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Is there a benefit to the Royals finishing the season strong?

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Will momentum carry over into 2017?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With the Royals six games under .500 it seems unlikely they will go on yet another magical run towards the post-season. They would have to win 72% of their remaining games to even win 89 games, the number they won in 2014 to reach the Wild Card Game.

But does that mean performing well and winning some games is meaningless down the stretch? It has been suggested that there is a benefit to finishing strong and building momentum into next season. Others have dismissed the notion of momentum in baseball with the old Earl Weaver adage "momentum is only as good as tomorrow’s starting pitcher."

The Royals were 49-55 on July 31, far back out of contention, but they could reach .500 with a strong finish. Would that matter heading into next season?

Let’s look at teams over the last 20 years that were at least five games under .500 by July 31, but won 55% of the rest of their games.

Up to July 31 After July 31 The next season
Team Year W L PCT W L PCT W L PCT
Red Sox 1996 47 58 .448 38 19 .667 78 84 .481
Marlins 1996 49 58 .458 31 24 .564 92 70 .568
Phillies 1997 33 72 .314 35 22 .614 75 87 .463
Rockies 1997 51 58 .468 32 21 .604 77 85 .475
White Sox 1998 47 60 .439 33 22 .600 75 86 .466
Cardinals 1998 51 57 .472 32 22 .593 75 86 .466
Dodgers 1999 45 59 .433 32 26 .552 86 76 .531
Astros 2000 39 66 .371 33 24 .579 93 69 .574
Blue Jays 2001 49 58 .458 31 24 .564 78 84 .481
Mets 2001 49 58 .458 33 22 .600 75 86 .466
Blue Jays 2002 46 59 .438 32 25 .561 86 76 .531
White Sox 2002 51 57 .472 30 24 .556 86 76 .531
Indians 2006 45 59 .433 33 25 .569 96 66 .593
Astros 2006 49 56 .467 33 24 .579 73 89 .451
Indians 2008 47 60 .439 34 21 .618 65 97 .401
Astros 2008 50 57 .467 36 18 .667 74 88 .457
Padres 2009 42 62 .404 33 25 .569 90 72 .556
Reds 2009 45 57 .441 33 27 .550 91 71 .562
Orioles 2010 32 72 .308 34 24 .586 69 93 .426
Dodgers 2011 48 59 .449 34 20 .630 86 76 .531
Brewers 2012 47 56 .456 36 23 .610 74 88 .457
Phillies 2012 46 57 .447 35 24 .593 73 89 .451
Padres 2012 44 61 .419 32 25 .561 76 86 .469
Indians 2015 48 54 .471 33 26 .559 63 47 .573
Red Sox 2015 46 58 .442 32 26 .552 61 50 .550
1967 1977 .499

Teams in bold made the playoffs.

The two most recent examples - the Indians and Red Sox, are both in contention this year after a strong finish in 2015. However just 9 of the 25 teams that finished strong would have a winning record the next season. Just four made the playoffs, with one World Champion, the 1997 Florida Marlins.

Some of these teams had some roster churn, or began rebuilding movements, while the Royals are likely to carryover the core of this team into the 2017 season. Many of these teams were also terrible teams that just got hot for a few months, while the Royals at least have a track record of recent success the last few seasons. But the evidence that momentum carries over to the next season seems a bit dubious.

Now, this is not to suggest the Royals should go out and try to play poorly or that fans should root for them to lose. Pride is still a powerful motivation, and many of the players will want to play well with free agency over the horizon. Fans will want to see the team play well just to avoid the frustration of losing.

But if the team doesn’t play well, don’t fret that they blew their chance of having carrying good momentum into next season. The 2017 season is a whole new season, with injured players returning, a different starting rotation, and different opposing players. A new season represents a reset, not a carryover of last year. As Cubs fans are famous for saying, "there’s always next year."