As much as many of us enjoy the springtime beauty and assorted other good things associated with the month of May, the same cannot be said for the Kansas City Royals.
You see, May historically has marked the beginning of the end for the Royals in terms of when the team starts to show its real colors and what has become an almost predictable rapid fall out of contention for anything but a battle of deflated egos over last place.
Kansas City is 103-178 during the past decade in games played in May. That's a winning percentage of .370. Good enough, maybe, for the best hitters in the game today, but hardly so for teams that strive for success on the field in pursuit of competing for championships. Even with the Royals' best teams, though, May has not been a forgiving time of year. In 1977, for example, when Whitey Herzog's "Whiteyball" wonders produced the Royals' best season finish in club history, winning 102 games, the team's record in May was a season-worst 10-15.
Kansas City did better in April this season than it has in most years. The Royals were 14-12 in April, but 11 of those wins were at Kauffman Stadium. So how is the team doing thus far in May? In 20 games this month, Kansas City is 8-12. They've played nine games at home, losing six, so the home-field magic has worn off a bit. So far this month, the Royals have played six road games in which they have two of six. That's better than they fared in April, when they were only 3-8 in out-of-town games, including dropping all six on one trip. But the Royals have six games this week at Baltimore and Texas before returning home to face the Los Angeles Angels to close out the month.
If you go by the team's performance over the past five seasons, the period from now to the end of the month may be the most telling statistic of all insofar as what we can expect from this young yet hungry group of Royals going forward and heading into the heart and heat of the 2011 MLB season. There were three seasons out of the previous five that are particularly noteworthy in underscoring why the next week is of such concern.
In the 2009 season, as you may remember, the Royals jumped out to an 18-11 record and were in first-place in the American League Central division into the first part of May. After 46 games that same year, Kansas City was at .500 (23-23). That was the last time the Royals would see the .500 mark that season. They lost 10 of their next 13 games, all but shuttering any hopes the Boys in Blue had for a winning season. The team finished out the year going 42-74 over the final 116 games and winding up 65-97 for the season, tied with the Cleveland Indians for last place in the AL Central.
The following year (2008), the Royals were 21-26 47 games into the season, but they were also four games into a 12-game losing streak, the longest that season, that would swell the loss column to 34 by the end of the month, and with no more wins to show for it. The same phenomenon occurred in 2007, when the Royals were 19-28 after 47 games. Seven consecutive losses later, then-manager Buddy Bell's team found itself with a 19-35 record on May 30 and mired in the AL Central cellar, 14½ games out with two-thirds of the season left to be played.
The Royals' real return to respectability and a much-improved record is probably still a year or two off, if you put faith in what general manager Dayton Moore and others in and outside of the Royals' organization are advising us. But this year's edition of the team has shown a lot of spunk and character and a confidence that has willed them to a few unexpected late-game victories.
A winning record in May is not necessarily a "must" to come out of the season with a winning record, but it certainly contributes mightily to the cause and helps sustain the interest of the fans into the lucrative summer months when baseball attendance is generally at its peak. In the last 22 years, Kansas City has delivered only four winning seasons. In only two of those winning seasons and in only five years during the past 22 have the Royals won more games than they lost in the month of May.
The last time the Royals ended the season north of .500 was 2003 under manager Tony Pena. They were 83-79 that year after starting out 9-0 and winning 16 of their first 19 games. Despite the surprising start, Kansas City was only 10-19 in May, by far the team's worst month of the season.
If you're still skeptical and don't believe there is a correlation between how the Royals do in May and how they do over the full season, then consider this: Kansas City's worst three seasons in the past decade (2004: 58-104; 2005: 56-106; 2004: 62-100) are in direct proportion to the team's worst three months of May over the same 10-year time frame. In May 2004, the Royals finished the month with a 10-17 record; in 2005, the team's worst season all-time, their May record was 8-19; they were 8-21 in May in the 2006 season.
With seven games remaining in the current month, six of them away from Kauffman Stadium, and the Royals sporting a 22-25 record overall and an 8-up, 12-down mark thus far in May, the critical question is: Can the 2011 edition of this team avoid the slippery slope that has sent the Royals into a virtual freefall this time of year in seasons' past.
We'll soon find out. And I'm betting, yes, they can.