And here. we. go.
It is the final 10-game stretch of the season and the Royals are still very much alive in the playoff race, something that feels incredibly strange this time of year. Almost as strange as the Chiefs starting 3-0, in fact.
The Royals are three games back of the wildcard, which seems hopelessly far until you consider the remaining schedules of the teams involved. There is a clear path the the playoff for the Royals, but the margin of error is very slim. Here’s how the wild card standing breakdown as of this morning.
TB: 83-69 (–)
TEX: 83-69 (–)
CLE: 83-70 (0.5)
BAL: 81-71 (2)
KC: 80-72 (3)
NY: 80-73 (3.5)
Based on looking at the standings, it would seem the Royals have little to no shot at ending up in one of the two remaining wild card spots. The reality is the Royals have a much better shot than what some are giving them credit for, mostly because of the remaining schedules for the contending teams.
Let’s take a look at what everybody has left and what the Royals need this weekend.
TEXAS at KANSAS CITY
Do the Royals have to sweep? No. But do they need to sweep? Yes. Does that make sense?
There are ways for the Royals to make the playoffs if the Royals lose one game to the Rangers this weekend, but it would require a lot more help than what they already need. So while sweeping isn’t a 100-percent must for the Royals, they really need to sweep in order to put themselves in the best position possible heading into the final week of the season.
Fortunately, the Royals have Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and James Shields all on the mound this weekend. Things are setting up decently well for the Royals to pull off the sweep. Hopefully the Rangers bats don’t suddenly come alive.
As a reference point, here is the Rangers remaining schedule: Three at Kansas City, three against Houston, four against Los Angeles Angels.
VERDICT: Root for the sweep.
BALTIMORE at TAMPA BAY
The Royals have to be three games better than the Rays and one game better than the Orioles to force at least a tie with those teams. Kansas City owns the tie-breaker over both teams. This may end up being the Royals saving grace at the end, and why one loss doesn’t totally kill the Royals.
Let’s start with Tampa Bay. Tampa has four at home against the Orioles, three on the road at New York, and three on the road against Toronto to end the season. That’s seven games against contenders, and three against a tough Blue Jays team that is still playing hard down the stretch. A 5-5 record over that time is very plausible, meaning KC would need to go 8-2 to tie, 9-1 to pass them outright. Obviously, the more losses for the Rays, the better. When in doubt, root against the Rays, even if that team is Baltimore or New York.
Baltimore also has a tough schedule remaining, with four against Tampa Bay, three against the Blue Jays, and three against Boston to end the season. Again, another difficult draw. Remember, Kansas City needs to be only one game better than Baltimore at the very least, so wins over Tampa Bay trump losses to Tampa at this point. Whatever the Orioles can do this weekend to relieve pressure off of what the Royals need to do over the final week of the season, the better.
VERDICT: Root hard for the Orioles.
SAN FRANCISCO at NEW YORK
This is a somewhat similar situation to Baltimore, but not until New York’s next series. Here is what New York has remaining:
Three at home against the Giants, three at home against the Rays, and three on the road against Houston.
The Yankees are currently a half-game behind the Royals, so Kansas City already has a slight edge in their favor. But New York almost assuredly has three wins coming their way to end the season. So Kansas City needs New York to lose as many as possible against San Francisco to assure New York stays behind them.
But next week is where the Royals need the Yankees to take a couple from the Rays. Again, the more Rays losses, the better. And here is the reason why…
VERDICT: Root San Francisco.
HOUSTON at CLEVELAND
Cleveland, for all intents and purposes, is in the playoffs. Look at their remaining schedule.
Three at home against Houston, two at home against the White Sox, and three on the road against the Twins. Cleveland is ending their season playing the three worst teams in the American League. That’s an incredibly fortuitous scheduling for them.
Do you see Cleveland going worse than 6-4 over that stretch? Doubtful.
Because of the Cleveland, the Royals need both the Rays and the Rangers to fall out of their current playoff positions, a scenario that is far more likely than the Indians going .500 against Houston, Chicago, and Minnesota.
VERDICT: Root for a miracle.
Best Case: Royals sweep Rangers, Baltimore wins series, New York loses at least one, Cleveland loses at least one.
Worst Case: Royals lose more than one game.
Dream Scenario: Royals sweep Rangers, Baltimore sweeps Rays, New York loses series, Cleveland splits in Houston.
Here is what the standings would look like in a dream scenario setting:
BAL: 84-71 (+0.5)
CLE: 84-72 (–)
KC: 83-72 (0.5)
TB: 83-72 (1)
TEX: 83-72 (1)
NY: 81-75 (3)
The Royals being a half-game back heading into the final week of the season? We would all take that, yes?