Monday, September 16, 2013

The Final Homestand.

When the Royals came to the ballpark on the morning of September 18th, 1995, to begin a 11-game homestand, here were the wild card standings in the American League:

TEAM          W   L    GB

SEATTLE      69  63   ---
KANSAS CITY  67  63   1.0
TEXAS        68  64   1.0
NEW YORK     68  64   1.0

The 1995 Cleveland Indians, one of the greatest teams of my lifetime, were 91-41 on their way to finishing 100-44. They were so good that they suppressed the rest of the league – aside from the Indians and Red Sox, no team in the league had won even 55% of its games. So the Royals, despite having a worse record than they do today, were absolutely in the wild card race.

Moreover, they had an excellent opportunity to gain ground, as they were starting a five-game series with the Minnesota Twins, the worst team in the league, who had a 48-81 record at the time. The Royals won the first game of a doubleheader that Monday.

These being the Royals, they then lost the next four games to the Twins. The Indians came to town and won the first two games of that series; by Sunday, September 24th, the Royals were 69-69 and 4.5 games behind the Yankees for the wild card spot with six games to go. It was over. (The Mariners had already climbed ahead of the free-falling Angels, and wound up winning the AL West in a tiebreaker game.)

The Royals begin their most important homestand in 18 years tonight, and really, they have no business still being in the race at all. The Royals weren’t able to sweep Cleveland last week, and the Indians took full advantage of their schedule by sweeing four games against the White Sox over the weekend. After this series with the Royals, the Indians feast on nothing but Astros, White Sox, and Twins the rest of the season.

But the Rays are 7-14 since August 25th, and the Rangers have suddenly lost six in a row and 11 of 13. Even though the Indians are a half-game back of both teams, ESPN gives them a better shot at the playoffs (68%) than Texas (59%) and Tampa Bay (53%). The Royals are at 7.6%. Here are your standings:

TEAM          W   L    GB

TEXAS        81  67   ---
TAMPA BAY    81  67   ---
CLEVELAND    81  68   0.5
BALTIMORE    79  70   2.5
NEW YORK     79  71   3.0
KANSAS CITY  78  71   3.5

The Royals are still in ninth place in the AL, they’re 3.5 games back with 13 to play…but they still control their own destiny, because on this homestand they play the Indians and the Rangers.

Even better, while the Royals open a three-game series against Cleveland tonight, the Rangers and Rays are playing…each other. Meanwhile, the Orioles travel to Boston for a three-game series, while the Yankees head to Toronto.

So even though the Royals need to vault four teams and make up 3.5 games to get into the playoffs not only is it feasible in the next 13 days, they could easily do the bulk of the hard work by Friday.

Consider this: if the Royals sweep the Indians, these would be standings on Friday morning in a worst-case scenario:

TEAM          W   L    GB

TEXAS        83  69   ---
TAMPA BAY    83  69   ---
BALTIMORE    82  70   1.0
CLEVELAND    82  71   1.5
NEW YORK     82  71   1.5
KANSAS CITY  81  71   2.0

This assumes that 1) the Rangers and Rays split, and 2) that the Orioles and Yankees both sweep their series; 3) the Indians win their Thursday night game against the Astros.

The Rangers then come to town over the weekend, and while Cleveland starts feeding on the bottom-dwellers of the AL, and the Yankees host the Giants, Tampa Bay hosts the Orioles for four games.

Let’s assume that the Royals take 2 of 3 against the Rangers. Once again, here are the standings next Monday morning in a worst-case scenario:

TEAM          W   L    GB

CLEVELAND    85  71   ---
NEW YORK     85  71   ---
TEXAS        84  71   0.5
TAMPA BAY    84  71   0.5
BALTIMORE    84  71   0.5
KANSAS CITY  83  72   1.5

This assumes that the Yankees and Indians sweep, and that the Orioles take two of the first three games against the Rays.

If the Royals sweep the Indians and take 2 of 3 against Texas, they can not be more than 1.5 games back with seven games to play, and while those seven games are all road games, three are in Seattle and four are against the White Sox.

