I don’t know what to make of this season anymore.
It’s a departure from most Royals seasons where the team starts low and stays low. This year, there have been peaks and valleys nearly all season.
The low point was their 23-32 mark on June 4. Since, they’ve clawed back to .500 at 34-34 and promptly dropped four straight after. They didn’t get back to .500 until game 102 on July 28 after a stretch that took them from entertaining offers for Ervin Santana to looking to add pieces. Since July 28, they’ve been at .500 or better, but still had a mini-collapse that took them from 62-54 back down to 64-64.
They’re 11-4 since that period and are coming off of a series win over Detroit after an opening game that could have been the final dagger. Maybe this group is just too young to know they’re supposed to fold by now. Or maybe that’s still to come. So far, though, every time it’s looked like the Royals were coming back down to earth, they’ve turned it around and given hope back to the fanbase.
This chart illustrates the swings:
This latest surge has put the Royals just 3.5 games back of the wild card, a spot that seemed unfathomable just two weeks ago when the Yankees jumped ahead of Kansas City and put some distance between the two teams. On August 25, the Royals were seven games back of the postseason; New York was 3.5 games behind.
After Sunday, the Royals are back in it. They’re just a game behind the Yankees and a game and a half behind both Baltimore and Cleveland. If the Royals can sweep Cleveland in this upcoming series, they can watch the Yankees and Orioles beat each other up in a four game series. If New York and Baltimore split, the teams chasing Tampa could line up like this after Thursday:
- Kansas City 78-68
- Baltimore 78-68
- New York 78-69
- Cleveland 76-69
Tampa faces Boston, the team with the best record in the AL and the team that just scored 57 runs in their last five games. They’re playing great baseball at the moment and if they were to be helpful to our cause and sweep Tampa, the Royals would be half a game behind the Rays.
That’s the best-case scenario, and there would still be the final two and a half weeks of the season to go and finish things up, but while the odds are steep, they aren’t impossible.
The realist in me knows that it’s a longshot. Baseball Prospectus had them with a 1.5% chance to make the wild card as of Sunday morning. ESPN is more optimistic at 8.4%, but there’s no denying that the Royals need everything to break their way for it to work.
They dodged some bullets in the last week. The starting rotation was shaky this time through with the exception of Bruce Chen‘s efficient seven innings on Sunday. Previously, only Jeremy Guthrie had made it into the sixth inning, and he still gave up five runs in the process. Overall, in the last five games, Royals starters have thrown 24.1 innings and allowed 23 runs. Omit Chen’s 7 IP, 2 run effort and it’s even worse. The Royals bullpen did their job for the most part, and a fully stocked bullpen (after September call ups arrived) helped Ned Yost play matchups and bring a quick hook when it was necessary.
Now, the Royals have to take care of business on their end. They’ll face Cleveland on the road then meet up with Detroit for another series. They’ll return home for another shot at Cleveland and finish the home schedule a set against the Rangers. It’s a difficult stretch in an intensely meaningful time of year.
That’s the season. If they thrive during this coming stretch, things get exciting. Fade this week and the dream is over. If everything falls right, the last two series are against Seattle (who the Royals just took three of four and had a shot at the fourth) and the White Sox (who have been better than only the Astros this year in the AL).