With less than a month of games left to be played, the reigning world champion Kansas City Royals find themselves on the outside looking in. Entering play on September 3, the Royals sit 8.5 games back of the Indians for the American League Central title, making it nearly impossible to catch Cleveland at this point, and 4.0 games back in the American League Wild Card race, which is still in sight, but could be fading if they aren’t careful.
Kansas City kicked off a three game series at home against the Tigers, who currently find themselves ahead of the Royals, tying for the 2nd Wild Card spot with the Orioles. In the first game of the series, the Royals found themselves trailing Detroit for much of the game. That is, until the bottom of the 8th when they were able to rally to score two runs and take the 6-5 lead with Wade Davis lurking in the bullpen, who would get set to come in searching for his first save since he was injured and retroactively placed on the disabled list on July 31. A Kansas City crowd that was largely kept in check much of the night due to the score quickly came to life, providing an electric atmosphere with their team on the brink of bringing themselves one game closer to claiming a Wild Card spot. But once Davis entered the game, it didn’t take long for the crowd to become silenced, and for the Tigers to recapture the lead. Ian Kinsler led off the inning and was promptly hit by a pitch. Jose Iglesias came up second and doubled to left on a 2-2 count, which advanced Kinsler to third. Then came Miguel Cabrera, who first pitch singled to left to bring in both Kinsler and Iglesias, and that’s all the Tigers would need. In the bottom of the 9th, Francisco Rodriguez struck out Hosmer and Morales before getting Salvador Perez to ground out to short to end the game, securing his 37th save of the season.
The Royals were 19-9 in August when they entered play for their first game of September, even winning nine games in a row at one point to help close the gap between them and the teams in front of them. Things had been looking bleak for the defending champs, but August went a long way in helping revamp the image (and the reality) that Kansas City wasn’t going to make it back to the postseason after two straight World Series appearances.
So what do the Royals need to do to make it back to the postseason? It starts where it starts for every team: with the starting rotation. Danny Duffy has posted a respectable 3.13 ERA over 149.1 innings over 21 starts (37 games), grabbing an 11-2 record. If Duffy keeps it up, it’ll be the second best ERA he’s ever posted (when qualifying), second only to his 2014 campaign where he finished with a 2.53. His 9.46 K/9 puts him 13th in all of baseball, which is a very good mark. He’s given up 19 home runs, which is pretty average at this time of the year, but could certainly be worse. Importantly, Duffy’s BB/9 stat reads 1.9, which is fifth best in the American League. Lastly, he posts a BAA of .232 and a WHIP of 1.08. If Duffy continues to put up these numbers, then he will certainly be an asset in the race for the postseason.
The rest of the starting rotation, however, has been inconsistent for the most part, besides Ian Kennedy, who’s posted a 3.66 ERA. They’ll need more productivity, however, from the likes of Yordano Ventura, who’s been bad, posting an ERA over 4.
Much like it has been in years past, Kansas City’s bullpen has been good. The Royals have had one of the better bullpens in baseball, posting a total ERA of 3.10, which ranks first among all teams in baseball. However, it cannot be denied that the pen has not been as good this year as it has in recent years. The Royals hope that Wade Davis will be able to return to normal his form after having missed over a month, spending time on the DL. Over 34.2 innings, Davis has posted a 2.08 ERA with 21 saves. The brightest spot for the Royals bullpen has undoubtedly been Kelvin Herrera, who’s posted a 1.77 ERA over 61.0 innings in 61 appearances, and an 11.1 K/9 ratio.
Certainly, the biggest concern for Kansas City may very well be its offense. In the American League, the Royals rank 14th out of 15 teams in the runs scored column (542), 14th in RBI (512), 13th in OBP (.312), 14th in SLG (.398), 14th in OPS (.710), and dead last, 15th, in home runs (119) and it’s not even close. All of the aforementioned categories (except home runs) saw the Royals ranking in at least the top 8 in the American League last year. Of course, there are guys that are having a pretty productive season, like Lorenzo Cain, who sports a batting average at .287, and Paulo Orlando, who’s hitting .304 in 362 at-bats. There are also guys underperforming that the Royals needed more contribution from, like they had seen over the last couple of seasons, like Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon, who boast batting averages of .257 and a dreadful .223, respectively. Eric Hosmer is posting decent numbers, but management would’ve liked to see a little more production from him. Cheslor Cuthbert has been hitting for average without much problem, hitting .288.
The body of work doesn’t look great for the Royals, besides the bullpen, but one positive for Kansas City is the rest of their schedule. There are games where they can make up ground on the Tigers, meeting them five more times – twice over today and tomorrow, and then three times in Detroit from September 23-25. They will also face Cleveland six more times, splitting time between being home and away. Fortunately for the Royals, 17 of their remaining games will be against poor teams, including six against the Twins, seven against the White Sox, and four against the Athletics. Both four game sets against the White Sox and A’s will come during an eight game home stand. Unfortunately for them, however, the Tigers face a similar fate, playing 13 games against poor teams. The other team ahead of Kansas City, the Baltimore Orioles have 10 games against poor opponents, but play 18 games against tough opponents, including seven against the Wild Card leading Red Sox, and three against the AL East leading Blue Jays. The good news is that while the American League East is beating up on each other, the two teams fighting for a Wild Card spot out of the American League Central will be playing less than formidable opponents, likely yielding higher success rates than that of the Orioles and the road trip plagued Red Sox.
Despite the statistical analysis working against the Royals, as well as the four games separating them from the second Wild Card spot, if they’re able to capitalize on their five remaining games against the Tigers and especially against the below .500 teams, then they may very well find themselves in a position to make the playoffs, even if it’s barely squeezing in to the second spot.
(Photo: AP Photo)