Let’s flip the scenario and assume the Royals win 2 of 3 against Cleveland but sweep the Rangers. Here’s your absolute worst-case scenario:

TEAM          W   L    GB

TAMPA BAY    86  69   ---
CLEVELAND    86  70   ---
NEW YORK     85  71   1.0
BALTIMORE    84  71   1.5
KANSAS CITY  83  72   2.5
TEXAS        81  74   4.5

In this scenario, all other teams would win out against non-contenders, and the Rays would sweep the Rangers but lose 2 of 3 to the Orioles. This is more problematic, in that the Royals would need to make up 2.5 games in seven days on Cleveland. While the Royals play in Seattle and Chicago, the Indians would host the White Sox on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then finish the year with four games in Minnesota.

But that’s not impossible. The Royals would be only two back in the loss column, meaning they could close the gap to two games by winning next Monday while the Indians are idle. Also, while they’re three back of Tampa Bay and half a game back of the Yankees, the two teams play each other for three games.

And again: this is a worst-case scenario. Not only does it require the Indians and Yankees to sweep the Astros, Giants, and Blue Jays – it requires the Rays to win a precise number of games against the Rangers and Orioles.

So here’s what you need to take home: the Royals need to go 5-1 on this homestand. That’s pretty much non-negotiable; 4-2 will put them in roughly the same position they are now, where they need a lot of things to break just right for them in the final week, only they won’t have the advantage of a lot of contenders playing each other.

But if they go 5-1, they’re guaranteed to be in good position with a week to go. It will help if the Rangers/Rays series doesn’t end up in a sweep for either team. It obviously helps if some of the spoilers can spoil a game or two.

But mostly, the Royals just need to win. They need to treat every game like a playoff game. They need Ned Yost to limit his decisions to just “bad” instead of “egregious and indefensible”. They need their best players to play like stars, and they need their role players to step up and be a hero at an unexpected time.

They still control their own destiny. But if they don’t care of business this week, they won’t control much of anything a week from now. No more excuses, no more mistakes. Just win.

And if 40,000 of you are on hand this week to gently encourage them to do so, so much the better.


ChaimMKeller said...

I hope I'm not the only one with Europe's "The Final Countdown" in his head while reading this column.

Patronaut said...

Gee, that doesn't sound hard at all.

Kenneth said...

i am waiting for all the comments accusing you of jumping on the bandwagon. No one was more optimistic than you about the Royals this season. I hope at least MEANINGFUL games in September restores some of your optimism for the future. I will be extremely happy if it results in more articles with your insightful writing about the Royals. I enjoy reading your blog.

Unknown said...

Now I keep seeing Will Arnett as Gob Bluth....

Nathan said...

Got my ticket for the Tuesday game. Ready to do some shouting.

Kurt said...

If we sweep Cleveland, wouldn't we both be 81-71? Your standings say Cleveland would be 82-71.

Thomas Gunnison said...

Kurt - If we sweep (please ... please ... please), Cleveland's 82nd win would come on Thursday night against the Astros.

Mick Unsell said...

Enjoyed visiting with you at the 810 Zone when you were in town. I wish we had more time to review the 2003 Baseball Prospectus. Some really cool stuff looking through the retrospectroscope...

Tonight, the Royals found a winning strategy: take the game totally out of Ned Yost's hands. Period. Dominate to the point where he cannot mis-manage the game. That is the remarkable resiliency of this team...

Drew Milner said...

I was thinking we should want TB to sweep texas, thereby granting TB the #1 wildcard spot and just worrying about the #2 wildcard spot. Then when we knock off the already down Texas, we would kill them for good.

Jim Ryan said...

So, with the first game against Cleveland in the bank, strategically shouldn't we be running a 3 man rotation the rest of the way, say Santana, Sheilds, and Chen (or Duffy if his mild flexor isn't a real issue). Let the three get through the line up twice and go to the bullpen?

brhalbleib said...


Speaking of being in person to root them on, are you planning to go the final weekend against the South Sox?

A fellow Royals Fan trapped in Chicago

Jason and Kirstin said...

Ned still screwed up by using Hochevar in a 7-1 game. Hoch is the second best reliever we have (can't believe I'm saying that).

