The Kansas City Royals have been the hottest team in the majors for a couple of weeks now. Winners of 8 of their last 10, KC beat the New York Yankees 8-5 on Monday night to follow up on a successful road trip last week. The Royals are now just 2 games back of the 2nd Wild Card position, and that should be making several American League playoff contenders nervous.
From the onset, KC aren’t dead when it comes to the race in the AL Central division. Their recent winning ways have been accompanied by subpar play from the Cleveland Indians, the long-time divisional leader. Accordingly, the Royals, in the last three weeks, have made up 4.5 games on the Indians. Entering Tuesday, the Royals sit 5.5 games back of the divisional lead with just over a month left in the regular season.
An extended strong patch of play from Cleveland stands to all but wrap the division up. However, the Royals still have six games directly against the Indians remaining. It’s certainly fair to say that the Royals are in control of their own destiny. For much of the last two seasons, that’s all it has taken for this club to succeed.
The two-time defending American League champs might still win their division and head directly to a divisional series. With their history of recent playoff success, I would have them as favorites to win any divisional series, even if they were facing a road series. That goes for the ALCS as well, while KC versus an elite NL team in the World Series would be a match-up to watch.
However, like any playoff-bound team, the Royals would be flirting with disaster if they played in the one-game playoff Wild Card game. I see KC at least overtaking Baltimore, Detroit, and Houston in the Wild Card race. But if the Royals finish as the 2nd Wild Card team then I think they will likely play either Toronto or Boston, on the road, in the one-game playoff. Any team that ends up in that situation is at risk of going out, including the hard-to-kill Royals. It’s that one-game scenario that represents the biggest threat to KC’s season in my view, while the Royals will be a very tough out in a longer series.
I say that because of how hard the Royals were to beat last year in a playoff series, where there is at least some margin for error. Houston had KC dead to rights in the an ALDS, but the Royals still advanced. The Blue Jays’/Royals’ series was a lame one for umpiring, but KC still had a genuine 3-2 lead before several bad calls in Game 6 tilted the evenly-matched series. Then against the Mets, Kansas City had all the answers whenever a game seemed to be hanging in the balance.
I think all the American League teams would be much happier to see the Royals not make the post-season. KC are certainly peaking right now, and that momentum could carry them to another World Series title.
However, the question remains: did they wait too long to play their best? A 5.5-game deficit isn’t insurmountable as August nears its end, but it is a tough ask even for the strongest of teams. If KC miss the post-season or fall in the Wild Card game, then they’ll have April to July inclusive to blame.