Mentioned recently in this space was the possibility—the possibility, mind you—that the KC Royals could end the season in a respectable position in the American League Central. The Division is, after all, not strong this season, with Chicago owning the only record above .500 entering today’s play. Cleveland is on that mark exactly, but the Royals, Tigers and Twins all have losing records.
That the Central is weak isn’t the only reason the Royals might finish runners-up to the White Sox when baseball closes the regular season down the first Sunday in October. The Royals are, after all, much improved after blowing their early-May division lead with an ugly 11-game losing skid that dumped them into third place, and contributed heavily to a 36-53 last place record at the All-Star Break. They’re 23-18 since and have left the cellar behind.
In immediate sight are the Tigers, whose surprising season has them in third place, but only by two games over Kansas City.
And just slightly ahead of Detroit is second-place Cleveland, with whom Kansas City has a whopping 10 games left, the first of which kicks off a three-game series tonight at Kauffman Stadium.
The Indians are six games in front of the Royals; with 32 games remaining on KC ‘s schedule and 34 on Cleveland’s, and the clubs having to play each other 10 more times, that six game gap doesn’t seem that wide.
But can Kansas City really finish second?
The remaining schedule definitely favors the KC Royals in a race with Cleveland.
If Kansas City is to make a run at Cleveland for second in the Central, the club couldn’t have asked for a much more accommodating schedule.
The Royals face seven teams who combined are 442-474. Only the White Sox, Mariners and Athletics have winning records, Cleveland is .500, and Detroit, Minnesota and Baltimore are all under .500. Baltimore is the worst club in the majors at 40-90.
The Indians, on the other hand, play much better teams, including four—the White Sox, Yankees, Brewers and Red Sox—contending for division titles or Wild Card berths, and who together are 317-221. Cleveland also plays the Twins, Texas and the Royals. Combined, Cleveland’s seven opponents are 19 games above .500 (470-451, .510).
Recent trending also seems to favor the KC Royals a bit. The Indians are the only team they’ll play with a winning record (6-4) in the last 10 games. Chicago is 5-5, the Orioles are 2-8, and Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota and Detroit are all 4-6.
Cleveland’s opponents have fared better in their last 10 contests. The Yankees and Kansas City are 7-3, Boston and Milwaukee 6-4. The White Sox are, again, 5-5; the Twins and Rangers are 4-6.
Where the Indians and Royals play the rest of their games also favors Kansas City. While the Tribe plays 18 games on the road and 16 at home, the Royals have 18 at The K and 14 away.
Records and venues aside, the KC Royals must sustain their good play.
Things can change rapidly in baseball, so their opponents’ recent records, and where the clubs play down the stretch, may ultimately mean little between Kansas City and the Indians. And any team and any player can get hot or turn cold; injuries may occur.
Presuming Detroit doesn’t make a run of its own against the Indians, how the KC Royals play their last 32 games will have much to do with whether they sneak up on Cleveland and take second in the Central. Kansas City will need a lot of help from the Indians themselves, making the 10 games remaining between the teams crucial. (And a little assistance from the Tribe’s opponents won’t hurt, either).
But one thing is certain—the Royals must play well and won’t have a chance if they don’t. Their improving starting pitching needs to continue improving, the bullpen has to be solid, Salvador Perez, Nicky Lopez, and Whit Merrifield can’t slow much at the plate, and the rest of the lineup has to contribute consistently.
Can the Royals claim second place when the season ends? It won’t be long before we know.