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Let’s look at the remaining Royals schedule

Do they have a shot at all?

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins
Deep flyballs are often caught by Lorenzo Cain. Why not faint playoff chances, too?
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Here we are. It’s September and the Royals are ostensibly in the playoff hunt for the fifth consecutive season. How would it have felt to see Biff Tannen climb out of a gull-winged DeLorean in 2005 and have him tell you that the Royals would be perennial contenders for at least half a decade by 2013 and that his car could fly? Which would have seemed more unbelievable?

If you believed Tannen about the Royals you might have imagined it would be a time of perpetual rejoicing for Royals fans. Instead it is a time for many to completely write off the team. This is not a call to bash those writers. I certainly, gleefully volunteered to write the pre-season piece about how everything could go wrong. I followed it up by dismissing this team’s chances as early as May.

But the team refused to listen to me. They are not eliminated after all, certainly not mathematically and perhaps not practically, either. The Nothing closes in but perhaps all it will take is a spark of imagination to save the Royals’ rapidly ending story.

The Royals are currently 2.5 games back in the Wild Card race. There are 26 games remaining in the regular season schedule, with still a fair shot at one of those insane scenarios where 6+ teams tie for the final spot because still no one has pulled away.

First let’s look at my best guess for how the season schedule will conclude:

Projected Record

Games Remaining Projected Schedule
Games Remaining Projected Schedule
2 at Detroit 2-0
4 vs Minnesota 2-2
3 vs Chicago 2-1
4 at Cleveland 0-4
3 at Toronto 1-2
3 at Chicago 2-1
1 at New York 0-1
3 vs Detroit 2-1
3 vs Arizona 2-1
Final record 81-81 (13-13)

That record might actually end up being good enough to tie for a playoff spot but it probably is not. However, what if the Royals found just a tiny thermal like the one they used to soar so high in June and July? What if the wins from Sunday and yesterday sparked one last hot streak for this group of Royals? What might their record look like then?

Ideal Record

Games Remaining Projected Schedule
Games Remaining Projected Schedule
2 at Detroit 2-0
4 vs Minnesota 3-1
3 vs Chicago 2-1
4 at Cleveland 1-3
3 at Toronto 2-1
3 at Chicago 3-0
1 at New York 1-0
3 vs Detroit 2-1
3 vs Arizona 2-1
Final record 86-76 (18-8)

No, that outcome isn’t particularly likely. But it is quite possible. The Royals have even had similar stretches at various points this season. At one point they went 18-6 without even counting their 9-game winning streak. If they could find another of those before the finish they’d only need to go 9-10 to finish with that 18-8 record.

Many people will tell you that, “It’s the traffic, not the distance.” and ordinarily they’d have a point. In Matthew LaMar’s piece from yesterday he makes the case that if any two of the teams ahead of the Royals get hot then it doesn’t matter what the Royals do. He has a point but there is no reason to think any of those teams will get hot. If it isn’t particularly likely that the Royals will get hot, the Royals are a particularly streaky team, and no other team currently in competition for the wild card is noticeably better than the Royals, then it follows that it’s even less likely that those other teams will find a hot streak to finish off the season.

Given the current playoff climate 86 seems likely to secure a playoff spot. It might not even take that many; as previously noted, none of the contenders can find the strength to pull away from the rest of the group. It’s like a group of tweens trying to play King of the Hill. Every time one of the contenders seems primed to take the top spot one of the others grabs their ankles and drags them back into the melee once more. Every time someone seems essentially eliminated they dust themselves off and charge at the hill, again.

It’s true that the Royals have been too bad at times, this season, to even dream of being a playoff contender in most years. But this is not one of those years. And every other team they’re fighting with is in the same, leaky boat. Anyone who can still sniff .500 in the AL is a playoff contender. That describes the Royals, still.

In 2014 everyone counted the Royals out at the All-Star Break. In 2015 everyone counted the Royals out in Game 4 of the ALDS. In 2016 the Royals managed to throw together a 20-9 August despite suspect pitching, a leaky and injured bullpen, and a lineup that had just finished scoring fewer than 3.5 runs a game in July - sound familiar? None of those events guarantee a Royal recovery, this time, but they’re a long sight from eliminating it. The recent past has taught the rest of the league that you should never count the Royals out until the math says to do so. And even then you should probably double check the math.

Schedule from Baseball Reference. Hat tip to fellow Royals Reviewer Stephen Suffron who has been doing similar thought exercises in comment threads and a pre-season fanpost