Well in the course of a week, the Royals have gone from 45-51, eight games back and wisely looking to go into sell mode, to reaching 51-51, seven games out of first place, and looking to buy. Don't you love it?
Now many would say that a team that is at .500 at the end of July has little hope of reaching the postseason. Since 1995, 142 teams have been within five games below or above .500 at the end of July. Of those 142 teams, 16 made the playoffs. That's a success rate of 11%.
But as Han Solo would say, "never tell me the odds." Dayton Moore is our own swashbuckling scoundrel, ready to lead this team on a Kessel run of his own. Let's take a look at the worst teams in the current divisional era that were within a few games of .500 at the end of the July, and went on a run to reach the playoffs just as our Royals will do this summer.
10. 1995 New York Yankees (43-42)
Ended the year: 79-65, lost the Divisional Series to Seattle
Its hard to believe now, but the Yankees in 1995 were suffering through a 17 year playoff drought. They got off to a dreadful start, dropping 29 of their first 49 games. But they had a good month of July to battle back to .500 and went "all-in" by picking up pitcher David Cone from the Blue Jays for some minor leaguers, and swapping enigmatic slugger Danny Tartabull to Oakland for Ruben Sierra. On August 29, they were still struggling at 55-59, but were just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. They went on a September tear, winning 21 of 26 ballgames and edging the Angels for the Wild Card.
Ended the year: 87-76, lost the Divisional Series to New York
Despite their mediocre record at the July deadline, the Twins were just two games out of first place, although both the Tigers and White Sox stood in front of them. To make a push, the Twins traded infielder Tyler Ladendorf to Oakland for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. The Twins continued to hover around .500 in August, but picked up Carl Pavano for Yohan Pino and Jon Rauch in exchange for prospect Kevin Mulvey (ranked the seventh best prospect in the system by John Sickels). In September the club took off, winning 17 of their last 21 games, including a one-game playoff win over Detroit for the Central Division title.
Ended the year: 88-76, lost the League Championship Series to New York
The Orioles had spent a lot of money on free agents, and were right behind the first place Yankees much of the year until a lousy July put them 10 games out of first place by the end of the month. At the deadline, they re-acquired 40 year-old designated hitter Eddie Murray from the Orioles in exchange for disappointing veteran pitcher Kent Mercker. Then the team won 10 of 12 games in a stretch in August and General Manager Pat Gillick acquired outfielder Pete Incaviglia and third baseman Todd Zeile from the Phillies for a pair of pitching prospects (Calvin Maduro and Garrett Stephenson). The Orioles would win 88 games and take the Wild Card.
Ended the year: 88-74, lost the League Championship Series to Florida
The Cubs were in first place for much of the season until June when they began a summer swoon. By the end of July they were stuck in third place hovering around .500, but were still only a few games out of first. To save the season, the Cubs made a blockbuster deal, acquiring third baseman Aramis Ramirez and outfielder Kenny Lofton from the Pirates for infielder Jose Hernandez and a pair of prospects. In August, they won 9 of 12 to make it back to first place and made a number of small trades for spare parts like Randall Simon, Doug Glanville, and Tony Womack. They won 9 of their final13 games of the season to take over first place for good and win the division, only to suffer massive heartbreak once again in the postseason.
Ended the year: 92-70, lost the League Championship Series to St. Louis
The 2004 Astros started strong out of the gate, but slumped in the summer months. On June 24 they were 38-34 and five games out of first and made a huge blockbuster deal, picking up outfielder Carlos Beltran from the Royals. Despite picking up the superstar, the Astros continued to slump and by the end of the month they were 14.5 games back of the first place Cardinals, although just 5.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. The Astros then went on a tear, winning 40 of their last 58 to tkae the Wild Card. The enjoyed a twelve game winning streak in late August, and a seven game winning streak to end the year. Beltran would hit .258/.368/.558 with 23 home runs in 90 games in Houston.
Ended the year: 84-78, lost the League Championship Series to Philadelphia
The Dodgers had struggled much of the year with a losing record, but the Western Division was so weak that year that the Dodgers were able to hang around. They got hot in July, and by the end of the month were at .500 and just two games out of first. General Manager Ned Coletti went "all-in" with a trade that would make Dayton Moore blush. Coletti sent catching prospect Carlos Santana to Cleveland for veteran third baseman Casey Blake. A few days later, the Dodgers made an even bigger blockbuster, acquiring enigmatic slugger Manny Ramirez for infielder Andy LaRoche and pitcher Bryan Morris. As late as September 2, the Dodgers still had a losing record, but a 17-8 record that month would win them the division with just 84 wins.
4. 2003 Minnesota Twins (53-54)
Ended the year: 90-72, lost the Divisional Series to New York
Ah, 2003. We remember the Royals hot start, but the Twins were actually in first place for much of May and June. They slumped badly in July to fall behind Kansas City and carried an eight game losing streak into the All-Star break. Despite their 44-49 record and seven game deficit, the Twins acquired outfielder Shannon Stewart from Toronto. The Twins would win 18 of 29 games in August, then won eleven in a row in September as the Royals imploded.
3. 1995 Seattle Mariners (43-44)
Ended the year: 79-66, lost the League Championship Series to Cleveland
This was the famous pennant race where the Angels held a 10.5 game lead in mid-August and imploded, leading to a one-game playoff loss against the Mariners. The Mariners were in third place, eleven games out at the July trade deadline, but nonetheless picked up pitcher Andy Benes from the Padres for a trio of prospects. A few weeks later they would pick up Royals outfielder Vince Coleman in a waiver deal. Seattle would win 16 of 19 games in a stretch in September, going from six games back to three games up on the Angels, eventually setting up their dramatic one-game playoff.
Ended the year: 82-80, lost the Divisional Series to St. Louis
The 2005 National League West was extraordinarily weak. The Padres took over first place in mid-May and did not relinquish their position despite dropping 12 of 13 games in late July. San Diego picked up some spare parts like Chan Ho Park, Geoff Blum, and Miguel Olivo at the deadline. The Padres still had a losing record going into the last week of the season, and won five of six to take the division with an 82-80 record.
1.2006 Los Angeles Dodgers (50-55)
Ended the year: 88-74, lost the Divisional Series to New York
The National League West was again a weak division in 2006. The Dodgers were in first place on Independence Day, but were only a few games over .500. They lost 12 of 13 games in late July, but then went on a tear, winning 16 of their next 17 games. The Dodgers were extremely active at the deadline making six trades between late June and July, acquiring Toby Hall, Mark Hendrickson, Elmer Dessens (from the Royals), Sandy Alomar, Wilson Betimet, Julio Lugo, and Greg Maddux. A seven game winning streak in late August and another one to close the year would allow them to tie for the Division Title/Wild Card with the Giants with 88 wins.
It seems the Royals have two ways to make the playoffs. They can hope the division continues to be very weak, as it was for the '06 and '08 Dodgers, the '05 Padres, and the '09 Twins. Detroit is underperforming now, but is currently on pace for 91 wins, so they would have to underperform even worse than they currently are.
Or the Royals could go on an insane hot streak, even hotter than Dayton's "15-5" streak he mentioned recently in the Star. To win 92 games, the Royals would have to finish 41-19, a .683 winning percentage. Is it likely to happen? No. Is it completely improbable? Yes. Will Dayton go for it anyway? COUNT ON IT!