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What would it take for the Royals to win the second Wild Card?

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So you’re telling me there’s a chance.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

A couple weeks ago in the notes over at The Athletic, the concept of the Royals front office still believing that they will be able to contend for the second Wild Card spot in 2019 was introduced, or should I say reinforced.

The Royals are talking internally about making a run at the second wild card, and the idea, at least according to the math, is not as crazy as it sounds...

Per Fangraphs, the Royals have a 0.0% chance of making that a reality. At the moment, the Royals have the second-worst record in the American League at 18-37 and looking at a 10.5 game deficit for that playoff ticket. That’s by no means insurmountable. In 2011, the Rays were 8.5 back of the Red Sox/Yankees on September 1 and snuck into the playoffs in the final day of the season. So there’s plenty of time between now and then. The problem is that there’s a reason that I (among many people) point to that ‘11 Rays team. Because it doesn’t happen all that often and though this point in the season in 2011, the Rays were a respectable 29-26.

There is plenty to feel good about when it comes to this Royals team. The offense has been exceeding expectations and there’s still reason to believe that they can be better than they’ve been. I gotta think that the rotation isn’t as bad as they’ve been and they should eventually figure it out. And the bullpen has been rebounding over the last six weeks as well. Prior to the Rangers series that started on May 14, the run differential was only -20 to go with a 14-27 record. There’s reason to believe that this team is better than their record (as dissected by Ryan Heffernon) Having said all this, I wondered what it’d take to catch and leap frog 10 teams and be dancing in October.

If the season were to end today, the playoffs would look like this:
(AL Central Champ) Minnesota Twins
(AL West Champ) Houston Astros
(AL East Champ) New York Yankees
(AL Wild Card 1) Tampa Bay Rays
(AL Wild Card 2) Boston Red Sox/Oakland A’s
So we’ve gotta find reasons why the Royals are better than the Red Sox, A’s, Blue Jays, Orioles (lulz), Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, and the Mariners. Or at least reasons why these teams wouldn’t make the playoffs. Should be easy enough!

The Gimmes

The only team playing worse baseball right now is the Orioles. The Royals are miserable and still lead the Orioles by 1.5 games. If we are to believe that the Royals’ best baseball is ahead of them, then that lead is only going to increase.
Most likely reason: Royals maintain the lead
Least likely reason: There’s an internal quarrel over who to draft with the 2019 #1 overall draft pick and the organization is split at the seems. The civil conflict causes half the org to stay in Baltimore, while the other half moves to Harrisburg, PA, using the Mason-Dixon Line as the fan territorial boundary, and becomes the Harrisburg Fightin’ Himalayans (domestic cats are the primary predator to Orioles). Neither organization is able to recover quick enough to compete in 2019.

The Tigers, White Sox, Blue Jays, and Mariners all have worse run differential than the Royals currently have. Since the Royals are only going to get better, so will their run differential (in theory). If that holds true, they will eventually jump those teams.
Most likely reason: Run differential theory leads to KC overtaking each team
Least likely reason(s):
Fresh off the heels of a polarizing Game of Thrones series finale, the Tigers’ clubhouse really gets into writing the “correct” ending to the saga. The clubhouse implodes because no one can agree on who wins the Iron Throne in the end.

The White Sox have an identity crisis from the top of the org to the bottom after a college student tweets at the team that their mascot is a bit problematic in 2019 society and threatens to “cancel” them. In a chaotic scramble, ownership renames the team to the Chicago Metta World Peace(s). Their record starts at 0-0 in August, and they finish worse than the White Sox record ended as. As a consolation prize, HuffPo gave them a Wokest Franchise of the Year award.

After the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in the NBA championship, the entire city of Toronto rioted in celebration. As a result, all vehicles (planes, trains, automobiles) were set on fire and the entire city was immobilized. The Blue Jays had to forfeit all of their away games and fell out of the race by early July.

Jerry Dipoto decides to trade every Mariner of value in July even though they’re only 4 games out of the division lead.

Contender or Pretender?

The Rangers are in the middle of the pack in hitting (7th/15 in wRC+), but near the bottom in pitching (13th/15 in xFIP) and defense (13th/15 in DEF). Their rotation is solid but might be over-performing. They also have a tougher remaining schedule than the Royals according to Fangraphs.
Most likely reason: The Royals jump them by August.
Least likely reason: The Rangers hire Guy Fieri as the clubhouse chef and he loads Ranger tummies up with 3800 calories worth of fried foods every day. Eventually the team begins to sweat Donkey Sauce and folds.

