A hand in the Royals' playoff destiny

Anxiety sets in at different times for everyone, but I started to realize the 2012 White Sox might be screwed on the night of Thursday, Sept. 20, a night much like Monday night. The Sox spent the evening blowing an early 3-0 lead in slow-motion. They at least looked like they could escape a tense ninth inning when Matt Thornton came on with two out to face Eric Hosmer, who would finish the season with a .591 OPS against left-handed pitching.

Despite the lopsided advantage, Hosmer reached out and poked a grounder off an outside fastball past Kevin Youkilis at third, brought the winning run home and stifled a chance to push the division lead back out to three. The loss capped a frustrating series loss to the Royals where they generated plenty of opportunities but went 2-25 with runners in scoring position, and only won the game where they hit three solo home runs, prompting a lot of talking points about "execution" and "all-or-nothing." The Sox would go 5-9 the rest of the way and miss the playoff surprisingly easily.

The White Sox, born of dinger-land and sculpted to play in dinger-land, are a naturally bad fit for the Royals' home park. To make things more difficult, they haven't been truly great in nearly a decade, and struggle to play over marginal disadvantages, especially the ones this 2014 Royals team seems to have staked their existence on.

The Sox literally lost an actual MLB game Monday because their bullpen is full of sinkerballers and the Royals are one of the few teams that would bother having a full stable of pinch-runners. Most of the writing staff of The Catbird Seat would probably choke on their beer if Rick Hahn announced an intention to focus on either issue in their off-season acquisitions, but the continued struggles in Kansas City still get to serve as this moral crucible of the Sox adherence to fundamentals and true baseball. The Sox certainly have an established type and approach, but still have angst over the natural consequences of them. When Alexei Ramirez bunts into a triple play, we hears call for him to get getter at bunting, rather than to never bunt again.

Personally, there's too much familiarity with other AL Central teams, their fanbases, and their deluded sense of self to have a real favorite in this divisional race. There's Tigers fans, who got quickly familiar with success and called the division for themselves before Mother's Day. Narratives on the Indians are mostly tolerable save for the 'Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister are a good 1-2 rotation combo' talk I had to suffer through, and the slow climb to eradicate Chief Wahoo. The Twins seem harmless now, but were essentially today's Royals for over a decade, and the villains of nearly every great battle of Paul Konerko's career.

Even with all that, the Royals are long-suffering, but otherwise would be an odd sort of team for the Sox fanbase to see as sympathetic. They cannot hit for power nor get on base exceptionally well. They traded their top prospects for good but not elite pitchers, sold out their future for an immediate payoff that wasn't great (even if they make the playoffs, James Shields' two years will not have included even a 90-win season), paid market value for mediocrity in Jason Vargas and lucked out when batted-ball luck and great outfield defense nudged him into a career season. UZR looniness about corner outfield defense has even made them a flashpoint for an absurd MVP debate about Alex Gordon. They are the star witness for Hawk Harrelson's confounding 'bullpen first' argument. We rag on Robin frequently, probably too much, but he never makes us scratch our heads and make us wonder what he knows that we don't like this

I don't get any sympathy for this franchise...do we hate ourselves? Do we long for 2006-12? The endless slate of almost, sorta, maybe coulda Sox teams that stood around the periphery of the playoffs? 

Perhaps I don't quite reach the point of actively wishing for this team to fail, but that's partially due to the alternatives. The Royals are nothing like the White Sox, and have done nothing with their competitive window--including shortening it--that I would want the Sox to replicate. The annoyingly impossible-to-kill franchise is having their most annoying impossible-to-kill season, in spite of themselves, as always. I am not particularly interested in seeing their approach rewarded.

But since they are playing the White Sox for two series in the final two weeks, they likely will be, since the Sox are a bottom-10 team playing a litany of September call-ups, giving starts to Chris Bassitt and Andy Wilkins, saying goodbye to Paul Konerko, and other non-competitive minded things that are appropriate at these times. It can be uninspiring, but I certainly hope it doesn't foster jealousy for the other side.


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