The Royals have been sliding a bit since the calendar turned to August, but due to the mediocrity of the American League, they still find themselves smack in the hunt for a post-season spot. The Royals have dropped 9 of 13 games this month, which has taken them from a 1.5 game lead on the second Wild Card spot, to trailing the Angels by one game for that spot.
What is crazy is that eight teams are within four games of that last playoff spot. For a moment, let us set aside the race for the Central Division (which the Royals still only trail by five games), and look at how the Royals stack up against the contenders for the second Wild Card.
Los Angeles Angels
Record: 61-58 (Second Wild Card)
Pythag (what is Pythag?): 59-60
Wild Card Odds: 32.4% (Fangraphs) 22.3% (BPro)
Offense: It is Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, and the seven dwarfs. Despite having the best baseball player on the planet, the Angels are dead last in runs-per-game, with just 4.29. They have had the worst production in the AL, by OPS, at second base, right-field, and designated hitter, and are second-worst at first base, third base, and left-field. Albert Pujols has been the worst player in the American League this year. They are slugging just .391 as a team, and despite stealing over 100 bases, are a below-average base-running team.
Defense/Pitching: The Angels are fourth in runs allowed-per-game at 4.33, but just eighth in FIP at 4.40. Eleven pitchers have started a game for the Angels, and their top four pitchers in games started all have ERAs well over four. Parker Bridwell has come on to win seven games in 11 starts with an ERA of 2.88. The bullpen has the fourth-best ERA at 3.87, but closer Bud Norris blew two games this week, likely costing him his role. The defense has been very good by the metrics, although much of that is carried by Andrelton Simmons, who has been other worldly this year.
Injuries: You could make a starting rotation out of the injured pitchers for the Angels. Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano and Matt Shoemaker are all out for the year, Garrett Richards has been out all season, and Alex Meyer landed on the disabled list in late July. Reliever Huston Street has pitched in just four games this year and infielder Yunel Escobar landed on the disabled list last week with an oblique injury.
Other: Having Mike Trout back has been a huge boost to the Angels, as they have won 12 of their last 16 games. However they face the toughest schedule out of any Wild Card contender, with nine games left against the Astros. The Angels have been trying to get by patching together a roster of castoffs from other organizations, but this looks like a team that may run out of gas without any more support for their two stars.
Record: 59-57 (0.5 games back)
Wild Card Odds: 20.3% (Fangraphs) 20.5% (BPro)
Offense: The Twins had a good offense last year, despite their terrible season, but it has been below-average this year with 4.68 runs-per-game. Miguel Sano has cooled off after a hot start, and Max Kepler and Robbie Grossman are hitting barely over .200 since the All-Star break.
Defense/Pitching: Pitching continues to be a problem for the Twins, who have the third-worst ERA in the American League. Ervin Santana has been quite good this year, but all other Twins starters combine for a 5.43 ERA. The bullpen has been nearly as bad with a 4.53 ERA, and they traded their closer, Brandon Kintzler, to the Nationals. The Twins zoomed off to a great start defensively, but have been about average for the year, still a huge improvement from last year.
Injuries: Pitchers Phil Hughes and Trevor May are out for the year. Pitcher Adalberto Mejia landed on the disabled list last week. Lefty Hector Santiago is out with a back injury, but could return this month, and reliever Glen Perkins could return then as well.
Other: The Twins thought they were out of it, trading Kintzler and starter Jaime Garcia at the deadline, but they have won seven out of eight to climb back into the race. They have 28 games left against Central Division opponents the White Sox (8), Royals (7), Tigers (7), and Indians (6). The Twins have outperformed their pythag quite a bit and could be in for a rude crash.
Kansas City Royals
Record: 59-58 (1 game back)
Wild Card Odds: 24.3% (Fangraphs) 15.3% (BPro)
Offense: A hot July brought the Royals out of the bottom of the league, and they are now sixth-from the bottom, barely under league-average with 4.44 runs-per-game. Since their dreadful month of April, they are averaging 4.9 runs-per-game. They have slugged a surprising number of home runs - 147 - led by Mike Moustakas with 34.
Defense/Pitching: The starting pitching got off to a hot start, but overall has been decidedly mediocre with an ERA of 4.52. The bullpen, once a major strength for their championship team, has also become mediocre with an ERA of 4.03. The acquisition of three Padres pitchers has not helped much - they have combined for an ERA of 7.20 since being acquired. The defense still ranks as one of the best in baseball.
