If the MLB season happens this year—if is an important qualifier, as it will be for every article about a potential 2020 season—we’ll be playing an 82-game season. That is not a very long season. The modern MLB season is 162 games, lasting from April through September. And it sometimes takes that long for teams to settle. Hot streaks can last weeks or even months. Teams underperform and then overperform immediately thereafter. But after 162 games, the dust usually settles, and the best teams are the ones at the top of the standings.
The same won’t be true about an 82-game season, which would be amazing. A team could go on a hot enough streak for long enough that it could make them nearly impossible to catch later. And a cold streak could sink a team’s chances faster than you could say “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World” (a great movie that deserved better, but I digress).
Any self-respecting Kansas City Royals fan has therefore thought something along the lines of “well, maybe the Royals could squeak into the playoffs in an 82-game scenario.” This isn’t a bad thought!
So, I took a look at the best 82-game stretches of every one of the Dayton Moore Era Royals to see if, even in the many, many bad years, the Royals could have eked out a playoff spot over their best 82 games of the year.
2019: 31-51, games 80 through 162
The 2019 Royals sucked, but what was particularly remarkable was how consistently they sucked. Over their best 82-game stretch, the Royals won at a .378 clip. Overall, they won at a .364 clip. Sure, like any team they had their ups and downs, but their remarkably consistent suckitude last year was the worst best 82-game stretch among all Moore teams.
2018: 34-48, games 77 through 159
Kansas City played about .500 ball from August 8 through September 27, a span of 45 games. But that 2018 team was just too awful to capitalize on anything—though those 45 games helped put together a better 82-game stretch than they did in 2019 despite losing an additional game on the year.
2017: 47-35, games 24 through 106
In hindsight, 2017 was a huge, huge miss. At the end of July, the team was nine games above .500 despite sitting at 8-16 at the beginning of May. Two separate five-game losing streaks torpedoed and otherwise mediocre play torpedoed what might have been a fun rest of the season.
2016: 43-39, games 61 through 143
The 2016 Royals squad was streaky as hell. Starting on May 27, the team rumbled through six straight wins, followed that up with eight consecutive losses, followed that up with eight wins in nine games, and then followed that up with a four-game losing streak. They’d have eight more streaks of at least four wins or losses. As a result, even their best 82-game streak features some brutal stretches.
2015: 51-31, games 47 through 129
The best Royals team in over three decades also posted the best 82-game stretch in this collection of teams. Go figure. Before the team’s odd and slightly worrying September, they flat-out rolled opponents. The good ol’ days.
2014: 49-33, games 62 through 144
This stretch was the first time many of us realized how special these next few Royals teams would be. On June 6, the Royals stood a disappointing 29-32. Then they won 10 consecutive games. A few losing skids over the next month prevented this from being their best 82-game stretch; otherwise, their Royals Devil Magic would have catapulted them further.
2013: 47-35, games 51 through 133
Here’s a thing we sort of forget: the 2013 team was a truly magnificent baseball team for almost the entire year. They were a proto-playoff Royals team before that happened. The 2013 Royals, however, blew it with an 8-20 May. Had they went merely 12-16 in May, they would have won 90 games, perhaps eclipsing the Indians for a Wild Card spot. Had they went 14-14, they might have ended up with a division title. An underrated “what if” in Royals history.
2012: 39-43, games 48 through 130
When looking up this list of Royals seasons on Baseball-Reference, I kept running into a persistent truth: the Royals are often horrible at the beginning of the season, usually digging themselves into holes they could not climb out of. This season, the Royals saw a 12-game (twelve!) losing streak before the end of April. Depressing indeed.
2011: 38-44, games 77 through 159
Buoyed by Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Johnny Giavotella, Salvador Perez, Louis Coleman, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, and other young talent, the Royals were fun despite being bad in 2011. They closed out the year relatively strong, hamstrung by—what else—little depth and spotty starting pitching (and some natural growing pains).
2010: 36-46, games 35 through 117
Another year, another bad losing streak: a seven-gamer before the ides of May. The team would go on five more losing streaks of four or more before the end of the season.
2009: 35-47, games 2 through 84
In an inverse of nearly every other Royals team in the last, oh, handful of decades, the 2009 team started out strong—long live 18-11!—and then became infamous for coughing that up. Still, the strong start, partly fueled by Zack Greinke in the best part of his best season at the height of his powers, was also the strongest portion of the season over 82 games.
2008: 40-42, games 71 through 153
Ah, yes: 2008. At the time, it looked like the Royals had a budding star in young slugger Billy Butler, a surprise future star in Mike Aviles, a future ace in Greinke, a top-notch reliever in Joakim Soria, and a dependable outfielder in David DeJesus. The problem was that, though their was stunning competence on this team, there was precious little depth, and non-Soria relievers stunk to high heaven.
2007: 42-42, games 55 through 137
By far the biggest outlier among Moore era Royals squads, the 2007 Royals played at an 81-win pace over half their season. Pretty good! The problem was that they were so awful in the other half of the season that they ended up with 63 wins. They just happened to group their losing streaks early or late in the year.
2006: 35-47, games 46 through 128
The 2006 Royals were a hopeless squad, somehow feeling much worse than even the 2018-2019 Royals which lost more games. That is partially because of how poorly they played early on. After their game on May 25, they had already lost 35 games. That is simply staggering levels of incompetence.
In general, each of these best 82-game stretches were reasonably close to each team’s overall records. When stretched out to a full season, the best 82-game stretches would have accrued 5-10 more wins. So, in other words, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a 70-win team to have an 82-game stretch where they played like a 90-win team. In part, this is because, by their nature, stretches of so many games obviously impact the ultimate total. But it’s also because teams also don’t tend to be streaky enough to luck into so long a stretch that is significantly better than their true talent.
So, could the 2020 Royals make the playoffs? It’s certainly more possible than it was with a full season. But 82 games isn’t nothing; it’s long enough to tease out which teams are legitimately good and which ones are...not. If you think the Royals could get into the playoffs with, say, a 50-32 record, then you’re of the camp that the Royals could have gone .500 over a full season.
Ultimately, bad teams don’t do well over big stretches. Maybe I didn’t need to write 1300 words about it, but it is what it is.