A team running out a worn down Jason Vargas, a flawed Ian Kennedy and whatever it is the Royals have used for a fifth starter lately cannot win. They just can’t. Since winning the second game of the series against the Colorado Rockies and starting the scoreless streak that became such a story, the Royals have been outscored 88-32 over 12 games, winning just four of them. That 4-8 mark has dropped them to a game below .500 and at the bottom of a group of seven teams fighting for the chance to go to New York for a play-in game to face either the Astros or Indians in the ALDS.
I guess what I’m saying is that things don’t look good. And yet, they are just three games out. A win tonight and they’ll have started September with two series wins. At worst, they’ll be .500 on the month and they get to return home for a seven-game homestand where they can match up against one of the teams they’re chasing for four games and one of the worst teams you’ll see the rest of this season in the White Sox.
It’s weird to say that the season comes down to these next eight games, but it sort of does. After they finish up with that homestand, they have to go back to Cleveland for four more games. The last time they were in Cleveland, they were outscored 20-0 in a three-game set. You can dream and think the Royals can do damage in that series, but this is a different team than the one that took two of three in Cleveland in late May. This is a wounded team. And the Indians are different too. They’ve gotten better. In fact, they’ve won 13 games in a row as we sit here. And after Cleveland, they have to go to Toronto where weird things happen.
Yet, here we are. The Royals are three games out of a playoff spot, even with all their flaws. My guess is that they will continue to fade down the stretch and the final series against the Diamondbacks will feel more like a tribute weekend to the stars of the greatest two year stretch in Royals history. On that final Sunday, Ned Yost may pull his stars from the game in the sixth or seventh inning to give them the opportunity to hear it from the fans one last time. Then they’ll go on to wear different uniforms. The next time we see them, they’ll probably be playing for the Angels, the Red Sox, the Mariners or whoever else you might imagine. One or two will be back, but this Royals team will largely be disbanded.
And that’s sort of an upsetting thought. When the Royals were 55-48, they were adding pieces and beating the Red Sox. The expectation wasn’t a whimper down the stretch, but rather a roar.
I don’t say this as a rallying cry, I say this as a fan of a team in the terribly mediocre American League: It’s not over yet. My guess is just a guess. At three games out, this team is very much alive for that chance to go to New York. Go in to these next eight games and show flashes of the team we saw for much of June and July and do something crazy like take seven of eight and it’s a whole new ballgame. Even if they go 6-2, they’ll head to Cleveland at 74-71. Maybe they get Danny Duffy back in the rotation to replace the abomination that is the fifth starter spot right now. Maybe Joakim Soria comes back to help solidify the bullpen (don’t laugh, you know you miss him after seeing some of these guys).
My point isn’t that I’m telling you the Royals are going to win. My point is that counting these guys out has always been silly. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. In the seventh inning of the fourth game of the 2015 American League Division Series, I was just about done with an article I was writing called “RIP 2015 Royals” and decided to take a step back and let the story finish. I didn’t do so with the intention of them coming back to win an elimination game in the fashion they did, but I realized I was missing out on watching the game because my face was buried in my laptop. That post never saw the light of day.
I think with the additions the Angels made, they’re a fair amount better than the Royals. I think there are at least two other teams ahead of them who are better than the Royals. I think that the Royals starting pitching is far too inconsistent to go on a 7-3 stretch, much less a 7-1 stretch. But what do I know? If they struggle in these next eight games, it’s probably over. But I guess I’ve learned over the last few years that maybe it’s not the worst idea to let it all play out. At the risk of sounding cocky, my guess about this team is probably right. There almost certainly isn’t enough good to outweigh the bad. But baseball in small samples is weird. Maybe it’ll be weird in the Royals favor one more time. It’s what we have left.