Aug 7, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Brett Hayes (12) is congratulated by first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) after scoring in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Through 112 games, the Royals are 59-53. It’s their best record this late in the season in a decade.
During the All-Star break, Dayton Moore was discussing the potential of trading Ervin Santana at the deadline. The Royals had just lost five in a row going into the break and sat at 43-49. It really looked like any other year where the Royals would look to regroup for next year when the trading deadline rolled around. But Moore didn’t trade Santana and instead expressed confidence in his team to turn it around.
"“There’s no reason this team can’t go on a run where you win 15 of 20.” – Dayton Moore, July 18, 2013"
It’s a nice sentiment and a GM has to be confident. But Moore was incorrect in his assessment. In the last 20 games, the Royals haven’t won 15 games.
Nope. They’ve won 16.
That included a nine game winning streak over a stretch where the Royals faced weaker teams in the White Sox, Twins, and Mets. But they still won them.
So now there’s meaningful baseball being played in Kansas City in August. It’s fun. It feels great. Even better, this feels like more than just a fluke right now. Since June, the Royals are 37-23, good for a .616 winning percentage. After a win tonight, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the major league’s best winning percentage for the year at .614. In other words, over the last 69 days, the Royals have been winning at a pace better than the best team in baseball. Add in their 14-10 April and they’d have a .607 winning percentage. Of course, that’s some selective accounting, as the Royals 8-20 May record could act as an anchor on their season.
Aug 7, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; A Kansas City Royals fans holds a sign in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 5-2. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Nonetheless, they’re winning now and have won for most of the season. Even some of the most hardened, cynical Royals fans out there are starting to believe, even if tentatively.
The Royals .527 winning percentage has them on pace for 85 wins this year, but if you apply their winning percentage since June, it puts them on pace for 89 wins. It doesn’t even feel right to type that out after so many years of losing, but the Royals have been good more than they’ve been bad this year.
And that’s a fortunate thing because Detroit is trying to run away with the division. While the Royals were winning over this recent stretch, so were the Tigers. They just completed a four game sweep of Cleveland that gives them a 12 game winning streak. Before that streak, they were on pace to win 90 games. After, they’re on pace for 97. That kind of play is what compelled Rob Neyer to point to the wild card as the Royals best shot at the playoffs. He even called for a Tigers sweep as the best case scenario.
"Royals fans should be rooting for the Tigers. Hard. Because the division title’s gone, which means the Royals should be rooting for whomever’s playing the Indians, whomever’s playing the Rangers, and whomever’s playing the Orioles. Every single day and night. – Neyer, August 5, 2013"
That makes sense. There’s optimism and there’s hoping for a miracle. Let’s say the Tigers cool off – Justin Verlander starts to get hit hard again, Miguel Cabrera keeps battling nagging injuries, the Jhonny Peralta suspension slows the offense – and let’s say they fall back to a 90 win pace. They’d have to go 22-27 the rest of the way to fall to 90 wins. To match them, the Royals would have to go 31-19, an even better .620 winning percentage than what they’ve been going on over the last two-plus months. They do have a five game set coming up against Detroit, but even sweeping that (as improbable as that may be) leaves the Royals 3.5 games behind.
So as fans, it’s reasonable to hope for, but not expect, the division. It’s certainly a better option for going on a run in the playoffs, as a five game series in the divisional round is less of a crapshoot than the play-in wild card game, but a one game playoff with James Shields or Ervin Santana on the mound? The Royals have a shot in that matchup. With the best ERA in the American League, the just need to get in.
And don’t look now, but the Royals are just 1.5 games behind Cleveland in the wild card standings and 4.5 off the lead.
The Royals can’t take their eye off the division. As fans, we can look at the numbers and see the writing on the wall. The first thing to hope for, then, is more wins. That’s the one thing the Royals can control, and if they don’t win, no other scenarios matter. If the Royals fade back towards .500, what Baltimore, Texas, Cleveland or anyone else do makes no difference.
Next, hope for the Tigers to lose games (to anyone not in the wild card race). At least keep the division in sight. Then the Royals need help with the Orioles, as they’ve already played all of their games against them. They have three more games against the Rangers, one more (a makeup) against the Rays, and six more against Cleveland. That gives them some chance of controlling their own destiny, but there’s still going to be some scoreboard watching.
But we are, and for the first time in a long time, checking other AL scores means more than just satisfying curiosity about how the contenders are doing. It matters starting now.