The Angels have the toughest remaining schedule in the American League and when I think of a playoff pretender, I immediately think of the Angels of Los Anaheim (or whatever they are now; side note: I’m just realizing that their name translates from Spanish to The Angels Angels of Anaheim; couldn’t do better guys? SMH). I think they eventually collapse after some tough injuries.
Most likely reason: The Royals jump them in late September
Least likely reason: The plot of the movie San Andreas plays out and Angels Stadium plummets towards the center of the Earth leaving behind only a perfect outline of the stadium like it was a Looney Tune. Luckily, the only person inside the stadium was The Rock’s daughter, whom he rescued by commandeering the most glorious bald eagle and flying them both to safety.

The Indians are actually in good shape in my opinion despite being just 1 game above .500, 10 games behind the division lead, and 0.5 games out of the wild card. I don’t think their offense is as bad as they’ve been (13th/15 in wRC+) and the pitching and defense is there. Still, there’s a reality where the GM decides that the deficit is too large and starts dealing roster pieces, namely Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, and/or Trevor Bauer, and the team starts heading to the cellar. If that were to happen, the Royals could realistically catch them.
Most likely reason: Indians fire sale leads to a woeful 2nd half
Least likely reason: The same college student that threatens to cancel the White Sox goes ahead and cancels both the Braves and the Indians. MLB denies their affiliation with the league until their mascots are changed.

The A’s lineup is as complete as any AL team and can keep up with any of them offensively. The problem lies in their pitching staff. The rotation is pitching well, but most of the good performances are unproven, so it’s hard for me to believe how real it is. The same can be said about their bullpen. Treinen is a dude, but old friends like Joakim Soria and Liam Hendriks are two of their main pillars, and we know those two can be volatile. Still, it’s hard to envision this flawed Royals team overtaking them at some point, but stranger things have happened.
Most likely reason: The pitching staff comes back down to Earth, the bats calm down, the AL West begins to eat itself, and the Royals play above what we think is their ceiling.
Least likely reason: A portal to the Upside Down opens behind home plate at the Oakland Coliseum during a game against the Twins on the 4th of July. Other worldly creatures start pouring onto the field and both teams begin to heroically fight them off. After having thrown the first pitch, Bill Pullman jumps onto the stadium PA system and delivers his Independence Day speech. Millie Bobby Brown comes racing onto the field with a megaphone and starts spitting bars of “Monster” like she did that one time on Jimmy Fallon. The Upside Down monsters double over and simultaneously melt away. Millie’s nose starts to slowly bleed. Incredibly there are no fatalities but there are many injuries. Neither team is able to fill a healthy playoff roster so the Rob Manfred asks for volunteer teams to take their playoff spots. The Royals have Google Fiber (not an ad) and are the first to volunteer for the A’s spot. Heroes.

The AL East gauntlet

The AL East has 3 complete teams within it. Tampa Bay might be the best all around team in the league. Boston is the reigning World Champs and are one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Yankees have been injury plagued all year and are currently leading the division. Suffice it to say, it is...unlikely that the Royals are capable of overtaking even one of these teams. The one thing that makes it possible is that since 2012, when the MLB added the 2nd Wild Card spot, only 1 time did 1 division produce 3 playoff teams. That was in 2016 and it was Boston, New York, and Toronto to do so.
Most likely reason: The entire 40 man roster of the New York Yankees ends up on the 60 day IL and the rest of the season is played by a combination of AA/AAA players and can’t keep up.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox deal with a MRSA outbreak in the clubhouse that forces them to miss 3 weeks of play. They try to make up all games by playing at least one double header every week for the rest of the year. They limp into the final week, fatigued and injury laden and can’t quite make it in.
Furthermore, the Rays keep playing and keep winning, but their attendance steadily decreases. In September, even the media stops going to the games, raising the question “If the Rays make the playoffs but no one’s there to see it, does it actually happen?”. College philosophy courses debate the issue for the next decade and never settle.
Least likely reason: All AL East teams split games against each other and drop every other remaining series for the rest of the year while the Royals play outta their minds.

Sooooooo...ya know...place your bets now. I’m sure you’ll get really good odds.