. The Royals have done it better than almost everyone, and you'd be hard pressed to argue that baseball has had a better team over these last two seasons.
|Team||2015 Record||2011 - 2014 Record|
|Kansas City Royals||95 - 67||318 - 330|
|Seattle Mariners||76 - 86||300 - 348|
|Chicago White Sox||76 - 86||300 - 348|
|Miami Marlins||71 - 91||280 - 368|
|Colorado Rockies||68 - 94||277 - 371|
|Chicago Cubs||97 - 65||271 - 377|
|Minnesota Twins||83 - 79||265 - 383|
|Houston Astros||86 - 76||232 - 416|
In the larger context, I wonder what Mackey's point is. "The Royals just do it better" is less an indictment on the Twins than it is on baseball as a whole if we're only talking about the last three years. But that seems to ignore all pretense of context since from 1986 to 2013 the Royals made zero playoff appearances.
From 1995 to 2012, the now championship-winning club finished with a single season at .500 or better. If 29 years of mostly being terrible is what it takes for the Royals to "just do it better," then I don't really think they're doing anything all that great to begin with. 29 years of dress rehearsals ought to make you exceptional at what you do, after all. Kansas City essentially found the right road by travelling every single incorrect one. "Process of elimination" is not a commonly accepted strategy for building a winning team.
I'm being a little facetious here, because that's not an indictment on the Royals. If anything it's an illustration of how far the team has come over the last three years, and for fans it must feel incredible considering the journey. For all the fans who watched their team toil and endured broken heart after broken heart through the years, I legitimately couldn't be happier for you.
Ultimately, that's the story of every team in baseball: how do they make enough good choices to be competitive? Every team goes through cycles of being good and being bad (except the Cardinals, apparently). The real concern is how often the club competes, and how long it takes them to compete again once they've had a bad year or two. So credit Kansas City for being as good as they've been the last two years, but let's not pretend like it's some magical process they've perfected. Quite simply, they finally just got it right.
The Twins are going through their own process. It's been 24 years since the franchise last hoisted the World Series trophy, but that's not the only qualifier for a successful season. Only in the last five years have the Twins struggled to put a good team on the field, and that's a struggle that finally feels like it's heading in the right direction. Maybe it's taken longer to see the light at the end of the tunnel than we'd have liked, but the light is definitely there. And the Twins are nowhere near the 29-year mark.
Should the Twins be modeling themselves after the Royals? In terms of winning games, absolutely. The Royals are one of baseball's best teams.
Still, only ten of their 25-man World Series roster was drafted or signed by their own design, and considering the makeup of Minnesota's current roster it probably wouldn't behoove them to go the same route. Kansas City, as mentioned earlier, has been aggressive in trades over the last two years as well, yet Dayton Moore chose his spots wisely and didn't go for broke on James Shields until he saw the window open. Minnesota's window has only, perhaps, just opened in 2015. To have expected the 2013 or 2014 Twins to behave like the 2014 and 2015 Royals would have been putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
Maybe the winter of 2015-2016 is Minnesota's time to strike. Kansas City took a step up in 2013 before contending in 2014. Houston took a step up in 2014 before contending in 2015. Our own Twins took a step up in 2001 before competing in 2002. If there was a time for Terry Ryan to be bold and cash in a few of his chips, this does feel like as good of a time as any.
Success comes in many different forms. For some teams it manifests itself right away, like the Cubs this year, but for other teams it's a process that reveals itself in stages. Teams on the outside of the post-season looking in should always aspire to be one of those teams. But should they be modeling themselves on a specific club that happened to play well in late October? Absolutely not. The fabric of every team is built individually, piece by piece, and the circumstances under which the club operates are unique to its own place and time.
If the argument is that the Twins should "just do it better" like the Royals simply because Kansas City won the World Series, then we're just stating facts and not offering up any kind of thought on how a team blueprints its way to success. If the argument is that the Twins should somehow be doing what the Royals do to build a winner, then all I can say is that they already are. Just not how Kansas City did. And unless there is now just one way to win, that's probably okay.
Otherwise, maybe this stings because it's a division rival. But not that much more than anyone else winning it. It's just another season where it's not the Twins. So goes the game of baseball, where every year 29 teams come away without a World Series title.
Congratulations to the Mets. To be so close and to lose hurts worse than not getting there at all, but losing the World Series still constitutes a successful year...even if it's heart-breaking. And mostly, congratulations to the Royals and to their fans. This was a championship hard-fought for and well deserved. That vindication must be one of the sweetest tastes imaginable.