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Assessing the Royals’ playoff chances compared to AL teams

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The Royals have a long road to climb.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals begin the second half 45-43, 7.5 games out of first place in the Central Division, and 4.5 games back of the last Wild Card spot. While they are not flying high as they did last year, when they began the second half with the best record in the league and a 4.5 lead in the division, they are in a similar position to 2014, when they 48-46 at the break, trailing Detroit by 6.5 games, and the final Wild Card spot by 2.5 games. That team went on a tear in the second half and won the first Kansas City pennant in 29 years. Does this team have that kind of run in them?

Fangraphs puts the Royals’ playoff odds at 6%, although some believe you should throw that number out the window. The Royals have been outscored by 23 runs this year, the fifth-worst run-differential in the American League. How do they stack up against the other teams vying for playoff spots?

Texas Rangers (52-36)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Probably not.

The Rangers success this year has been pretty mystifying. They have outperformed their pythagorean record by seven wins and are 19-7 in one-run games. They have flat out dominated the Houston Astros, a team many thought would contend for the pennant, going 9-1 against their in-state rivals.  They do have a farm system deep enough to add some starting pitchers to join Cole Hamels, so expect them to be a big mover at the deadline. Their league-worst bullpen ERA could be their undoing, but they have gotten off to such a great start and they have just enough talent that they should still be able to coast in front of the Royals for a playoff spot.

Cleveland Indians (52-36)

Will the Royals finish better than them? No.

The Indians have the best run-differential in the league and have been red hot, winning 35 of their last 54 games. They have the second-best ERA and best FIP for a starting pitching staff, with All-Stars Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar leading the way. They have a solid offense and a much-improved defense. This looks like the Indians team many have been predicted to win the pennant for a few seasons. At this point, they seem like heavy favorites to win the division.

Baltimore Orioles (51-36)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Maybe.

The Orioles actually have a starting pitcher ERA worse than the Royals, but have somehow won enough games to be in first place in the East. The have beaten up on some last place teams, going 16-4 against the Rays, Twins, and Angels. The Orioles have mashed, leading the league in home runs. Baltimore will likely look for starting pitching at the deadline but may not have the chips to land a significant upgrade, which could cause them to slump in the second half.

Boston Red Sox (49-38)

Will the Royals finish better than them? No.

The Red Sox are a pretty solid team that leads the league in runs scored with a good young core of All-Stars. They have had some starting pitching issues, but have moved Clay Buchholz to the bullpen and are expected to acquire a starting pitcher at the deadline. The Red Sox have had disastrous second-half collapses before, but don’t look for one this year.

Toronto Blue Jays (51-40)

Will the Royals finish better than them? No.

The team the Royals knocked off last year in the ALCS has come back to play solid baseball, with the best starting rotation ERA in the league, and the second-most runs. They have gotten some underachievement from Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki, while Michael Saunders has played out of his mind. The Jays could have some bullpen issues, but overall have good enough depth that they should be able to finish strong.

Houston Astros (48-41)

Will the Royals finish better than them? No.

The other American League team the Royals finished off last October got off to a terrible start, causing many to write them off. They have won 31 of their last 44 games, pulling them back into post-season contention. Much of that winning has come against also-rans like the Reds, Angels, Rays, and Athletics, and the Astros had the easiest first-half schedule in the American League. The two areas that snakebit them last year - bullpen and defense - have been outstanding for the Astros this year. This is a deep, young team that looks hungry to correct their mistakes from last fall.

Detroit Tigers (46-43)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Maybe.

The Tigers were ice cold in May and red hot in June, and the truth is probably somewhere in-between. Their starting rotation, which was awful last year, has been lousy again this year, about as bad as the Royals. However, unlike the Royals, the Tigers have the third-worst bullpen ERA. Their vaunted offense has only been mediocre, with Justin Upton being a huge disappointment, although he has come on more recently. The Tigers have enough star power that it seems like they should be better, but their lack of depth has really killed them.

Chicago White Sox (45-43)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Probably.

The White Sox looked like contenders in April when they roared off to a 24-12 start, but they have won just 40% of their games since then. Their offense has been surprisingly bad, and their defense, while improved, is still lackluster outside of Adam Eaton. A rotation with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana seems like it should be fantastic, but the White Sox have a 5.21 starting pitching ERA outside of that pair. The White Sox seem like a very flawed team that the Royals should be able to finish ahead of if they can get a bit healthier.

Seattle Mariners (45-44)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Probably not.

The Mariners have been a very unlucky team, underperforming their pythagorean expectation by five wins. They have the second-most home runs and the sixth-most runs, and their starting pitchers have the fifth-best ERA. They have the look of a pretty solid, albeit not spectacular team that should be in the mix for a Wild Card.

New York Yankees (44-44)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Yes.

The Yankees have been outscored by 34 runs thanks to an underwhelming offense. With so many starting players over the age of 30, the Yankees should probably expect some injuries and decline in the second half. Their vaunted bullpen could be broken up soon if the team decides to sell and trade off Andrew Miller and/or Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees look like a team that is in danger of finishing with a losing record for the first time since 1992.

Oakland Athletics (38-51)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Yes.

The A's have been lousy this year and are about to have a Billy Beane-type firesale.

Los Angeles Angels (37-52)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Yes.

The Angels are basically just Mike Trout and a bunch of dudes off the street. They have no farm system whatsoever, so don't expect any help to come along.

Tampa Bay Rays (34-54)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Yes.

The Rays have enough talent to think they could play better baseball in the second half, but they are already 11 games behind the Royals, who are trying to chase playoff teams, so October baseball does not seem to be in Tampa Bay's future.

Minnesota Twins (32-56)

Will the Royals finish better than them? Yes.

The Twins have been a dumpster fire this year, and while they do have some young talent that could help them improve down the stretch, they are more likely to finish in the top five in next year's draft than pass the Royals.

If I had to guess right now, I'd predict the Red Sox, Indians, and Astros win their divisions with the Blue Jays and Rangers in the Wild Card. The Royals could hang around in the Wild Card mix, but don't appear to have the starting pitching needed to make a push. Who do you expect to make the American League playoffs at this point?