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|
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."