The Kansas City Royals have spit in the face of doom before.
Most famously, the Royals roared back from four runs down in the eighth inning of the 2014 Wild Card Game. At their lowest point, Fangraphs pegged them to have a 2.9% chance of winning the game. The Royals parlayed that into a stunning and unpredicted postseason run to Game Seven of the World Series. During Game Four of the 2015 ALDS, Kansas City was down 6-2 in the seventh inning against the Houston Astros and came back from a 1.6% chance of winning to win the game, then won the series and their first World Series victory since 1985.
Don’t forget the famed PECOTA projection system. Kansas City has outpaced their PECOTA projected wins for seven consecutive seasons, and at 66 wins they need only win four more games the rest of September to outpace PECOTA’s projection for an eighth consecutive season.
Both individually and as a team, the Royals identity is one of resilience, athleticism, and tenacity. They exhaustively scratch for runs and play hard, clamping onto leads like the very existence of Joe’s KC BBQ depended on it. For the last few years, every time somebody counted the Royals out, they slapped you on the head and reminded you that they were not pleased with your faithlessness.
But 2016 happened, and it should have been right there that the illusion of Royals Devil Magic fizzled out. They went 81-81 and failed to compete for even a Wild Card spot.
Though the Royals have continued to go on runs here and there, let’s not kid ourselves: the Royals are dead men walking, and there is nothing they can do in September to extricate themselves from their fate.
See, this time is different. A few nights ago, the Royals lost by a score of 17-0, losing by a dozen runs for the third time in their last six games; they were shut out for the fifth time in their last eight games. The Royals are currently 3.5 games behind the second Wild Card spot, 5.5 games behind the first Wild Card spot, and 12.5 games out of first place. The American League Wild Card race is insane this year, as their are eight teams within five games of each other in the running for both wild card spots.
The Royals are the seventh. As is sometimes said in regards to these things, “it’s not the distance but the traffic,” and that is absolutely true in regards to the Royals’ chances. While 3.5 games isn’t a crazy amount with a month to go, being the last of eight teams gunning for two spots means not only with competing with the top two teams, but also needing to outpace six other teams as well.
Put it this way: Let’s say the Royals go absolutely nuts for the rest of the month and go 22-7 to get to 88 wins. That’s just complete, balls-to-the-wall insanity. Even considering that ridiculousness, all it takes for Kansas City to lose out of the Wild Card is for the New York Yankees to go 17-11 and for the Twins to go 18-9.
To put it another way: Do you remember that point July when the Royals started a nine-game win streak 2 games behind Cleveland for the division lead and ended that win streak 2 games behind Cleveland because the Indians got hot simultaneously? Yeah, there are seven teams ahead of the Royals, and any one hot streak by one of those could sink Kansas City, let alone two or more.
Let’s face it. This Royals team isn’t making the playoffs. It’s not good.
And this isn’t a surprise! A little over a year ago I wrote that the 2017 team wasn’t likely to be a good one.
Regardless of the figure, the Royals have precious little wiggle room. They have to fix one of the American League's worst offenses and one of the American League's worst rotations and a fading bullpen with very little money with which to work.
This team just isn't built for a 2017 triumphant return. Next year returns all of this year's problems, but they're all more expensive and older.
Sure enough, the Royals have been 23rd out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored per game, their rotation has ranked 19th by Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement in total value, and their bullpen has been bent under the stress of picking up the slack. Furthermore, their once-elite defense now ranks 19th by Defensive Runs Saved (though it fares better by Ultimate Zone Rating)
The Royals’ problems could have been spotted from a mile away, and this was before general manager Dayton Moore offloaded their best reliever (Wade Davis) and second-best outfielder (Jarrod Dyson) for two risky, low-ceiling players in Nathan Karns and Jorge Soler.
Moore, the front office, the coaching staff, and the players certainly believe in themselves. And they should—that’s the only way they can create another miracle. And we should absolutely root for them to make the playoffs, because otherwise what’s the point of rooting for a team anyway?
Still, it’s important to note that the Royals are dead in the water, whether they want to realize it or not. We are coming to another point of decision for the front office, that being this very offseason. How the Royals perform right now is extremely important, and will continue to be so for years to come. For Moore, it’s imperative that he not be delusional about the Royals’ chances and the reasons behind their record, or else an extended return to the Dark Ages is an inevitability.