Where Things Stand – The Royals and the Wild Card Race


Sep 14, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) tags Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder (28) out at home for the final out in the ninth inning at Comerica Park. Kansas City won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals won Saturday’s game in dramatic fashion and lost Sunday’s game in dramatic fashion as well.

And why would it be any other way? The Royals have been up and down all year, and at this stage of the season, every game is the most important game of the season, so drama is inherent.

At this point, every game is a must-win for all playoff contenders, but trailing by 3.5 games with only 13 left has the Royals looking at a slim opening to reach the postseason. Tampa Bay and Texas both lost Sunday as well, so the Royals didn’t lose ground on them, at least, but with the play of both teams lately, I couldn’t say with any confidence that both teams are the likely wild card representatives right now. Texas has lost nine of their last ten games.

Tying Sunday’s game, then losing on a run the next inning is a painful way to lose, and limits the Royals to 91 wins even if they win out over the rest of the schedule. As unlikely as that is (even if they had a similar run after the All-Star break), would it be enough?

Winning the rest of the way – and there have been just two 13 game winning streaks by teams this year so we can’t just assume there will be the third – would make a Royals a good bet for the wild card. It’s their best chance to get there, obviously. Just win all the games. Simple. So let’s dream on that but be ready for a letdown of a loss. Here’s a table of the final set of series for the wild card contenders (with contender on contender action in italics):

Tampa Bay (81-67)Texas (81-67)Cleveland (81-68)Baltimore (79-70)New York (79-71)Kansas City (78-71)
vs. TEX (4)at TB (4)at KC (3)at BOS (3)at TOR (3)vs. CLE (3)
vs. BAL (4)at KC (3)vs. HOU (4)at TB (4)vs.SF (3)vs. TEX (3)
at NY (3)vs. HOU (3)vs. CHW (2)vs. TOR (3)vs. TB (3)at SEA (3)
at TOR (3)vs. LA (4)at MIN (4)vs. BOS (3)at HOU (3)at CHW (4)

The Royals don’t have to run the table to get the wild card spot, but they can’t count on other teams helping, and have to make up ground on three teams just to be the next team behind the two wild card spots anyway. Having wild card teams beat each other up leaves openings for every team, which obviously includes the Royals. Schedule-wise, Cleveland has the worst teams in the league after the Royals series, and the Yankees just have to get past Tampa. The Rays have a bad draw with three contending teams left, and Baltimore has to face Boston six more times.

If the Royals don’t win the rest of their games – which they likely won’t because, well, that’s baseball – 90 wins should get them there. Here’s one scenario that shows the contenders’ potential series outcomes and final record underneath:

Tampa Bay (81-67)Texas (81-67)Cleveland (81-68)Baltimore (79-70)New York (79-71)Kansas City (78-71)
vs. TEX (2-2)at TB (2-2)at KC (0-3)at BOS (1-2)at TOR (2-1)vs. CLE (3-0)
vs. BAL (2-2)at KC (0-3)vs. HOU (3-1)at TB (2-2)vs.SF (2-1)vs. TEX (3-0)
at NY (1-2)vs. HOU (3-0)vs. CHW (2-0)vs. TOR (2-1)vs. TB (2-1)at SEA (3-0)
at TOR (2-1)vs. LA (3-1)at MIN (3-1)vs. BOS (1-2)at HOU (2-1)at CHW (3-1)

This is just one of many scenarios, of course, but the Royals need a big streak regardless. Maybe Tampa sweeps Texas and makes the first wild card and the Royals get the second one. Maybe Baltimore takes one more game against Tampa. Maybe New York sweeps the Rays. You’re looking for at least four losses from the two frontrunners, though. More than four would really help, though (and it will probably take more than four from any team the Royals hope to catch).

The Royals did have a 12-1 stretch this season, but doing that in the first place is difficult. Repeating it? That’s getting into Disney movie territory. But if they’ve done it once…

Part of this “simulation” also assumes the good teams beat the bad teams, so the Twins or Angels or Blue Jays could turn into spoilers over the next two weeks. Of course, the Royals could sweep both Cleveland and Texas and then it would be Seattle and Chicago playing spoiler as well.

It will take a dream scenario for the Royals to make the playoffs. Barring the collapse of most of the teams in front of them, any more than three losses will be too much for the Royals to overcome. If they lose one or two games, they need some help, but not as much if nobody else goes on a big streak. In the event of a tiebreaker game, the Royals hold an advantage over Baltimore and Tampa Bay from winning the season series against both teams, so a tiebreak would be in Kansas City. A sweep of Cleveland and Texas would also give the Royals season series wins over those teams.

It’s been a crazy year, and I’ve already seen the Royals lose, thought “well it’s over” only to see them storm back with a big stretch of winning baseball. So I can’t count them out yet, no matter how improbable it is that everything falls right. I would wait before buying playoff tickets from anybody, though. Regardless, it’s a lot more fun to watch them be this close this late in the year, even if they’re almost certain to run out of time.