Yesterday, Josh Donaldson crushed a home run for the Toronto Blue Jays shortly before the Kansas City Royals won their final home game of the season. This homer was a walkoff victory that kept the Blue Jays even with the Royals for the best record in the American League. But since the Blue Jays own the tiebreaker against the Royals, that shot meant that, for one more day at least, Toronto's claim on home-field advantage (or HFA) was absolute.
There exists quite a bit of hand-wringing among Kauffman Stadium faithful because of this. Kansas City's record during the month of September is a disappointing 10-15, and the Royals have coughed up what was as large as a 6.5 game lead on the Blue Jays.
But let's get something straight: home-field advantage is extraordinarily overrated, and it should be considered a secondary or even a tertiary objective to keeping players healthy and preparing them for their postseason roles.
Again: home-field advantage throughout the playoffs doesn't matter as much as you think it does.
Last year, the Royals were the lowest seed in the American League. Though they played the Wild Card Game at home, the American League Divisional Series and American League Championship Series were played without HFA. The Royals went 7-0 in those games. The Royals played the World Series with HFA. The Royals lost the World Series.
Beyond that individual piece of evidence, there are other reasons why the Royals don't need HFA for the playoffs. Let's take a look why.
Each division winner gets a free pass to the ALDS. At the moment, they are the Blue Jays, Royals, and Texas Rangers. As we saw last year firsthand, two Wild Card teams will match up in a winner-take-all game. At the moment, they are the New York Yankees and Houston Astros.
Tumult in the AL West could shake this up a bit. The Rangers and Astros are 2.5 games apart, and the Los Angeles Angels are half a game behind the Astros. Any of those teams could win the second Wild Card spot, and any of them could theoretically win the division. The Minnesota Twins are also 1.5 games out from the Astros, and will at least add some additional drama.
But with only a week's worth of games left, there is precious little time for movement. It is likely the Rangers will hold on to the division lead against the Astros, and either Houston or Los Angeles will probably pick up the last Wild Card spot.
Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, aka the Division 1 seed, will assure that A) each series will be set up for more home games than away games and B) that your opponent is the Wild Card winner.
Avoiding the juggernaut that is the Toronto Blue Jays is the most important thing. No other team in the AL is nearly as complete or as talented. Since the Royals have won the AL Central, they will not see Toronto in the first round regardless of each team's seeding.
- Game One: Wild Card/Division 3 at Division 1/Division 2
- Game Two: Wild Card/Division 3 at Division 1/Division 2
- Game Three: Division 1/Division 2 at Wild Card/Division 3
- Game Four (if needed): Division 1/Division 2 at Wild Card/Division 3
- Game Five (if needed): Wild Card/Division 3 at Division 1/Division 3
What this means for the Royals
The Royals are going to clinch either the Division 1 or Division 2 spot. With less than 10 games to play, the Royals have a six-game lead over the Rangers, the AL West leader at the moment. As there are only seven games left, it would take the Rangers winning every single one of their remaining games and the Royals losing every single one of their remaining games for the Rangers to move up from the Division 3 slot.
This means that, no matter whether or not the Royals are the best team in the league, they will have home-field advantage for the ALDS. In a five-game series, that means the first two games are at home, which allows for the team to build a solid lead in a comfortable ballpark. But the Royals only get the fifth game if the series is tied. Still, in the past 10 years, eight ALDS have gone three games, six have gone four games, and six have gone five games. A good chance exists that the Royals would play more games at home than on the road in the ALDS.
- Game One: Low Seed at High Seed
- Game Two: Low Seed at High Seed
- Game Three: High Seed at Low Seed
- Game Four: High Seed at Low Seed
- Game Five (if needed): High Seed at Low Seed
- Game Six (if needed): Low Seed at High Seed
- Game Seven (if needed): Low Seed at High Seed
What this means for the Royals
The Royals could lose the ALDS, making the ALCS and World Series a moot point without seeding really mattering. As has already been noted, the Royals will play the ALDS with home-field advantage despite their seeding.
If the Royals are the top team in the AL, they get HFA regardless of opponent in the ALCS. The advantage in a seven-game series is different from a five-game series; while both series start with two games at home, those initial games mean less in the context of a seven-game series. This is true because three games in a row will be played away, and the next home game takes place in Game Six. A team in a seven-game series with HFA can easily play as many games or more games away than at home; this is true if the series goes four or five games. Eight of the past 20 ALCS have gone four or five games.
If the Royals are not the top team in the AL, they can still achieve HFA for the ALCS if the Wild Card seed (no matter the team) beats the Blue Jays.
That means that the only situation in which HFA matters to a playoff series is if the Blue Jays and Royals advance to the ALCS. If the Royals lose or if the Blue Jays lose in the ALDS round, the Royals will not benefit from HFA beyond its impact on opponent.
- Game One: NL at AL
- Game Two: NL at AL
- Game Three: AL at NL
- Game Four: AL at NL
- Game Five (if needed): AL at NL
- Game Six (if needed): NL at AL
- Game Seven (if needed): NL at AL
What this means for the Royals
The American League won the All-Star Game, which means the Royals, should they advance to the World Series, will have home field advantage regardless of opponent.
Though that is theoretically a good thing, as more games played at Kauffman Stadium is always good for this group, it falls into the same major pitfall as the ALCS, which is the plight of three consecutive games played away; 10 of the past 20 World Series did not advance to the point where Game Six (and the third home game) was needed.
In addition, HFA is not an automatic benefit. Since 2003, when HFA was first tied to the winner of the All-Star Game, the AL has triumphed 10 out of 13 opportunities. In 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2014, the team without HFA won the Series.
If the Royals get this far, home-field advantage will not be the deciding factor. It will be the team's play, Yost's managing, and a healthy dose of luck that will decide the fate of the 2015 Royals.