The 8-2 stretch that the Royals are on since the All-Star break has been a lot of fun, but there are a couple of problems that stand out in it. The most obvious is that despite their victories, they have only picked up one game on the Tigers. They are only 5 out in the wild-card though, so it has not been a complete waste. Still, I am concerned that the winning streak is a mirage that could end up being very costly in the long term due to the second problem, the way they went 8-2.
Of the Royals eight wins since the break, five have been by one run and one was by two runs. Only two of the wins were very convincing. This puts the run differential for the ten games at +7, which would show an expectation of more like 6-4 with a slight stretch toward 7-3 for those ten games. So, the Royals got a little lucky and won an extra 1 and a half to 2 games. This was driven by really good pitching. Such good pitching in fact, that it is unsustainable.
The pitching staff has managed an ERA of just 2.23 since the break, and there is just no way that they can do that from now until the end of the season. This included a Wade Davis start that went seven and a third without a run. Raise your hand if you think he can do that again. It might if he can face the lowly White Sox who are now the second lowest scoring team in the majors with only the Marlins behind them. Now the pitching staff doesn’t need to be this good the rest of the way to make the playoffs because the team doesn’t need to play .800 baseball the whole way, but we will discuss that later.
A bigger problem still looms though, and that is the offense still being disappointing. During this hot stretch the offense only scored 3.4 runs per game. That is terrible, and there just doesn’t seem to be any way to get it fixed. Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and the black hole at second base make 4 out of 9 lineup spots that are just not that productive. On top of that, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are still productive but underperforming. What does this all mean?
It means that the Royals are now close enough in the wild-card that it may keep Dayton Moore from trading bullpen pieces or Ervin Santana. Let’s talk about what it could take to win a wild-card spot.American League
This is the picture right now in the race for the 1-game play-in. The Royals need to jump over 4 teams to get one of the spots. The Yankees are not good, and will likely fall down, so I will give them one. The rest of the teams are all legitimately good. Right now these teams are on pace for 95, 89, 88, and 87 wins. Three of them need to be behind the Royals to attain a playoff birth, so we will call 89 wins the threshold needed even though it could be more than that if just one of the Orioles, Indians, or Rangers has a long hot stretch. That means the Royals need 38 wins from their remaining 60 games. They can only lose 22 the rest of the way. A team that has played .500 through 102 games needs to play .633 baseball for two months.
That is why their playoff odds are still lousy. It is very unlikely that this team is going to make it this year. The smart move is to play for next year, but the win streak might make that hard to do. Trades could be made that keep this team similar or even slightly improved even while moving Santana, but I don’t believe Moore would try such a thing. Instead the Royals might buy, which is fine, as long as they are getting a second baseman for the rest of this year and at least next year too. I don’t mind buying since this team should be in contention next year, but missing an opportunity to sell based on a short run of good luck might make it harder.