On Tuesday, July 26, the The Kansas City Royals stood at 48-51. They stood in fourth place, 9.5 games behind the surging and excellent Cleveland Indians. Their season was certainly over.
On Friday, August 5, the Royals stood at 51-58, a full seven games behind .500 and 11 games back from the Indians. Their season was definitely over.
On Sunday, September 4, the Royals dropped the fourth game of six against the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers--at home. Their Wild Card chances were dropping. They were 5.5 games back from Cleveland at the start of that series. After, they slipped to 9.5 games back, losing ground in the Wild Card race. Their season was absolutely over.
Here we sit on Wednesday, September 7; the Royals took the first two games against the Minnesota Twins, and are looking to sweep. Their next 11 games are against losing opponents.
So how are the Royals doing? What do they need to do to get one of the two Wild Card spots or the division? The Royals stand at 72-66, and have 24 games left. The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays are tied with a .558 winning percentage, which translates to 90-72, so that should be the target.
The easiest way to thank about it is in terms of losses: the Royals have six losses to give over the rest of the season.
But what happens if the Royals lose even less than six games? And what about more? Let's see.
Royals lose 0-2 games
- Final Record: 96-66 to 94-66
- Likely Result: Central Division crown
This would be ridiculous. Teams don't generally go on 24-0 runs. In fact, only one team in the history of Major League Baseball has won 24 or more games in a row, and that was the 1916 New York Giants. Women couldn't vote in 1916, and trench warfare was the leading cause of death in Europe. So that Giants win streak doesn't really count. The longest streak in the modern era is the 2002 Oakland Athletics' 20-game win streak. 24-0 is historically unprecedented.
So a 22-2 win streak is mathematically possible in addition to historically achievable, though not without some insanity. The team would have to go 11-1 over a dozen games. And then do that again. Or equal the modern era's consecutive win streak. Whichever is easier, no problem.
The Cleveland Indians are on pace for 93 wins, so getting 94 would likely be enough for the AL Central. At this point, I would mourn for this hypothetically destructive loss on the collective psyche of Cleveland, but they have LeBron James and an NBA Championship right now so they're pretty fine with sports at the moment.
Royals lose 3 to 5 games
- Final Record: 93-69 to 91-71
- Likely Result: Central Division crown, Wild Card spot #1
As stated earlier, none of the Wild Card teams are on pace for more than 90 wins, so 91 would be a very safe bet for the first spot, and it would be a glorious game at Kauffman Stadium indeed.
But the division would also be in play. The Royals play the Indians six more times this year. Unless Kansas City loses all three to five games in this scenario to the Indians, Kansas City is making up ground against Cleveland and winning a bunch of other games.
Royals lose 6-7 games
- Final Record: 90-72 to 89-73
- Likely Result: Wild Card spot #1 or #2
At the moment, Boston and Toronto are tied for the first Wild Card spot. One will win the division, and the other a Wild Card spot, should they keep pace. The second Wild Card spot is currently held by the Baltimore Orioles, who are on an 89-win pace.
Depending on how things shake out, 89 or 90 wins could easily be either the first or second Wild Card spot, and is the Royals' realistic margin for error.
Royals lose 8 games
- Final Record: 88-74
- Likely Result: No playoffs, or Wild Card spot #2
Losing eight games over the rest of the season would mean Kansas City ended on a torrid 16-8 run. That's amazing! They should be applauded for doing so.
But eight games might be too much to ask for. Behind Baltimore are the Detroit Tigers, who are on an 88-win pace themselves. So, assuming everyone else holds pace and doesn't go on a hot streak, the Royals wouldn't even stand alone behind the two Wild Card teams.
Here are the results that have to happen for the Royals to secure the first Wild Card spot with 88 wins:
- Boston/Toronto goes 10-14
- Baltimore goes 11-13
- Detroit goes 12-12
- Houston Goes 13-11
- New York goes 15-10
For Kansas City to win the second Wild Card spot, one of those teams can win more games than listed, but not more than one. If two more go over, the Royals are out with 88 wins.
The Royals still have a sneak back door into the playoffs as an AL Central winner, but with only 88 wins that probably necessitates a six-game sweep of the Indians.
Royals lose 9 or more games
- Final Record: 87-75 to 72-90
- Likely Record: No playoffs
Barring extraordinary shenanigans, the Royals will not make the playoffs if they lose seven or more games this year. Yes, it is mathematically possible! It is also mathematically possible that I will see Benedict Cumberbatch in the next week, but not very likely.
But, in both the Cumberbatch and Royals cases, it would take a miracle to happen. For the Royals to get the first Wild Card spot, this needs to happen:
- Boston/Toronto goes 9-15
- Baltimore goes 10-14
- Detroit goes 11-13
- Houston goes 12-12
- New York goes 14-11
Again, for Kansas City to win the second Wild Card spot, one team may exceed those results.
But if more than one team exceeds those results, the Royals are out. And with 87 wins, all that means is Baltimore going 11-13 and Detroit going 12-12, let alone one of the Boston/Toronto pair not crapping their trousers and going 10-14. With 86 wins, it means that Boston/Toronto, Baltimore, and Detroit can play 4 games below .500 for the rest of the year and crowd Kansas City out. At 85 wins, none of those teams have to play better than .500 ball to force out Kansas City. If the Royals make the playoffs at 84 wins, they have offered blood sacrifices in the Kauffman Center parking lots.
- 90 wins means the Royals most likely nab a Wild Card spot
- That means the Royals can't lose more than six games for the rest of the year
- The Royals' wiggle room extends to about eight losses on the year
Look, the season is a long one. Out of emotional distress, we often declare the team as 'finished' or 'destined' when they really aren't. The Royals have done a better job of squeaking out of ridiculous situations than any other team for the past three years. That's just how it goes. We've got 24 games left, and the Royals are definitely, mathematically in it.
Are the Royals going to make the playoffs? Probably not. Sorry. There are seven (7!) teams gunning for two Wild Card spots, and those seven teams are within 5 games of each other. Only one of the Wild Card teams will advance to the American League Divisional Series, leaving five teams on the outside looking in and one poor team that got only one game of postseason baseball.
But we can always hope. What's baseball for if not for hope?