The NHL playoffs have begun, and the NBA will soon follow suit with a months-long postseason in which each conference takes eight teams to battle it out in a long series to determine who will face each other in the championship. Baseball, thankfully, has resisted allowing so many teams, but let's face it, this is the direction baseball is headed towards with a second Wild Card added for the 2012 post-season.
So I got to thinking, what if MLB had such a playoff arrangement this entire time? How might KC's post-season experience have changed? Let's take a look at Royals post-season appearances under a NBA/NHL playoff system.
Eight of the twelve teams in the AL would make the playoffs, so its hard not to make it, but the Royals would at least have home field advantage for their first post-season appearance. A young pitching staff with Dick Drago and Mike Hedlund would lead the upstart franchise with Amos Otis and Lou Piniella holding up a mediocre offense. The Royals took eleven of twelve games against Boston in the regular season, so a win over Boston and a matchup against top seed Baltimore (tied with Oakland, but won the regular season series) would be likely.
1972 - (8) Kansas City Royals (76-78) vs. (1) Oakland Athletics (93-62)
The Royals would sneak in the playoffs with a losing record, but would likely be over-matched by the Reggie Jackson-led Athletics who would eventually become World Champions that year.
1973 - (4) Kansas City Royals (88-74) vs. (5) Detroit Tigers (85-77)
This would be an interesting matchup as the Royals would have the second best offense in the league with a lineup heavily reliant on two sluggers - John Mayberry and Amos Otis. Detroit had a much more balanced lineup, although they were ninth in runs scored. Twenty-game winner Paul Splitorff would lead off the series for the Royals with rookie Steve Busby going in Game Two. Earl Weaver's 97-win Orioles would most likely await the winner of this series.
1975 - (3) Kansas City Royals (91-71) vs. (6) Texas Rangers (79-83)
Ugh, three teams would make the playoffs with a losing record including the #6 seed Rangers. The Rangers had a potent lineup with slugger Jeff Burroughs, Toby Harrah and Mike Hargrove, but thin pitching after future Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins. The Royals would counter with Mayberry, Otis and young George Brett, with Dennis Leonard joining Busby and Splitorff in the rotation. The Royals took 14 of 18 from the Rangers during the year. A potential second round matchup would have pitted the Royals against a 95-win Red Sox club that actually won the pennant that year (setting up Carlton Fisk's famous home run).
1976 - (2) Kansas City Royals (90-72) vs. (7) Cleveland Indians (81-78)
This would be Cleveland's first winning season in eight years. They had a pretty mediocre team full of journeymen like George Hendrick and Dennis Eckersley, and guys at the end of their career like Rico Carty, Boog Powell, and Pat Dobson. The Royals had an up-and-coming team with the nucleus in place that in real life would win six division titles in the next ten seasons. The 88-win Orioles or the 83 win-Red Sox would await the winner of this series, with the winner possibly getting a matchup against top seed New York.
1977 - (1) Kansas City Royals (102-60) vs. (8) Detroit Tigers (74-88)
With two expansion teams, the AL became very top heavy with six teams winning 90 or more games. The Tigers had a real lousy pitching staff that year and lost 8 of 11 against the Royals in the regular season. A second round matchup would have pitted the Royals against either a 97-win Orioles team or a 94-win Rangers team with the 100-win Yankees likely waiting for the winner in the AL Championship Series.
1978 - (2) Kansas City Royals (92-70) vs. (7) California Angels (87-75)
I'm assuming there are still divisions, and the division winner gets to be the #2 seed, because the Royals actually had the fourth best record in the American League that year. The Angels actually led the Royals by half a game in late August until they faded down the stretch. They did manage to win nine of fifteen games against the Royals that year.
1979 - (7) Kansas City Royals (85-77) vs. (2) California Angels (88-74)
Again, the Angels actually had the fifth-best record in the league, but were division champs. This time the Royals led by half a game in late August before fading. The Angels were led by MVP Don Baylor along with Bobby Grich, Rod Carew, Carney Lansford and a rookie Willie Aikens for the top offense in the league, while the Royals featured the second best offense with Darrell Porter and George Brett having terrific seasons. The Royals had a very disappointing pitching staff that year that may not have matched up well against Dave Frost, Nolan Ryan, and Frank Tanana.
1980 - (2) Kansas City Royals (97-65) vs. (7) Oakland Athletics (83-79)
The Athletics were just tenth in runs scored, but boasted the top pitching staff, in large part due to their home stadium. The Royals were a behemoth that year, that could hit and pitch and would eventually win the pennant. A second round matchup would have likely put them up against a 100-win Orioles team before facing a 103-win Yankee club in the Championship Series, making a pennant much more difficult in this scenario.
1981 was pretty messed up so I'm not going to bother. If you take the aggregate records, the Royals don't make the playoffs, however the Royals did have the best "second half" record in the division.