Jason and Kirstin said...

Ned still screwed up by using Hochevar in a 7-1 game. Hoch is the second best reliever we have (can't believe I'm saying that).

Jason and Kirstin said...

Ned still screwed up by using Hochevar in a 7-1 game. Hoch is the second best reliever we have (can't believe I'm saying that).

Ford said...

Homerun Herrera strikes again! Great job ned.

Clint M said...

Seriously, why would you bring in herrera in that spot? Due up were a lefty, righty, lefty, switch and lefty. Sounds like the perfect time for Will Smith. Hell, bring in anyone but Herrera. They've all been better than him this year. Yesterday would have been the time to get him some work. Can't believe we're still in the race with a manager that seems to be cheering for the opposing team.

Pat Dunn said...

I hate it when Joe is right. We're going to end up 2 games out, with Ned having given away at least that many in the final two weeks.

twm said...

Last night I realized that I love these Royals. I have always loved the organization, but it has been a while since I have loved any particular on-field iteration. Yordano Ventura made that click, which means that I will forever love Yordano Ventura, I think.

twm said...

Watching on delay and in the bottom of the 8th: why not hit Maxwell for Dyson? I might have decided that I love this team, but the manager still makes my head hurt.

twm said...

And why pinch run Getz instead of Lough? Very minor, but kind of irked me.

Still watching Dyson's at bat. 3-2 count.

twm said...

What? Dyson walked in a run? What?

Sorry for live tweeting (on delay) the game via the comments section.

But, you know...What? My love for Dyson is huge, and keeps embiggening.

Matt S said...

And we still couldn't get the runner home from 3rd with less than two outs using our bats. It sure seems like the Royals are at historically low levels of Sac fly/grounder to the right side production in those spots.

MattT said...

As of this moment (Friday night), Cleveland is 12-4 over its last 16 games. Royals are responsible for all 4 losses.

MattT said...

As of this moment (Friday night), Cleveland is 12-4 over its last 16 games. Royals are responsible for all 4 losses.

John said...

The Royals are the only team Cleveland has played lately that is actually playing anything resembling major league baseball. Everyone else they've played is either tanking or just terrible.

Slick said...

40K did not show up. Only 21K did, which --by % to capacity -- was worse than every other MLB home team BUT ONE. Pathetic, fr a starved fan base. Just pathetic. So much for the "KC is a great baseball town" BS.

RickMcKC said...

Slick, assuming you are talking about last night, I heard that was the announced attendance, i.e. total paying customers, but the actual attendance because of ticket swaps was over 30K. I heard Petro say this week that, according to Denny Matthews, even in the glory years of the Royals, they had trouble drawing as well in the month of September as in the summer.

Would love to see Rany update this article with our current chance. Game last night was incredibly fun to watch!

twm said...

Okay, I have a bone to pick with you and Joe: saw on your twitter feed about the Astros, "don't hate the playa, hate the game".

What the Astros are doing this year is an embarrassment, but both of you are giving them a free pass because you like the GM and dislike the new CBA's incentives to tank. And I get that, and agree, at least about the CBA, I have zero feelings about Ludnow, except maybe that he did an amazing job in St Louis. But you are turning a blind eye to behavior that from almost anyone else would be intolerable. Where is the Joe Sheehan rant about how they should not receive revenue sharing money? Where is the outrage that they are still charging $40 for nose bleed seats against the Yankees this Saturday.

Where are the criticisms that you can still spend money in smart ways, like signing free agents with trade value and flipping them, or maybe just not being so damned awful that you get blown off the field 108 times in 158 tries, burning fan good will in the process and maybe damaging your brand long term.

