URL Weaver: The Low Bar

Much was made this week when the Pittsburgh Pirates won their 81st game of the year. For the first time in 20 years, the Pirates would not lose more games than they won. A celebration erupted on the banks of the Three Rivers!

The Pirates take the field tonight with a chance to make it official, to ensure a “winning” season rather than a “non-losing” season for the first time in a generation. Fans of the Bucs can take a moment to celebrate this mini-milestone as their team remains in first place in the tight NL Central, with an inside track on a playoff berth.

The winning season is simply a lower tier on the sweet, glorious, murder-filled cake that is the Pirates 2013 campaign. The first step in a long march towards the bigger prize.

The Kansas City Royals aren’t so lucky. Mustering a thrilling come-from-behind victory against the woeful Seattle Mariners only serves to remind Royals of how far they still have to go. A better product and more exciting ball club they might be but there is still so much work to be done. Kansas City might be on track to eclipse the .500 mark for just the second time since baseball’s last labor stoppage, but they’re miles out of the Wild Card race.

Does winning more games than they lose make the 2013 season a successful one in Kansas City?

In a word: no. The Royals gave up a very good, very cost-controlled player in pursuit of a greater good than just “winning more games than they lose.” And while the Royals still have James Shields (and Wade Davis) for another run at the playoffs next season, one could argue KC wouldn’t be much worse off with Myers rather than Shields today.

James Shields has been all that the Royals wanted and, depending on your agenda, more. Shields is in the middle of a prototypical Shields season – plenty of innings and plenty of excellence, allowing just over 3 runs per nine innings and taking the ball every fifth day. Shields and Ervin Santana solidified the Royals shaky rotation, teaming with a well-built bullpen to make the Royals one of top teams in baseball at preventing runs.

Sadly, scoring runs was an issue for Kansas City for much of the season. A parade of hitting coaches helped key performer Eric Hosmer along but the Royals offense let them down in the early stages of the season. A late July run put them within shouting distance of the Wild Card but they remain five games behind Tampa Bay for the second Wild Card with three teams to leapfrog.

Is winning more games than any time since 2003 worth losing six years of Wil Myers? Probably not. If KC hit on everything in 2013 they could still be in contention but, alas, reality doesn’t work that way. They still have their young core in place for next season, though there are many roster questions as yet unanswered.

The Royals are a very cost-conscious club but picking up the $12MM option on James Shields is all but assured. Add in raises for Alex Gordon, Jeremy Guthrie (on the books for two more years!) plus Hosmer, pitcher Aaron Crow, and closer Greg Holland hitting arbitration for the first time and the thrifty Royals will have a hard time upgrading on their shoestring budget.

The Toronto Blue Jays provide a vivid counterpoint to the Royals mild success. The Jays consistently win more games than they lose but, when they finally rolled up their stake and really made an effort to get over the hump, they fell flat, missing the mark on several pitcher evaluations and giving too many reps to marginal big leaguers.

The Jays winning-with-a-small-w ways granted them zero leeway with the fans. Because there is winning and there is Winning. If you aren’t Winning, you aren’t actually doing anything, are you?

The Pirates can celebrate breaching the .500 mark because it represents the first of many celebrations in 2013. The Royals will look back and, after sufficiently moving the goal posts to ensure job security for the decision makers, quietly puff out their chests at their tiny victories. Unfortunately for the Royals, success is not linear and does not come in tiny increments. Scraping ten extra victories off the heap to move from 74 to 84 wins is the easy part – it’s the next five that separate tepid success from the hot action of cool October nights.

And the rest

Great look at Juan Lagares throwing prowess [Fangraphs]

Speaking of throwing arms

LOL

Pitching for next year – Andrew Cashner [Padres Public]

Mark Trumbo, man who gets it. [Angels dot com]