Throughout the course of a baseball season, there are a few points that people like to look at to determine what exactly a team is. The end of April is the point when it’s still too soon to make judgments but enough baseball was played to start to get an idea. Memorial Day is the next point, and many believe that where a team is at Memorial Day is where they’ll be. The next point is Independence Day. Labor Day is another big checkpoint, so clearly baseball fans love national holidays.
Let’s check in with where the Royals were at these points in the season.
Memorial Day: 21-29
Independence Day: 43-40
You know the story. It’s quite amazing how they’ve gotten there. Back when Danny Duffy was placed on the disabled list, some writer who clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about had this to say regarding the Royals plans for the trade deadline:
Duffy out for awhile should make the #Royals decision easier. Open the shop doors.
— David Lesky (@DBLesky) May 29, 2017
The Royals, on the other hand, decided to go 21-12 between Danny Duffy starts. That’s only a 103-win pace. No big deal. With yesterday’s 7-3 win over the Mariners, they’re 22-12 since he got hurt. If they were to maintain that over the rest of the season, factoring in the slow start outlined above, they’d finish with an overall record of 94-68. That doesn’t seem terribly realistic, though. Let’s figure out some other paces.
Based on their current 43-40 record, they’re on pace for an 84-78 finish. While that seems more realistic, it’s less fun.
Since their 7-16 start (their worst winning percentage), they’re 36-24. If they maintain that, they’d finish 90-72.
Since their 10-20 start (their farthest from .500), they’re 33-20. If they maintain that, they’d finish 92-70.
Of course, you simply can’t break it down that way. The 7-16 April did happen. The 10-20 start did happen. I think it’s clear that the team is much better than that, but how much better is the question we don’t know the answer to. What we do know is that they’ve fought and clawed their way back to being in a position to make the postseason for the third time in four years.
They’re currently tied for the second Wild Card and 1.5 games out of both the AL Central division lead and the first Wild Card with 79 games to go. If you had told me in April that we’d be looking at those standings when fireworks were going off, I’d have told you that you were insane.
The work, of course, is not done. There still are those 79 games to go. I’ve said this a couple times, but I’d be satisfied with them reaching the break at over .500. That means they need to win one of their next four games before Moose takes his cuts in the Home Run Derby on Monday evening in Miami. I think that’s more than doable, even as good as the Dodgers are. Hell, with Jason Vargas going tonight, they might be able to take care of that and exceed my hopes with a win in Los Angeles.
But where the Royals can really do some damage is the friendly (on paper) schedule after the break. They get to start the season’s second half (yes, I hate that, but it’s just easier to call it that) with a 10-game homestand against three teams that are currently under .500 and either contemplating selling or compiling offers. The Rangers, Tigers and White Sox are all teams the Royals should be able to beat if they are going to make the postseason this year. It’s not as easy as it might look, though. The Royals are 4-13 against those three teams, though all the damage from the Rangers and some of the damage from the White Sox came during that nine-game losing streak. I believe this is a different team since then.
I have my doubts this team is good enough to make the postseason in a typical year, but I think it’s clear this is not a typical year. There’s all sorts of mediocrity floating in the American League. With Duffy’s return acting sort of like a trade acquisition, the Royals could still use another starting pitcher with the health of Nate Karns in question. They could probably use a bat, though I’m just not sure there’s the roster room to add a designated hitter.
For a team that would have been justified to start unloading talent in early May, the Royals ascent to near the top of the playoff picture is pretty incredible. It’s like they were given the purple shell, the lightning bolt, the star and the bullet with every question mark box they encountered since their brutal start. Now they’re in the thick of it and a summer of waiting to see what the Royals can get for Moustakas, Hosmer, Cain and Vargas has been replaced by Moustakas chasing Balboni, Vargas chasing 20 wins and, yes, the Royals chasing another trip to the playoffs. I love thinking about the future as much as anyone, but for a fan, this is much, much better.