How Close Are The Royals To Contention?

Kyle Rivas - Getty Images

Using benchmarks of past World Series winners to gauge how close the Royals are to contention.

As the season winds down and we are on the cusp of another meaningless Game 162, our minds can't help but drift to what it would be like to participate in October baseball. We know where we stand... 72 wins (Yeah! One more than last year. Progress!) and third place in the Central. (Yeah! One higher than last year. Progress!)

It's strange. Every season since 1985, I've had to choose a team to follow in October. It's not like I'm cheating on my girl. It just a harmless flirtation. Honest. I mean, I wouldn't buy championship merchandise or skip work with a hangover if my "adopted" October team won. It's just a way to make the month more bearable.

As we close the books on Year Six, and this season of epic progress, we can't but help to wonder about how this team stacks up against the October Ten?

Exactly how close are we to that parade on The Plaza?

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal ran a story where they can help shed some light on that question. Using benchmarks set by four of the previous five World Series winners in pitching and hitting, they examined how the current contenders were positioned for October. Why the last five years? They declared that the "post-steroid era." Fine. (They threw out the San Francisco Giants as one of the teams used to set the benchmarks because of their insanely depressed offensive numbers.) The article ranked the contenders in each league and came up with a tie between the Cardinals and Nationals for the most likely to advance the furthest in the National League while the Rangers were far and away the strongest in the American League. In fact, the Rangers were the only team of the 12 the Journal examined to surpass all benchmarks.

Juggernaut.

So why not apply those same benchmarks to our 2012 Royals? Let's see exactly how close to contention Dayton Moore has gotten his team.

Starting with the hitting benchmarks.

Benchmarks_batting_medium

Yikes. The Royals fall short in four of the five categories. Way short. There's a lot of ground to makeup. The Cliff's Notes version is dump The RF Who Shall Not Be Named, hope Eric Hosmer finds his swing and hope Mike Moustakas can put together a consistent season. While Billy Butler and Alex Gordon continue to lead the way. We're banking on a lot of hope here. It's difficult to be optimistic.

Yet most of the contenders struggle with hitting the benchmarks this season. Of the 12 teams surveyed by the Journal, the Braves and Dodgers failed to meet all five offensive benchmarks. The Reds and Giants surpassed only one of five. In the AL, only the Rangers and Yankees outpaced four of the five. Tough.

Here's how the Royals stack up against the pitching benchmarks.

Benchmarks_pitching_medium

What I found interesting about the Wall Street Journal study was the fact that all 12 teams surveyed surpassed the ERA, strikeout and WHIP benchmarks. Only the Orioles missed the run per game benchmark. Only the Orioles, Yankees and Angels missed the home run benchmark. Given the fact that almost all 12 contending teams surpassed all of the pitching benchmarks while a number of those teams missed a majority of the hitting benchmarks would lead one to think that in October, pitching is key.

I mean, it's the currency of baseball, right?

As for the Royals, they surpassed three benchmarks. Surprisingly, runs per game was one they outperformed. I wouldn't have guessed that. I also have to say, I'm surprised the pitching showed as well as it did. Credit to the bullpen, I suppose. But remember, 11 of the 12 contenders beat at least four of these benchmarks. By a wide margin. The Royals squeaking by in two of these is a good start, but let's not start planning that parade.

We've watched this team all season, so we know they weren't close. This exercise shows that in addition to quality starting pitching, the Royals have to bank on their young hitting prospects if they are to challenge Detroit for Central Division supremacy. If Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust pick up the two starters they covet, that could be enough to launch the team toward contention... As long as the first wave of The Process starts to pull their weight.

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