I had an extremely cynical idea for a post-World Series post, where I would pretend to have filed before the game started so I could freely watch and enjoy, and write up a list of lessons that the winning team had taught us about how to build a winner...and write up the wrong team.
Get it? The constant affirmation of the Royals approach would suddenly ring hollow as positive results.
Somewhere around the Royals losing in Game 7 with the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth, did this start to feel like an unduly cruel treatment for a miracle run that was instructive.
For the past few weeks we've been marveling at the Royals' post-season success, which has been rather liberally applied to conclusions about the regular season and beyond. Whereas, I think the lessons on the regular season the 88-win Giants and 89-win Royals have provided is thus: get your ass to the playoffs.
Beyond the crapshoot odds that eliminate any real differentiation in the quality of a playoff opportunity, playoff baseball simultaneously demands more and less of teams. Depth, so greatly challenged and constantly evolving throughout the season, gets frozen in time. It matters for the Giants that Gregor Blanco can play center field when Angel Pagan is hurt, but the larger effects of treating Travis Ishikawa and Juan Perez as a starting corner outfielders were muted over a stretch of less than 20 games.
Our most prominent memories of these two teams were telling ones. The Giants decided edge was no one being able to touch Madison Bumgarner, and him being able to keep that going for an innings load that crushed everyone else's. For the Royals, having just three really good relievers became an inflated advantage in an environment where they were never called upon to pitch more than two days in a row and could basically go every day. Your top-level gets emphasized a lot. If a Stars & Scrubs approach works out enough to get you to the playoffs, there's an exciting chance that you can just bludgeon the opposition with your small cadre of elite pitchers, and one or two hitters catching fire for 15 games.
For a Sox rotation that's basically half-built and a lineup stacked around two centerpieces, that sounds like a good fit. In a short series, the difference between Holland-Davis-Herrera vs. Petricka-Putnam, (jeez, how do you finish this one) could seem like a great gulf. That's also an easy problem to fix, but even pondering makes my skin crawl. Also, now I can hear Joe Buck spitting out "Putnam" in my head. Now I'm imagining Putnam's blank expression when a dribbler up the middle scores two after Petricka walked the bases loaded.
Sale and Abreu are the obvious elite-level players that the Sox would be working to maximize. Abreu would get walked constantly, thus kind of guaranteeing him an awesome postseason provided his ankles remain intact and the Sox obliged to actually put the ball in play and score him semi-often.
Sale's a more ponderous case, because while Bumgarner workloads aren't comfortable for anyone, he's specifically been someone who has needed to have his pace and workload managed in regular play, and has responded very well when the Sox made small efforts to rest and restore him. He'd surely be game for 40+ postseason innings, but diminishing returns are a larger concern. We're also discussing someone with--all things considered--more skill than Bumgarner, who has just as much if not more potential to find the next gear that MadBum kept for all of October.
Of all the managers in the world, Robin Ventura* would probably have the least difficulty putting the pedal to the metal and rolling with the same skeleton crew every game. He halfway does that anyway, but then again he hasn't had any deep teams.
*We've been harsh on his decision-making at times, but this post-season has revealed that Ventura has my favorite on-field manager demeanor of anyone ever. I missed him this last month. He needs a national stage. His "Can't believe I gotta walk out here for this bulls---" gait for pitching changes, his eyes glazing over into a 1000-yard stare after errors, the way all of his umpire arguments boil into him insinuating the ump is a coward without any integrity. Missing you bad, Capt. Grumpappotamus.
The AL Central could easily be a half-drunk moshpit of mediocrity next season, and at the risk of repeating myself until cottonmouthed, the Sox should jump in it. There are no stupid playoff bids, just stupid bidders is the Selig legacy, and there's no perceived postseason advantage too fringey to work for 15-20 games. They just have to get in and hope their stupid flaws just go into hiding (like they did for the Giants and Royals), rather than climb up on stilts and waive a flashing LED sign until security ushers them off the premises (like they did for the Tigers).
Everything will shake out--or won't--with enough opportunities, and the Sox not making any in six years is the problem. And as the afterglow of this miracle Royals run will show, and the hubbub about their drought--which was really bad for playoff appearances and not so bad for World Series dryness--opportunities are enough to keep people happy. Nearly everyone loses and there's no rhyme or reason to it, but there is no MLB hell or purgatory for low-level playoff contenders like there is for the NBA. If there was one, it would be where the Sox are now.