At the quarter-pole, history says with the Royals, anything is still possible
MAY 20, 2013 2:46p ET
History can’t help us here. All we know is that we don’t stinking know. Not after 40 games. Not where the Kansas City Royals are concerned.
At the “quarter-pole” mark of the Big 162 — 40 games — the Royals are 20-20. There’s some sound, a little fury, but in the big picture, it signifies pretty much nothing. It’s like an episode of “Seinfeld,” only Rex Hudler is Cosmo Kramer’s new roommate, and hilarity ensues. For the men in blue, that’s the quarter-pole mark, in a nutshell, over the past quarter century.
First, the good news: Despite an antacid-inducing weekend in Oakland, this just the 11th time over the past 26 years that the Royals have posted a record of .500 or better after 40 games. Which is groovy.
That is, of course, until you read the fine print.
Of the previous 10 instances between 1988-2012, five of those quarter-pole starts eventually led to a season that was .500 or better. And five, um, didn’t.
In fact, the only thing we can say with at least a shred of certainty — based on precedent — is that it beats the Doc McStuffins out of the alternative. Because when the Royals had a losing record after 40 games between ’88-’12, of those 15 sub-.500 ledgers, 14 of them, once the dust had finally settled, amounted to a losing campaign.
So good is good, bad is bad, and early is still — well, early. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Or none of the above. After 40 games, the Royals are four games back of first, two games ahead of the basement, and standing before another fork on another open road. Seventy-five percent of this particular story has yet to be written.
And a week out from Memorial Day, a 50-50 shot at glory trumps no shot at all. Unless you’d rather trade cleats with the Astros (12-32), this evening’s dance partner, or the Marlins (12-32). That’s what we thought.
A year ago at this time, the Royals were 16-24, 6.5 games out, and about to descend into the fourth circle of elbow-surgery hell. Better the enigma you know than the enigma you don’t.
Offenses slump. Offenses fluctuate. Healthy rotations don’t. According to Fangraphs.com, the Royals’ starting pitching ranks fourth in the American League in collective ERA (3.72); fourth in fewest walks per nine innings (2.48); sixth in Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP, 1.27); and sixth in Wins Above Replacement (WAR, 4.6). As stars go, that’s the one to hitch your wagon to.
Sixteen games remain versus the Twins, forever teetering between middling and unexceptional. And 13 more remain with the White Sox, who are worse. Over his career, Jeff Francoeur, America’s Sabermetric pin-cushion, has hit 19 points higher and added 74 points to his OPS after the All-Star break. Those pulling their hairs out over Mike Moustakas’ .563 OPS have forgot The Lesson Of Alex Gordon: In his third season in The Show, in the summer of ’09, the former first-round pick slumped to .232 batting average and was widely tagged as a bust. Since April 2011, he’s hit. 304 and won two Gold Gloves in left field.
On May 20, the sample size is still relatively short. The journey ahead is long. Long and winding.
To put it another way, in NFL terms, the Royals are 2-2. Two up and two down in a world where 9-7 gets you in the Wild Card conversation, worst-case.
Since 2003, of the 41 teams positioned for a playoff berth in the American League on May 20, almost two-thirds of them — 27 — were actually there at the end. But 14 clubs, the other third of that pool, fell off.
And history keeps on shrugging, because lot can happen over four months and change. More context: The Royals have posted a .500 record or better on May 20 just seven times between ‘88-‘12. Of those seven teams, four — 57. 1 percent — wound up with a wining record at the final gun. The old chestnut says those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Although, in this case, that might not turn out to be such a bad deal after all.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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