Several times in the last few days, the idea has been floated in game threads that it would be in the Royals' best interest for Detroit to beat up on Cleveland, running away with the division title in order to ease the way for the Royals to contend for a wild-card berth. I disagreed, arguing that in order for the Royals to contend for the WC, they'd have to play so well in all their remaining games (including against the Indians and Tigers) that the division title would in effect be within reach regardless of the WC standings. Below, I test this theory with numbers:
Here's the remaining schedule, minus games against the Indians and Tigers. I've used a generous prediction for each series, assuming the Royals win every series against a lesser team, and losing or tying against better teams or in 4-game series. This is intentionally optimistic as it's the only way they're competitive at all in either race:
That's a record of 21-16, for a total record of 77-68. It's been assumed around here that the Royals would need at least 90 wins to actually contend for a playoff spot of either variety. So they would need an additional 13 wins against their quality division rivals, with the following games remaining.
With 6 games remaining against the Indians, let's happily assume a 4-2 record. That's 81-70.
So with 11 games remaining against the Tigers, they'd need to go 9-2 to reach a final record of 90-72.
While all of this showers a cold dose of reality on the Royals' real-life playoff chances, if they were to go on this otherwise optimistic run, my contention is that winning 4-2 against the Indians and 9-2 against the Tigers down the stretch makes the Royals very much contenders for the division title regardless of WC standings.
To show this, I did the same thing for the Tigers, using a pessimistic assumption that they win or tie every remaining series not including the Indians or Royals.
That produces a record of 22-13, for a total record of 86-58. Optimistically hoping they struggle against the Indians, going 3-4 (maybe balancing a series loss to the Red Sox or As), that's a pre-Royals record of 89-62.
To recap, if the Royals need 90 wins to get to the WC anyway, they're going to need to go 9-2 against the Tigers. That produces a Tigers final record of 91-71, with a Royals record of 90-72. That's close enough to be legitimate contenders, in my book, given the flukes of any other one game in the schedule.
I believe this proves my theory that in order for the Royals to seriously contend for a wild card spot, they will have to play so well against the Indians and Tigers that the division title would be well within their reach anyway. As a corollary, if they cannot play well enough to contend for the division title, they have little hope for the WC. I suppose it's possible the Royals could play poorly against Detroit and keep sweeping series against everyone else, but this seems even less likely.
As far as I'm concerned, the road to any playoff spot runs directly through Detroit and Cleveland no matter what. Thus, it is within the best interests of Royals fans for the Tigers and Indians to beat the crap out of each other the rest of the way, and assume we are chasing the Tigers until events warrant otherwise.
Thank you, and let rip in the comments.