Not everyone has to be the A's and try to win every year with a shoe string budget (though it would be lots of fun if everyone tried), but what the Astros are doing this year is just terrible. And the general baseball writing community has turned a blind eye toward this behavior, at least the community of baseball writers I tend to read. Florida slashes and burns over one off season and we are supposed to jump up and down about it because Loria is a terrible person and he defrauded the city of Miami and Dade County and Marlins fans and everything else (which I agree with). But Houston slashes and burns over one and a half seasons and everyone loves them for their recognition of the CBA's perverse incentives, and for Ludnow's acumen in player acquisition, etc. Well, great, except that Florida has ridden this business model to two WS titles and we still despise them, so if the myth of long term planning/winning is not sufficient excuse for this sort of conduct (the typical mantra when discussing the Astros, ie, "we trust that Ludnow has a plan for winning, and we are willing to suffer this embarrassment of a team because in the long term it will lead to a winning one"), then why do so many continue to give this free pass to the Stros?

Sorry, this is long, and I am not filling in holes here along the way (for instance, I get that Loria is a bad dude and that his history colors the way we judge his current actions...but, come on, basically the differences between Florida and Houston are (1) that Florida has done it several times before, successfully, (2) that this time Loria promised things would be different, (3) that Loria did not allow his last collection of players time to win together before the fire sale, and (4) we believe, given Houston's revenue potential, that any team built this way will remain together longer than a Florida team built this way, which is, by the way, specious: the inability to spend big money is, at lest supposedly, the reason Loria and Florida constantly repeat this cycle), but the basics are there: too many people are willing to let this Astros team slide with a laugh and a wink.

John said...

You're right up to a point. The Marlins got incredibly lucky in winning those two titles. Both times, they looked like they were going to miss the playoffs, and then got hot at the right time, slipped in as a wild card, and kept on winning. In '97, it was a good team that underachieved until it got to October. The second title team won because they called up Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Carolina Mudcats and they both played great. worked out for them and they won two titles, and you can't take it away from them.

The bigger picture, for me, is that there was no reason for the Astros to tank that way at all. Houston is the fourth-largest city in America. The Astros are a large-market team. When they started to fall off, they should have been able to reload, not rebuild. Their "rebuild" should have been more in the fashion of the 2009 Yankees or the 2013 Red Sox--maybe not completely, but in a similar model. For the Astros to lose 321 games over three seasons is inexcusable and a disgrace, even though I suspect it will eventually result in a contender. If the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals do that, it's one thing. A team in Houston chooses to tank, it doesn't need to.

KHAZAD said...

In regards to the attendance issues, there are several reasons why there was not a huge bump in attendance this year. There was a 6-22 stretch just prior to kids being out of school. The Royals were 23-32 and looked like the same old team at the beginning of prime family time. People were thinking "Same old Royals". Just when people were beginning to think there was a good chance, they lost 5 straight heading into the all star break, and when they went on a run after that, raising their playoff odds to a whopping 9%, they lost 10 out of 12 including 6 consecutive games at home. At that point it was nearly September, kids were back in school, and the Royals chances of making the playoffs wavered between 1% and 6% the rest of the way.

Despite the excitement of the die hards when we had a distant sniff of the playoffs down the stretch, many casual fans tuned them out in May, and then every time they started to gain interest again, the team peed down it's leg.

Drew Milner said...

Actually, one of the main reason attendance didn't zoom: There were excess season tickets bought for 2012 in order to obtain All Star Game tickets, plus all the extra enthusiasm connected to the All Star Game. Also, typically attendance doesn't zoom until the year after the really successful year. Where is a new Rany column?

Bobinkc said...

Wake up Rany. The season is over.

Drew Milner said...

Rany, are you OK?

David said...

Ready to end the sabbatical? Need a dose of year end thoughts and what to expect through the off season. Need my Rany!

twm said...

If David Ortiz took Beltran out of the World Series I will never forgive him. And I like Ortiz quite a bit.

Mark said...

Okay, Rany, vacation's over. Even as we watch the World Series, we can start the hot stove league.

I do not get your fascination with Carlos Beltran. He can hit, but he's 37 and injury prone, and his defense is Francouer-esque. I say put together a serious package headed by the resurgent Luke Hochevar and several other pitchers to the Angels for Kendrick and Trumbo. I'd be reluctant to trade Ventura, Zimmer, Duffy or Smith, but I'd be willing to include one of them at least, along with Herrera or Paulino or some other relievers.

Then the only hole is the number two starter, who I hope will not be named Guthrie. Could Phil Hughes be the Ervin Santana of 2014?