Playoff Odds (ESPN/Fangraphs): 61.1% (39.8% Division, 21.3% Wild Card)
Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus): 58.5% (26.4% Division, 32.1% Wild Card)
And keep in mind, these odds don’t account for the fact that the Royals have the executioner’s knife hanging over them a week from Monday, when they resume a game against the Indians with the score 4-2 in the 10th inning. Count that as a loss and an Indians win, and the Royals would be half a game behind the Mariners for the final wild card spot (and just three games ahead of Cleveland). Of course, they would only be 1.5 games behind both Detroit and Oakland. The best thing going for the Royals is that there are three playoff spots for four teams, barring a surge by the Indians or Blue Jays, or a 15-1 closing kick by the Yankees.
But factor in that pending loss, and the Royals’ playoff odds would probably be right around 50-50. Which seems fair, because this team can’t score runs.
In the Royals’ last 14 games, they scored five runs once – last Monday in Detroit, when Lorenzo Cain hit an inside-the-park home run for the fifth run in a 9-5 game. So if two Tiger outfielders hadn’t collided with one another, the Royals would have now gone 14 straight games scoring four runs or less, which would tie the longest such streak in franchise history. As it is, they’re on a 15-game streak with five runs or fewer, which is already tied for 8th-longest in Royals history. Their 22-game streak with six runs or fewer is already tied for 5th-longest.
This is a problem. For all the good things that have happened the last two months, for all the good decisions the Royals have made on the pitching side of things, their almost comical inability to turn their hitting prospects into competent major leaguers is coming home to roost. Eric Hosmer, after hitting his first home run in two months last night, is batting .267/.312/.383. Mike Moustakas is hitting .209/.267/.370. Even Salvador Perez is having his worst season, continuing a troubling trend in which he’s gotten worse at the plate every year of his career. His OPS+ from 2011 to today read: 128, 115, 105, and 93. Since the All-Star Break, Perez is hitting .227/.233/.359. Look at that OBP! Perez, who walked seven times (plus on intentional) in the first eight games of the year, has drawn just 12 unintentional walks since. He’s walked twice since the Break.
When Alex Gordon was hot, the Royals at least had a chance. Now that he’s in a slump – 0 for his last 18, albeit with seven walks – no one in the lineup is doing anything. The most impatient lineup in the majors is getting abused by marginal pitchers with command issues. Prior to last night, Allen Webster had walked 43 batters in 71 innings in his career. Against the Royals, he walked one batter (Gordon, of course) in six innings. Not coincidentally, a guy who had a 7.39 career ERA before last night allowed two runs in six innings.
I don’t know what kind of analysis I can offer you here. The Royals need to hit better. The things the front office could do to help – send Hosmer and/or Moustakas to the minors for an extended period to help them rebuild their swings as well as send a message, or not fire Kevin Seitzer – long ago disappeared from their rear-view mirror. At this point, this is out of the front office’s hands. It’s up to the players themselves.
It’s also up to the manager, and you have to wonder if Ned Yost is cracking under the pressure a bit. Today’s lineup looks like something a random number generator spit out, with Alcides Escobar leading off for just the second time all year, with Nori Aoki at DH for just the fifth time all year. On the other hand, the Royals won the game that Escobar led off, and are 4-0 when Aoki DH’s. At least Omar Infante has mercifully moved down to seventh. And the Royals are going with a Gordon/Dyson/Cain outfield, a must with Guthrie on the mound. It’s a weird lineup. It’s not an optimal lineup. But the order of the hitters isn’t the issue. The identities of the hitters are the issue.
And Billy Butler sits on the bench again. I’m not even saying that the Royals are wrong to bench a guy who’s hitting .266/.319/.374, has no defensive value, and is one of the slowest players in the game. I’m just saying that I can’t wait for the expose to come out on what actually happened to the relationship between Butler and the Royals.
And oh yeah, it appears that three scoreless innings in a row did NOT mean that Aaron Crow was magically fixed. He gave up two walks, a double, and two runs in his last outing, turning a one-run deficit into a three-run deficit. Yeah, he got squeezed on the strike zone, and yeah, Hosmer could have made a play on the double, but that’s what happens when the ball is put in play – and of the six batters Crow faced, none struck out. He’s struck out two of the 16 batters he’s faced since he returned from the minors.
Jason Frasor, oh by the way, pitched last night with the Royals down two runs, and struck out the side. At least Greg Holland is back.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve some some good news, here’s some. See, officially, the longest streak of six or fewer runs in Royals history is 29 games, accomplished both in 1969 and 1984. But in fact, the longest streak ever was 33 games. On September 15th, 1985, the Royals beat the A’s in the second game of a doubleheader, 7-2. They wouldn’t score seven runs in a game again until…Game 7 of the World Series. A lineup that was historically impotent didn’t keep the Royals from cliniching the AL West, winning the ALCS, or putting them in position to clinch a world championship. All it took was one of the best young rotations of my lifetime.
This isn’t the first time someone has found parallels between this year’s Royals team and the one that won a world championship. If the Royals reach the playoffs, they have the pitching and the defense to be a formidable opponent even with an offense that is on life support.
But first they have to get there. If their offense doesn’t get in gear soon, the comparisons to the 1985 Royals will end with the regular season.