Expanded playoffs are here, and while we may have some mixed feelings about it, they do give us more baseball. We will see if more post-season teams are here to stay, but the expanded format did get me wondering about how baseball history might have changed had the post-season expanded a long time ago. How many post-seasons would we have experienced in Kansas City? Let’s look at how some post-seasons would have looked much differently.
In this year’s playoffs, the top three division winners were the top three seeds, the three second-place teams were the next three seeds, then the next two best teams were the final two seeds. Since there were only two divisions through most of Royals history, and since I find this convoluted seeding system to be stupid, I won’t be using it. Instead, I’ll assume the two division winners are the top two seeds, and the remaining six teams are seeded in order of record. I also skipped 1981, since it had its own weirdness with the Royals actually making the playoffs with an overall losing record.
1971 Royals (85-76, #4 seed) vs. Boston Red Sox (85-77, #5 seed)
The Royals were actually one of the fastest expansion teams to ever reach a post-season, but under an expanded format they could have reached the playoffs even faster, in just their third season. This Royals club was light-hitting finishing last in home runs with just two players in double digits, while the Red Sox hit twice as many with sluggers like George Scott, Rico Petrocelli, Reggie Smith, and Carl Yastrzemski. But the Royals had the edge in g pitching with three starters with a sub-3.00 ERA with Dick Drago, Mike Hedlund, and Paul Splittorff.
1972 Royals (76-78, #8 seed) vs. Oakland Athletics (93-62, #1 seed)
The Royals followed up their first ever winning season with a losing one, but would have snuck into the playoffs had 8 of the 12 teams in the league been allowed in the playoffs. A player’s strike limited this season to just 154 games, but the Reggie Jackson’s A’s steamrolled the American League to win the first of three consecutive championships.
1973 Royals (88-74, #4 seed) vs. Detroit Tigers (85-77, #5 seed)
Led by John Mayberry and Amos Otis, this was one of the better offensive teams in Royals history, finishing second in the league in runs, and they finished in second place, six games back of the A’s. The Tigers had been champs five years prior to this, but were a pretty old team by 1973 with over 30-stars like Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich, and future Hall of Famer Al Kaline.
1975 Royals (91-71, #3 seed) vs. Cleveland Indians (79-80, #6 seed)
A mid-season managerial change to install Whitey Herzog as skipper gave the Royals as second-half boost as they enjoyed their first 90+ win season. John Mayberry was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball, and the pitching staff was led by Steve Busby, Dennis Leonard, and Al Fitzmorris. The Indians would have been one of three losing teams in the league to make the playoffs in an expanded format.
1976 Royals (90-72, #2 seed) vs. Cleveland Indians (81-78, #7 seed)
The Royals really won their first division title that year, as George Brett made his first All-Star game and won his first batting title. Under this scenario, do the Royals make it past the Indians, then the winner of the Orioles/Athletics series to still get a crack at the Yankees?
1977 Royals (102-60, #1 seed) vs. Detroit Tigers or California Angels (74-88, #8 seed)
This was an expansion year, and the American League became very top heavy with six teams winning 90+ games. The Royals were the best of the bunch and set a club record for wins in a season that still stands today. The Tigers and Angels tied for the eighth-best record in the league with 74 wins, so I guess we would have gotten an exciting one-game playoff between two lousy teams.
1978 Royals (92-70, #2 seed) vs. Texas Rangers (87-75, #7 seed)
The Rangers tied with the Angels, but took the season series against them head-to-head and would have gotten the higher #7 seed. Three American League club - the Yankees, Red Sox, and Brewers all won more games than the Western Division champion Royals, so had they advanced past the Rangers it would have been a tough road to the World Series.
1979 Royals (85-77, #6 seed) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (95-66, #3 seed)
The Royals finished just three games back of the Angels for the division title, but the East was loaded with some good teams. The Royals tied the Tigers for the sixth-best record, but beat them head-to-head 7-5. The Brewers had some of the core of the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” group that included Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount, and Paul Molitor and would win a pennant three years later.
1980 Royals (97-65, #2 seed) vs. Boston Red Sox (83-77, #7 seed)
The Royals likely would have gotten past the Red Sox with no problem, but looming in the second round was a 100-win Orioles team, and had the Royals advanced past them, the 103-win Yankees would likely be waiting for them. The Royals finally got past the Yankees that year for their first pennant, but an expanded playoff means a much more difficult road.
1982 Royals (90-72, #4 seed) vs. Boston Red Sox (89-73, #5 seed)
Again, the Royals finished just three games back of the Angels for the division title. The Red Sox featured Jim Rice and Dwight Evans in their primes, Carl Yasztremski still hanging on at age 42, and a young 24-year old rookie who hit .349 named Wade Boggs. An expanded playoffs would have erased one of the best division title races in history, with the Brewers edging out the Orioles by one game in the East.
