KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Royals began this month with a special opportunity to be the 2004 Red Sox, the '05 White Sox or the '08 Phillies -- teams that ended a long championship drought while also establishing what many thought to be a launching pad for continued prosperity.
But making it this far in October is no guarantee of future success, particularly for teams that fail in the Fall Classic. Which means these Royals could just as easily become the 2000 Mets, the '05 Astros or the '07 Rockies, one-hit wonders who were unable to build off a deep postseason run.
We know the Mets' story. Since that glorious dash to the Subway Series, they've had one playoff appearance, five managers and five GMs. The Astros have yet to return to the playoffs at all -- never mind the World Series -- while cracking 80 wins only three times and losing 100 on three other occasions.
As for the Rockies, they won 21 out of 22 games heading into the '07 World Series, where they were swept by the Red Sox. Since then, Colorado has been back to the playoffs once, in '09, when they lost to the eventual-champion Phillies in the Division Series.
We don't have our definitive answer about the Royals just yet. They're still a wild-card team that got hot at the right time -- not all that different than the Giants, but with one notable exception. The Giants headed into Tuesday night's Game 6 trying for their third title in five years, an even more impressive stretch than those Bambino-busting Sox. And who saw that coming?
During those two "off" seasons, San Francisco didn't make the playoffs, and last year the Giants won 76 games. If there's a magic formula, it's an ability to recognize holes fairly quickly and have the roster flexibility to fix them. A little luck doesn't hurt, either.
"A lot has to go right," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "First off, it starts with the talent. You need that, which we have. It takes guys playing on top of their game and guys who can handle playing in the postseason, because it's really tough to get here.
"We know the tough road we had getting here this time, and even going back to '12, when our backs were to the wall a couple different times. But it's all about persevering."
These Royals are nothing if not resilient. They fought back from a four-run deficit in the eighth inning to beat the A's in the wild-card game, then didn't lose again until Game 1 of the World Series, ending their history-making 8-0 streak. But what's the ratio of pure talent vs. October momentum?
Few, if any, believed these two wild-card teams would be playing each other in the World Series. The trick is being able to sustain that level of play from year to year and holding on to the players capable of doing it. The '14 Royals have a core developed through high-draft picks -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon -- a few major trades and smart international signings.
Sending Zack Greinke to the Brewers got them Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Dealing slugging outfield prospect Wil Myers to the Rays netted them James Shields and Wade Davis. Game 6 starter Yordano Ventura, Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera all were scouted and signed as teenagers.
If a team is fortunate and its potential is realized, then you get what is happening with the Royals. But that doesn't mean this type of performance can be reproduced on a yearly basis. There are too many variables.
"It's hard to predict wins and losses," Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "But one thing we felt from Day 1 is these players would go out and give us an effort because they love to play."
Two significant pieces from this roster are headed for free agency next month and certainly are goners: Shields and Nori Aoki. A third, Butler, has a $12.5-million team option and that is sure to be declined. Otherwise, next year's Royals should have a very close resemblance to the AL pennant-winning club.
Duplicating its success, however, is not automatic.