The Royals are an obviously incredible story. Just what they've actually done.
A team forced into extremism by their weaknesses--running and bunting due to lack of power and on-base opportunities--and this was the first season their burly bullpen wasn't a small solace to an underdeveloped rotation. Their best reliever, Wade Davis, was last season's rotation disaster, following the Luke Hochevar path before them. Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy pitching above their ceilings, and their peripherals, vaulted their rotation into an above-average staff ERA.
Backed into a corner, the Royals embraced their desperation and took it as far it would take them: 89 wins, a Wild Card spot--their first playoff berth, their first chance to dance in the random number generator of the playoffs. The Tigers, who cannot run, field, nor find a decent reliever if they were locked in a barn full of them, took the division crown outright.
Against the odds, even the odds they create for themselves, the Royals have gotten hot. Their style dictates slim margins and frequent toss-up games, and sure enough they've won three of those in that stretch. But they've also flashed uncharacteristic power and boomed their way to five other wins. The combination has transformed them into something that looks like it should tear through the AL playoffs with no resistance.
It's been an amazing turn of events, a sudden and frenzied liberation of a fanbase defined by decades of frustration, and even a roster defined by the disappointing returns of the promises of a boffo farm system. I can't imagine the mentality behind anyone wanting to ruin it by tut-tutting how much they bunted, or how non-optimized their offensive approach is.
The opposite, however, is in healthy supply, where the singular success of the Royals, particularly their eight-game winning streak is used to justify the revival of the conventional wisdom of our youth, a validation of the traditional edicts of the value of a humble bunt, speed being essential to offense, and even Hawk Harrelson's bullpen-first mantra getting a boost.
The TIME magazine piece shown above, hyperbolic headline and all, might be one of the more reasoned efforts, citing a declining offensive environment as the impetus for the Royals takeover. We never see when and where the next trend is coming from, but until something changes, the downward spiral of offense that has undoubtedly moved the league closer to the Royals way of doing things prompts questions of how teams will adjust.
But one of the worst offenses in the American League is an odd choice to anoint as baseball's vanguard. The Royals are extremists. They successfully stole more bases this season than the average AL club even attempted, they stole over 30 more bases than the No. 2 team (the Astros, who had AL leader Jose Altuve). The majority of the above-average offenses in the league had below-average stolen base totals, and where teams fall on the spectrum can have as much to do with the distribution of the few specialists in the league capable of stealing frequently at an acceptable rate, than a larger approach.
There's a conversation to be had about the direction of league offense, there almost always is, but the notion that validation for sacrificing outs, or eschewing home runs is sealed and delivered by the Royals' 89-win season and subsequent eight-game postseason rush is both a bridge too far, and an unfortunate departure from actually talking about the Royals. Lorenzo Cain can and should be enjoyed without an agenda.
I'm wasting my breath, of course. Humans respond to storytelling, not studies. The 'Moneyball Finally Wins' talk if the A's had put together a run might have been just as oppressive, and there's no stopping the urge to extrapolate the most recent events into a larger trend, since we can't even remember to disregard Spring Training half the time. We filter what we observe through our our pre-existing worldview, it's just a question of whether we're so eager to see our ideas reflected back to us so much that we stop taking in any new light at all.