It was about a month ago when I last looked at the Kansas City Royals and their 2016 season to date. Back on July 15th, the Royals appeared to have a fading playoff outlook. However, a recent winning streak appears to have resurrected their chances. As we start looking at late August games, the KC Royals are a team that must be considered to be in the thick of things in the Wild Card picture.
In my July article, I suggested that the Royals needed to play “something like .580 baseball from (July 15th) until September” to get “in striking range of the one-game playoff down the stretch run.” I also picked apart Alcides Escobar for what I viewed as a below-the-radar slump that few involved in Royals-related commentary seemed to notice at the time.
But since July 15th, the defending World Series champions have demoted their former lead-off hitter to No. 8 in the batting order. That was the right change to make, but, in my view, Ned Yost was still more than just a little obtuse for not making that move much earlier than August 9th. The batting order demotion was a move that should have been made by mid-June at the latest.
The unproductive at-bats that were awarded to Escobar without merit might end up costing the Royals still. If he has to be played because of his salary and/or defensive skills, then that’s one matter. However, his OPS this season has been more reflective of a No. 8 or No. 9 hitter throughout and Yost should have seen that in June. Batting him leadoff for so long probably has cost KC a few games. If they miss the Wild Card game by a hair, then the mismanagement of Escobar’s at-bats are a major point of contention.
Since July 15th the Royals have only gone 18-16. However, since August 9th, the day that Escobar was demoted, KC have gone 10-1. That kind of a winning rate doesn’t hold up in Major League Baseball over the long term, but at least the Royals are now just 4.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot.
Heading into Sunday, there are still five teams ahead of KC in that race. Those teams are Baltimore, Seattle, Detroit, the Yankees, and Houston. Houston and Baltimore are two teams that have really come back to the pack over the last five weeks. The Yankees are already playing call-ups while Detroit’s form changes every week. I think the race for the second Wild Card might develop between the Seattle Mariners, the Royals, and maybe the Orioles.
Following Sunday’s game against Minnesota, Kansas City will prepare for a crucial road trip through Miami and Boston. With a 24-39 record on the road this season, KC could very easily cool off. However, if the Royals can go 4-2 or better against Miami and Boston combined then I’m looking at this KC team as having more in common with the 2015 Royals then the 2016 Royals-to-date. In short, a lot hinges on the next seven days for KC – and maybe even for the entire American League.