The American League Wild Card race is decidedly blah. Eight teams are within five games of the final post-season spot, none of which is more than four games over .500. The Wild Card race is a marathon of the mediocre, a contest of the cromulent, a battle of the beige, a matchup of the "meh."
The Angels are tied for the lead in the race so far, despite scoring the third-fewest runs in the league, with just two hitters in their lineup above league-average. The Twins are tied with them despite the second-worst ERA in the league, having already traded away Jamie Garcia. The only team with a positive run differential in the race is the Texas Rangers, who traded their best pitcher, Yu Darvish, to the Dodgers three weeks ago. You can see how the teams stack up, they all have major, major flaws to their game.
The second Wild Card team may be pretty mediocre this year, but they may not even be the worst team to ever make the playoffs. That would be the 2005 Padres, who won the National League West with an 82-80 record. Heck, the St. Louis Cardinals won it all in 2006 with just 83 wins in the regular season. Low win totals for post-season teams aren’t even necessarily a product of the current three-division format - the 1984 Royals went to the playoffs with just 84 wins.
When baseball expanded to a second Wild Card in 2012, many argued this would allow mediocre teams to make the post-season. Since then, the teams that have claimed the second Wild Card spot have averaged 89.3 wins. The worst team to ever make it was the 2015 Astros, who won 86 games and nearly knocked off the eventual World Champion Kansas City Royals in the divisional round.
How had teams fared by this point in the season? Here is the winning percentage for each team that led the second Wild Card spot by August 21.
The only race that was as mediocre as this one by this point in the season was in 2015. The team that led at that time was the Angels, who led the Rangers and Orioles by half a game. But the Rangers would catch fire, with the third-best record in baseball the rest of the way, eventually winning the division over the slumping Astros, who would end up having to play in Yankee Stadium for the Wild Card.
Which is where the winner of this competition could end up. The Wild Card seems destined to be played in Yankee Stadium against Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and the Bronx Bombers. But if history is any guide, the race may not be mediocre for long. There are eight teams involved - someone has to heat up.
Why not the Royals? Sure they are flawed, but so is everyone else. As we get into smaller sample sizes, true talent level only goes so far. In a 40-game sprint to the finish, matchups, injuries, and the crazy bounce of the baseball will have even greater importance. The Royals have certainly been the beneficiary of good luck before. Can't "Royals Devil Magic" strike again?
The mediocrity of the American League presents an opportunity for the Royals. Despite the terrible start, despite the injuries, despite the disappointing seasons from Alex Gordon, Brandon Moss, and Jorge Soler and the trades that didn't work out, and leading off with Alcides Escobar, and Joakim Soria's blown saves - despite it all, the Royals are in it. So why not take advantage?
Sure the Wild Card race is kinda dumb this year. But post-season runs are about being hot at the right time. And the Royals still have time to get hot.