If you didn't fall in love with the Kansas City Royals last season, now's your chance. Don't mess it up this time.
Kansas City came as close to a World Series championship as you can get in 2014. After beating the Oakland A's in the wild card game, the Royals swept away the Los Angeles Angels and the Baltimore Orioles to reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. They battled the San Francisco Giants to the seventh and deciding game and lost 3-2 with the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth inning. Short of a spectacular double play turned by the Giants in the third inning with the game tied 2-2, the Royals may very well have raised a championship banner over Kauffman Stadium last week.
Still, as the 2015 season approached, few baseball analysts gave the Royals much of a chance to make it back to the postseason, much less the World Series. Most pointed to the departure of the Royals' pitching ace, James Shields, who signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent in the offseason. The Royals replaced Shields with Edinson Volquez, who was last seen in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform giving up five runs in five innings to the Giants in the National League wild card game.
There was also the matter of the Royals' anemic offense last year—they scored only 651 runs, the fewest of the five American League teams that reached the postseason. And that was with Billy Butler as the team's designated hitter—he left in free agency. The new DH is Kendrys Morales, most recently famous for shattering his leg by jumping on home plate after hitting a walk-off home run for the Angels back in 2010. Oh, and for changing his name from Kendry to Kendrys.
All of this makes any baseball analyst's job as easy as typing out "the Royals are screwed." The Royals have a message for those analysts: Screw. You.
Kansas City has ripped off seven consecutive wins to start the season, a feat accomplished by only 25 other teams in major league history dating back to 1914. And they've won those games convincingly. The Royals are the first American League team to ever win their first seven games by two runs or more and, in total, have outscored their opponents 52-18. The bullpen has been perfect. In 19 innings, Royals relievers have given up no runs. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The even bigger surprise so far is power, and lots of it. The Royals have whacked 10 home runs in seven games, compared to the 95 they hit in 162 games last season. And they've done it at ballparks—and in early spring weather—that suppress home run power. A summer of hot weather games in home run-friendly parks like Comerica Park in Detroit and Progressive Field in Cleveland are certain to help along the Royals' power renaissance.
None of this is sustainable, of course. Not the unscored-on bullpen. Not the home run pace. Not the win streak. Indeed, the inevitable cooling is a reality Royals fans know only too well. The Royals were down so low for so long that they became a favorite target of the baseball intelligentsia. General manager Dayton Moore was excoriated for the late 2012 trade that sent top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. "You don't make a trade for a top-of-the-rotation starter like Shields unless you're close to winning," the experts shouted, when they weren't making fun of manager Ned Yost's bunt-loving strategies. The hashtag #BoomYosted became a popular Twitter meme whenever Yost ordered a sacrifice bunt to move a runner into scoring position when a bigger inning seemed more likely.
Keep in mind that the last couple of years amounts to a Pax Augusta for win-starved and arrow-riddled Royals fans, who celebrated the team's one World Series championship in 1985 only to suffer through 28 consecutive seasons without a postseason appearance. However, the worst of it is clearly over, and after decades of predictable failure, the Royals' revenge is fittingly tied to proving everyone wrong.
That reckoning between past and present is what makes the current Royals so easy to root for. If nothing else, it's a lot better than rooting for some analyst to be right.