1983 Royals (79-83, #7 seed) vs. Baltimore Orioles (98-64, #2 seed)
The 1983 Royals had their first losing record in a full season in nine years, but hey, they still could have made the playoffs! The Royals were really old at this point, with a lot of veterans from their glory years in the 70s - Amos Otis, Hal McRae, Larry Gura, Paul Splittorff - with a few older vets brought in to get them over the hump like former MVP Vida Blue. The Orioles would go on to win a championship that season led by future Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and then-rookie Cal Ripken, Jr.
1984 Royals (84-78, #2 seed) vs. Minnesota Twins (81-81, #7 seed)
The Royals won a surprising division title in a weak division with young pitchers Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, Bud Black, and Charlie Leibrandt. They had just the sixth-best record in the league, but if you give division title winners the top two seeds, they would be the #2 seed. The Twins tied the Angels, but beat them head-to-head and would have claimed the #7 seed with a young team featuring Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, and Frank Viola.
1985 Royals (91-71, #2 seed) vs. Baltimore Orioles (83-73, #7 seed)
The Royals had an amazing post-season run with some epic comebacks to win their first championship in 1985, but does that still happen under an expanded playoff? Had they advanced past the Orioles in the first round, their old nemesis, the New York Yankees, would likely be waiting for them in round two, led by Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, and Ron Guidry. The Toronto Blue Jays were the top seed that year, and they had the Royals down 3-1 in the ALCS that year before the Royals stormed back.
1987 Royals (83-79, #6 seed) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (96-66, #3 seed)
The Royals finished just two games back of the Twins, but the Western Division was very weak that year. The Royals had two interesting rookies in Kevin Seitzer and Bo Jackson, and their pitching might have been tough in a short series with Saberhagen, Gubizca, Leibrandt, and Danny Jackson on the hill. But Toronto was building a loaded team with power (George Bell, Fred McGriff, Jesse Barfield) and the top pitching staff in the league (Jimmy Key, Jim Clancy, Dave Stieb)
1988 Royals (84-78, #8 seed) vs. Oakland Athletics (104-58, #1 seed)
The Royals finished 19.5 games back of the A’s, but what if they had a chance to face them in the post-season? The Royals were actually the only team the A’s had a losing record against that year, with KC taking 8 of 13 against the “Bash Brothers”, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.
1989 Royals (92-70, #3 seed) vs. Red Sox (83-79, #6 seed)
The 1989 Royals finished tied for the third-best record in all of baseball - and missed the post-season. Instead, imagine if Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen, 15-game winner Mark Gubicza, and young arms like Tom Gordon and Jeff Montgomery had a chance to go through the post-season and get a crack at neutralizing the bats of eventual champion Oakland.
1993 Royals (84-78, #7 seed) vs. Chicago White Sox (94-68, #2 seed)
It would have been nice for the Royals to make the playoffs in George Brett’s final season, but it seems unlikely it would have been a storybook ending since the Royals finished dead last in runs scored that year. The White Sox had a team full of good young arms like Wilson Alvarez, Alex Fernandez, Jack McDowell, and Jason Bere as well as that year’s MVP, Frank Thomas.
1994 Royals (64-51, #6 seed) vs. Texas Rangers (52-62, #3 seed)
The Royals got hot in late 1994 and we never really got a chance to see how they would have ended the season due to a player’s strike in August. When play stopped, the Royals would have been the #6 seed, facing off against the #3 seed Rangers who would be Western Division champs despite a losing record. Likely awaiting them in round two would be the White Sox.
1995 Royals (70-74, #8 seed) vs. Cleveland Indians (100-44, #1 seed)
The 1995 season was the last reasonably competitive season for awhile for the Royals, but their post-season likely would not have been competitive against the freight train that was the 1995 Cleveland Indians.
2003 Royals (83-79, #8 seed) vs. New York Yankees (101-61, #1 seed)
The Royals won their first nine games and had an improbable run that saw them hold onto first place for much of the summer. They tried to hold on for dear life, but ultimately collapsed and barely finished over .500. Under an expanded playoff, they still get a taste of the post-season, albeit against the mighty Yankees, who won the pennant that year.
2013 Royals (86-76, #7 seed) vs. Oakland Athletics (96-66, #2 seed)
Imagine if Justin Maxwell’s last season walk-off grand slam was just what the Royals needed to launch themselves into the playoffs and possibly go on an amazing run?
2014 Royals (89-73, #4 seed) vs. Oakland Athletics (88-74, #5 seed)
Well there is no getting around it, the Royals still get to face the A’s in 2014, and we know how that turned out.
2015 Royals (95-67, #1 seed) vs. Cleveland Indians (81-80, #8 seed)
The Royals seemed to steamroll the American League that year, so there is little reason to think they would have much problem with the Indians in round one, or the Yankees or Astros in round two. 2015 was fate, the Royals were winning a championship no matter how they had to do it.
2017 Royals (80-82, #6 seed) vs. Boston Red Sox (93-69, #3 seed)
Under this scenario, the last hurrah for Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain in Kansas City could have been a playoff series. The Royals actually tied with the Rays and Angels, but had a better head-to-head record than both, and would have claimed the #6 seed, despite a losing record.