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A look at Royals' fellow Wild Card contenders

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The Royals are a pretty flawed team, but so is everyone else they're contending against.

Tom Szczerbowski

The Royals now sit alone in the second Wild Card position, but this thing ain't over yet. We have seven weeks of pennant-contending baseball left to play. Let's take a look at our opposition and our chances down the stretch. Here are the current second Wild Card standings:

Team W L PCT GB
Kansas City Royals 60 53 .531 ---
New York Yankees 60 54 .526 0.5
Seattle Mariners 60 54 .526 0.5
Toronto Blue Jays 61 55 .526 0.5
Cleveland Indians 57 58 .496 4

Kansas City Royals (60-53)

Pythag Win-Loss (58-55)

Fangraphs Wild Card Odds: 15.3%

Baseball Prospectus Wild Card Odds: 16.7%

The Royals are certainly a flawed team with a pythag win-loss record that has them barely above .500. They have scored the sixth fewest runs per game in the league and they are dead last in the league in walks and home runs by a large margin. Their pitching is expected to regress quite a bit, and no other Wild Card contender is projected to get fewer WAR from its pitching staff the rest of the year than the Royals.

On the other hand, the Royals  have the fourth fewest runs allowed per game in the league, and the most total defensive runs in all of baseball. The hitters should improve from their underwhelming performance in the first half, and Fangraphs projects the Royals hitters to have more WAR the rest of the season than any other Wild Card contender except the Yankees. The Royals will also benefit from an easier schedule than their opponents. Another consideration is that the Royals 15-21 record in one-run games is the third worst in the league. Should that regress to the mean, the Royals could find themselves getting luckier breaks in one-run ballgames.

New York Yankees (60-54)

Pythag Win-Loss (54-60)

Fangraphs Wild Card Odds: 12.8%

Baseball Prospectus Wild Card Odds: 14.0%

The Yankees were a .500 team a few weeks ago, but winning six of seven against the Reds and Rangers catapulted them into the thick of the Wild Card race. The Yankees lineup actually scores fewer runs than the Royals per game, but that could improve with the addition of Chase Headley and better health from Mark Teixiera and Carlos Beltran. Masahiro Tanaka's injury however, remains a huge impediment, and barring a trade, the Yankees will limp along with a rotation that includes Chase Whitley and Esmil Rogers. The Yanks bullpen has been outstanding this year, but their fortunes may depend on whether they add another big starting pitcher down the stretch. The Yankees still have ten games remaining against first place Baltimore, seven against fellow contender Toronto and four games against the Royals including a one-game makeup on August 25.

Threat to the Royals: Low. The Yankees are old, with starting pitching issues. I don't expect them to be in it the last few weeks of September unless they make an impact move in August.

Seattle Mariners (60-54)

Pythag Win-Loss (66-48)

Fangraphs Wild Card Odds: 31.3%

Baseball Prospectus Wild Card Odds: 26.2%

Just before the All-Star Break, it looked like the Mariners might start to pull away with the Wild Card spot. They were 51-43, 2.5 games up on everyone else, and playing good baseball. Since then they've dropped 11 of 19 games, scoring one or fewer runs in seven of those games. They've since added outfielders Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia to help an offense that is currently scoring the second fewest runs per game in the league. The Mariners have the best pythag win-loss record out of any contenders due to a pitching staff that has topped the league in run prevention, anchored by ace Felix Hernandez. But like the Royals, the Mariners have been awful in one-run games, going just 14-21. The Mariners still have home-and-away series left against the Blue Jays, Athletics and Angels, as well as series against the Nationals and Tigers. Fifteen of their last eighteen games will be against teams gunning for a post-season spot.

Threat to the Royals: High. The Mariners are similar to the Royals, with a better pitching staff and a worse offense, and with a General Manager fighting for his job. Look for Seattle to make a move to continue to bolster their offense, making them a threat to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Toronto Blue Jays (61-55)

Pythag Win-Loss (61-55)

Fangraphs Wild Card Odds: 17.3%

Baseball Prospectus Wild Card Odds: 15.9%

The Jays are a markedly different ballclub than the Mariners and Royals. They get on base and mash the ball out of the ballpark, topping the league in on-base percentage, with the second-most home runs. The pitching is a bit inexperienced, but has been just good enough thus far, just below league average in runs allowed. The Jays have had a lot of injury issues, with three starters (Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion) currently on the disabled list. If their young arms - Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez - come through, they could be a very formidable foe. They may also decide to bolster their thin pen with an August waiver trade. The Jays have a series with Detroit this weekend, then a road-trip that takes them to Seattle, Chicago (to play the White Sox), and Milwaukee. They end their season with fourteen straight games against potential post-season teams.

Threat to the Royals: High. Teams that can score runs are scary and when the Jays get their starting lineup back, their offense is a high threat. The young pitchers have performed thus far, and General Manager Alex Anthropoulos has been aggressive in the past to improve his club.

Cleveland Indians (57-58)

Pythag Win-Loss (58-57)

Fangraphs Wild Card Odds: 6.4%

Baseball Prospectus Wild Card Odds: 4.5%

The Indians have kind of hovered around .500 most of the year, but as recently as July 19 they were just two games out of a Wild Card spot. At the trade deadline the team dealt starting pitcher Justin Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, but the team didn't necessarily get much worse as Masterson was struggling this year and Cabrera was having a down season. Outside of ace Corey Kluber, the Indians have struggled with their starting rotation, although nearly everyone has a much better FIP than their ERA (thanks Ryan Raburn!). The Indians have an above-average offense, but not a great one. Any improvement due to regression by Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis will likely be counteracted by regression by Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley. With the team in "sell" mode, don't expect the Indians to make a move to improve the club. The Indians get a nice upcoming stretch where 11 of 14 games are against the Diamondbacks, Twins, White Sox, and Astros which could improve their fortunes, and 13 of their last 16 games are against the Astros, Twins, and Rays.

Threat to the Royals: Low. The Indians are pretty much a .500 team with defensive issues who have mostly beaten up on bad teams like the Rangers, Red Sox, and Rockies (14-3 against those teams). They do have an easy schedule the rest of the way, but with them already four games back, it seems like a tough road to overcome for the Indians.