Injuries: Salvador Perez suffered an intercostal injury in his right side that will likely keep him out until late August. Trevor Cahill is out with a shoulder impingement with no timetable for his return. Nate Karns is out for the year.
Other: The Royals have slumped since their hot July, but face the easiest remaining schedule for a Wild Card contender. They have been there before, but a lack of depth could be costly, especially if they suffer any more injuries. Don’t ever count the Royals out, as they have been the streakiest team in baseball over the last few years
Record: 59-60 (2 games back)
Wild Card Odds: 11.9% (Fangraphs) 13% (BPro)
Offense: The Mariners finally have an offense above league-average with 4.70 runs-per-game. Eight of their nine regular starters post an OPS+ of 95 or better. Adding Yonder Alonso last week will only provide more depth to the offense. Despite the addition of Jarrod Dyson, the Mariners are worst baserunning team in the league.
Defense/Pitching: Mariners starting pitching has been dreadful - no team has ever made the playoffs with a rotation as bad. Injuries have ravaged the rotation, and 15 different pitchers have started a game for the Mariners this year. The bullpen has the most blown saves in the American League this year.
Injuries: Pitchers Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton are all out at least through the end of this month. Pitcher Drew Smyly is out for the year. Outfielder Mitch Haniger is also out through at least this month.
Other: The Mariners have hung around .500 all year, but a four-game sweep at home to the Angels last weekend could prove to be costly. The Mariners have the longest post-season drought in baseball, not having tasted October baseball since 2001. The rotation is such a mess now, relying on pitchers like Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda, that it is hard to see this team making the playoffs, but in this mediocre race, who knows?
Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 59-60 (2 games back)
Wild Card Odds: 19.9% (Fangraphs) 21.7% (BPro)
Offense: The Rays have scored the third-fewest runs in the American League with 4.34 runs-per-game, although their lineup has hit well. The lineup only has black holes in the lineup at catcher and second base, while first baseman Logan Morrison and right fielder Stephen Souza have had career years. The Rays are dead last in the league in hitting with runners in scoring position, with a line of .233/.321/.369 in those situations.
Defense/Pitching: The Rays have the second-best starting pitching ERA in the league this year at 4.01. Chris Archer anchors a solid rotation that has also gotten a good performance out of Jake Odorizzi and a surprising performance from rookie Jacob Faria with a 3.19 ERA in 12 starts. The bullpen has been a different matter, however, particularly in middle relief. The Rays are just 45-10 when leading after seven innings.
Injuries: Pitcher Alex Cobb will return this week from a toe injury, and pitcher Matt Andriese is expected to return from a hip injury later this month. The Rays could also get back outfielder Kevin Kiermaier later this month after a fracture in his hip. Infielder Matt Duffy had surgery on his heel with no timetable for a return. Colby Rasmus left the team for a personal matter and is not expected to return.
Other: The projection models seem to like the Rays on paper, but being two games back in a tough division puts them in a bind. The Rays still have interleague matchups against the Cardinals and Cubs, not to mention 12 games left against the Red Sox and Yankees.
Record: 58-60 (2.5 games back)
Wild Card Odds: 7.6% (Fangraphs) 6.6% (BPro)
Offense: The Orioles have not been mashing as they have in years past, with 4.72 runs-per-game, just a bit above league-average. They still hit a lot of home runs - their 169 is third-best in the AL - but they fail to draw many walks. The Orioles have been the best team in the AL with runners in scoring position, hitting .296/.358/.494. The O’s have gotten terrific performances from Jonathan Schoop, Trey Mancini, and Wellington Castillo to make up for disappointing performances from Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, and a slow start from Manny Machado.
Defense/Pitching: The Orioles have the worst starter’s ERA in the American League at 5.53. Dylan Bundy is the only starter to be league-average, while many other starters have ERAs well over five, while Chris Tillman stands at 7.94. The acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson at the deadline was puzzling, but perhaps necessary. The Orioles held onto closer Zach Britton, who has missed much of the season with a forearm strain but is back and healthy. The Orioles have been poor on defense, with former Gold Glover Adam Jones rating terribly this year.
Injuries: Shortstop J.J. Hardy has been terrible this year, and is out with a wrist fracture until late August. Infielder Ryan Flaherty could re-join the club then as well.
Other: People laughed at the Orioles for being buyers at the deadline, but they have won 9 of their last 15. The additions of Hellickson and infielder Tim Beckham could be a boost for a team that was in the Wild Card game last year. The Orioles have two big series against the Mariners coming up, and end the year with a home-and-home against the Rays, the last one coming in St. Petersburg.
Who will make the second Wild Card
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