1982 - (4) Kansas City Royals (90-72) vs. (5) Boston Red Sox (89-73)
Both teams suffered from disappointing pitching staff, but had bats in the lineup that could keep them in games. The Royals boasted Brett, Otis, Hal McRae, batting champ Willie Wilson, and an unusually great year from Frank White, while the Red Sox featured Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Carney Lansford, and a still useful 42-year old Carl Yastrzemski. A win would have likely meant a second round matchup against top-seed pennant-winner Milwaukee and "Harvey's Wallbangers."
1983 - (7) Kansas City Royals (79-83) vs. (2) Baltimore Orioles (99-63)
The Royals were clearly transitioning to a younger team by this point, and could simply not put together a very good year. The Orioles were a juggernaut that would go on to win the World Series led by Rookie of the Year Cal Ripken Jr. and future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray.
1984 - (2) Kansas City Royals (84-78) vs. (7) Minnesota Twins (81-81)
The Royals had the sixth best record in the league, but won a weak Western Division. They were led by a pitching staff full of unproven pitchers like Bud Black, Mark Gubicza, and Charlie Leibrandt. The Twins had a young team too, led by newcomers like Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, and Frank Viola.
1985 - (2) Kansas City Royals (91-71) vs. (7) Baltimore Orioles (83-78)
Well this was the magical season, but who knows if the Royals had enough to come from behind if they have a longer post-season to get through. This would have been a great matchup of pitching (Royals were second in runs allowed) vs. hitting (Orioles hit a league-leading 214 home runs and were second in runs scored). A second-round matchup would have put the Royals against a 97-win Yankee club, and possible a 99-win Blue Jays club in the American League Championship, and that's before they even get to play the cross-state rivals.
1987 - (6) Kansas City Royals (83-79) vs. (3) Toronto Blue Jays (96-66)
The Blue Jays had an awesome team that year that had an epic collapse in the last week of the season to lose the division to Detroit. The Royals had the second best pitching staff in the league (behind Toronto), but the dead worst offense as they tried to introduce younger hitters like Kevin Seitzer, Bo Jackson, and Danny Tartabull into the lineup. Nonetheless, they still took eight of fourteen against Toronto that season.
1988 - (8) Kansas City Royals (84-78) vs. (1) Oakland Athletics (104-58)
The A's, led by the "Bash Brothers" - Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire - were beasts that year. They were second in runs scored, second in home runs, and second in runs allowed. The Royals had a pretty decent pitching staff with twenty-game winner Mark Gubicza, along with Bret Saberhagen and Charlie Leibrandt, but had a mediocre offense. The Royals did manage a winning record against Oakland however.
1989 - (3) Kansas City Royals (92-70) vs. (6) Boston Red Sox (83-79)
The Red Sox edge the Rangers for the #6 seed based on their record against playoff teams, since they tied regular season records, and tied their head-to-head matchups. The Royals had Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen, as well as Mark Gubicza, but not much pitching beyond that, and a weak lineup outside Brett, Jackson, and Tartabull. The Red Sox boasted the top run-scoring offense, and a thin pitching staff headlined by Roger Clemens, Mike Boddicker, and John Dopson.
1993 - (7) Kansas City Royals (84-78) vs. (2) Chicago White Sox (94-68)
The Royals break their longest franchise post-season drought by relying heavily on pitching and defense. Their punchless lineup would be last in runs scored, but would feature glove-men like Wally Joyner, Jose Line, Greg Gagne, and Brian McRae. While the Royals had David Cone and Kevin Appier, it was the White Sox who bested the league in runs allowed with a staff that featured Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, and Jason Bere.
1994 - (6) Kansas City Royals (64-51) vs. (3) Texas Rangers (52-62)
MLB split into three-division alignments in 1994, which had it not been for the labor stoppage, would have led to the ridiculous post-season appearance of the 52-62 Texas Rangers. The Royals had a terrific pitching staff that year, led by Cy Young winner David Cone, and would have faced a lousy Rangers staff that was the second worst staff in the league. A second-round matchup would have likely pitted them against a 67-46 White Sox club.
1995 - (8) Kansas City Royals (70-74) vs. (1) Cleveland Indians (100-44)
To give you an idea of how good that Indians club was, Manny Ramirez regularly hit seventh. The Indians were tops in runs scored, tops in home runs, tops in on-base percentage, tops in steals, and tops in runs allowed. The Royals lost eleven out of twelve games against Cleveland and were outscored 76-30 in those games, including a 17-7 blowout to end the regular season.
And then....nothing. The Royals would not even come close to sniffing a playoff spot for almost a decade, until...
2003 - (8) Kansas City Royals (83-79) vs. (1) New York Yankees (101-61)
This is the year our plucky Royals stunned the world and were in first place.....til August. I think we still have a flag flying in left-field for that. Under this scenario, their collapse still lands them in the playoffs, although against a 101-win Yankee club that would go on to win the pennant.
Would the Royals stand a chance this year of being the eighth best team in the American League?