It’s not yet September, the month unofficially denominated as baseball’s “stretch run.” “Magic numbers” and “elimination numbers” aren’t popping up in media outlet standings, so eternally optimistic fans of teams suffering long-lost seasons, like the KC Royals, still cling fiercely to hopes those teams might somehow sneak into the playoffs.
Such hopes are folly, of course. But like lapped cars in NASCAR races, teams eliminated for all practical purposes from baseball’s postseason race can still wreck a contender and put them out of that race.
Don’t think it won’t happen. It has, and will again. Perhaps even this year, with only one divisional race, the American League Central where the White Sox hold a 10.5 game lead, all but decided, and six National League and five American League teams within eight games of Wild Card spots entering today’s play.
Who might the spoilers be? Five teams are, per mlb.com’s Brian Murphy, worth keeping an eye on—the Angels, Twins, and Tigers in the American League, and the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the National.
But don’t count out the KC Royals. They may turn out to be a team serious and marginal contenders mustn’t overlook. Who are those clubs, and how might Kansas City hurt them?
The KC Royals may pose their biggest threat to Cleveland as 2021 winds down.
Heading into their game with the Angels tonight, the Indians are a disappointing 60-61 and 10.5 games behind Chicago in the AL Central. But they’re just 8.5 games back in the Wild Card, a manageable deficit given the 41 games remaining on their schedule.
So, why might Kansas City, a team Cleveland has beaten eight times out of nine this season, pose a problem?
Because the Indians have to face the Royals 10 more times—they host KC for four games, and play six more at Kauffman Stadium. And because the 2021 Indians are a wobbly team with losing July and August records, and are without long-time manager Terry Francona (health) for the rest of the season, they’re vulnerable. Even splitting 10 games or going 4-6 against the Royals could harm Cleveland’s playoff plans; KC is simply a team the Indians have to beat.
The Mariners can’t be too careful in their seven games with the KC Royals.
Some might scoff at the notion of Seattle playing October baseball, but the Mariners aren’t out of the race. That they’re behind Houston and Oakland in the AL West means the M’s will most likely have to land a Wild Card berth, and their chances of doing so aren’t bad—entering today’s play, Seattle is only four games behind in that race.
The Mariners haven’t played Kansas City yet, which means the two clubs have their entire 2021 slate yet to play. The Royals travel to Seattle for four games, the M’s to Kansas City for three.
Because the teams aren’t in the same division, they didn’t play under last season’s unique schedule and haven’t seen each other since 2019. Seattle won that campaign’s series 5-2. The Mariners must do at least that well against KC this season: their margin for error is thin.
The Athletics need to win their three games with the KC Royals next month.
If the season had ended Saturday, Oakland would be one of the AL’s two Wild Card teams and playing postseason ball for the fourth straight year. But the A’s have 37 games left, and it won’t be a cakewalk. They play the Giants, who beat them Saturday and have the best record in baseball, today, then have three games remaining with each of two division leaders—the White Sox and Astros—and four with the Yankees, a whopping nine against division and Wild Card rival Seattle, and three with surprising Detroit.
Competition that stiff renders the A’s three game, mid-September series in Kansas City vital. Oakland lost its first game with the Royals in June but then beat them three times in a row to grab a 3-1 season series lead. Losing once at Kauffman Stadium might be survivable, but sweeping KC is something the A’s really need to do. Considering their schedule, a two or three-loss trip to The K could definitely damage Oakland’s playoff hopes.
Even if the KC Royals beat them, two contenders don’t have much to lose.
Kansas City has won five of its last six games coming into today’s series finale with Chicago at Wrigley Field. While two of those victories came against the Cubs, the Royals beat Houston for the other three, which means they’re capable of beating a top-notch division leader.
What that doesn’t mean, of course, is that they can do it again, especially three times. But the Royals get that chance starting Monday when they play the first of their final trio of 2021 games with the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Since dropping three of four in Kansas City, the Astros have won three in a row against Seattle, and can sweep the M’s today.
Houston is one of the best teams in the game, leads the AL West, and will be looking for revenge against the Royals; expect them to play well and make the playoffs even if they don’t get it.
That leaves the White Sox, with whom Kansas City has split 16 games this season. The Sox visit Kauffman Stadium the first weekend in September for the clubs’ final three meetings until 2022. Holders of the biggest division lead (10.5 games) in the game, they’re a sure bet for postseason play, and could even survive a sweep at the Royals’ hands.
The KC Royals have opportunities to be spoilers down the stretch. Time will tell if they destroy anyone’s playoff hopes.