By capturing the last two games of their weekend series with Minnesota, the Royals kept their flickering playoff hopes alive. In fact, their margin is so slim that if they’d lost Saturday or Sunday, I might not have bothered putting this together. They may not have much of a shot, and their likely reward for pulling off a small miracle is a one-game playoff in Yankee Stadium, but once you get in the playoffs (as the 2014 Royals would tell you), anything can happen.
At the beginning of August, I took a look at the remaining schedules of the Royals and other AL postseason contenders. The Royals were in great shape then, but almost immediately tanked. Now they are in a seven-team dogfight for the second wild-card spot; the Yankees will almost certainly take a wild-card spot, with a 3.5-game lead over Minnesota and 4.5 over Los Angeles.
So, seven teams, one spot, and fewer than 20 games left for most teams. Does any one of those teams have a scheduling advantage?
The good news here for Royals fans is that Kansas City appears to have an easier remaining schedule than almost all those other teams. I figured that by taking the games remaining against each team and multiplying it by those opponents’ wins and losses. This gives us the opponents’ weighted actual win percentage. I also did this for each team’s third-order winning percentage, from the Baseball Prospectus main site, which uses underlying factors and quality of opponents in an attempt to determine a team’s true strength. This gives us the weighted third-order winning percentage.
As you can see here, the Royals have the second-easiest schedule of any contender. The bad news is that Minnesota appears to have a slightly easier schedule, and the Royals don’t have any more chances to make up ground head-to-head. Thursday night’s blown game may come back to haunt them.
Minnesota has seven games left with Detroit, with four on the road. They also have two home games against San Diego and four home games against Toronto. On the flip side, three games at the Yankees and three at Cleveland look pretty tough.
The Royals have four games in Cleveland, a lone makeup game in the Bronx, and three home games against Arizona. The weaker part of their schedule includes six dates with the White Sox (three home, three away), three home games against Detroit, and four games in Toronto. So on paper it does look like the Twins have it slightly easier.
In the AL East, Baltimore and Tampa Bay are still hanging in there. The Rays, 3.5 games back from the second wild-card spot, have to climb over the other six teams. Their schedule does them no favors, with six games against the Yankees, two against the Cubs, and three against Boston. And while it’s not something they can complain about, Hurricane Irma has forced their home series against the Yankees to move to Citi Field in New York; although the Rays will be the home team, they won’t really be at home.
The Rays and Orioles also face off seven times the rest of the way, which of course is good news and bad news for the Royals. One team will win, one will lose, and that offsetting result may make it hard to make up ground. With Kansas City tied with the Orioles and one game ahead of the Rays, it may be best to root for Tampa in those head-to-head matches. But not too much.
The Orioles also have a tough road ahead, with those seven games against Tampa, four with the Yankees and three with the Red Sox. Two games at Pittsburgh and three at Toronto might lighten their load somewhat.
In the AL West, Texas appears to have an advantage over Los Angeles and Seattle. The Rangers only play divisional opponents the rest of the way, including seven games against Oakland. They only face the Astros three times, with three against the Angels and seven against the Mariners.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles is done playing Oakland, although they do have four games left against the White Sox. On the other hand, three with Cleveland, six with the Astros, and three with the Mariners and Rangers makes a daunting schedule.
Seattle has those seven games against Texas, three with Cleveland, three with Houston, three with the Angels, and only three against Oakland. Like the Tampa-Baltimore matchups, Royals fans might have to hope neither team wins a big majority of the games.
By using the log5 method created by Bill James, we can predict each team’s win total, based on their win percentage and the win percentage of their opponents. Plugging those numbers in for actual and third-order win percentages gives us this chart, which makes it look like Minnesota is the team to beat, with a projected 84 wins.
That brings us to the question, how might the Royals get to 85 wins, which will likely get them in the postseason. At 71-71 entering play Monday, the Royals need 14 wins in their last 20 games to reach 85 wins. To me, the first order of business is cleaning up against Chicago and Detroit. I think the Royals need a minimum of seven wins in those nine games. Next, they need to figure out a way to win at least two of the three games in Toronto. A sweep would be great, but if not they might need to win that makeup game against the Yankees. Basically, they need to win three of four against the AL East teams. And then two of three the last weekend at home against Arizona. And they absolutely cannot afford another embarrassment of a weekend in Cleveland. They likely need a split of those four games. Oh, and after all that, they have to hope that none of their competitors–particularly Minnesota–has gotten hot at the same time.
It’s not an easy path or even a likely path. But there is a path there. All is not lost yet.