The race is on as the Baltimore Orioles come to town this weekend for a three-game set. The number one pick is within reach for really only two teams and they’re the two playing in Kauffman Stadium, so I wanted to take a look at what exactly needs to happen for the Royals to catch the Orioles and find themselves atop the draft come next June. As it stands right now, the Royals are 42-91 after starting their current homestand 4-1 while the Orioles are on fire having won their last three and three of their last 11. This is a two-horse race, though the Padres with the leadership of Eric Hosmer might have what it takes to completely collapse down the stretch.
The Royals remaining schedule is a bit light. They play seven games against teams currently over .500. All of them are against the Indians, who they just took two of three from and are basically playing out the string as they have a double-digit lead in the American League Central. Yes, they’re jockeying for playoff position, but even that isn’t really much of a race as they’re 6.5 games behind the Astros for the second-best record. So they have it pretty easy and stress free outside of getting the roster playoff ready. Here’s the schedule with their record against each opponent this year:
Baltimore – 3 games (1-2)
Cleveland – 7 games (4-8)
Minnesota – 6 games (6-6)
Pittsburgh – 3 games (0-0)
Detroit – 4 games (9-6)
Cincinnati – 2 games (0-2)
Those opponents have a combined record of 352-445 for a .442 winning percentage.
The Royals have gone a combined 20-24 against these six teams. If they maintain that winning percentage in their last 29 games, they’ll finish with 55 wins, which is undoubtedly more than the Orioles will finish with. If they hold form with the individual records against each team, they’ll finish the season with 51 wins. Now we’re cooking with gas.
The Orioles have a bit of a tougher road with 19 games remaining against teams above .500. What may hurt them in their quest to be the upside down top is that their final 10 games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros might be meaningless to all three teams, so maybe they won’t be playing their best players, which might give the Orioles a shot. Here’s the breakdown for them:
Kansas City – 3 games (2-1)
Seattle – 3 games (0-4)
Tampa Bay – 3 games (8-8)
Oakland – 3 games (0-3)
Chicago (AL) – 3 games (2-2)
Toronto – 3 games (4-12)
New York (AL) – 3 games (6-10)
Boston – 3 games (2-14)
Houston – 4 games (0-3)
Their opponents have a combined record of 638-561 for a .532 winning percentage. Advantage, Orioles.
They’re a total of 24-57 against those teams. With 28 games to go for them, if they play true to record, that puts them at 47 wins. That’s a big cushion between what the Royals might be expected to do and them. If they play to form by series, they’ll finish with 47 wins. Yeesh. This is going to be tough.
From the Royals perspective, I think they’re probably a better team than they have been at any point this season, but that might just be that they’re more athletic and thus more likely to go on little runs from time to time, sort of like this one or the one right after the break. Teams like the Royals, in evaluation mode and with some young talent that might not be star talent, can often have randomly good Septembers, especially when the schedule allows it. Of the teams they play, that describes a couple of them, but maybe not to the extent of the Royals other than the Orioles and maybe Reds.
The newish-look rotation that features three rookies, a guy with 245 career innings and Danny Duffy is a real wild card. They could look amazing for a month (think Kyle Davies for proof that anyone can) or they could fall apart with the extra month of work. The bullpen is still a disaster, so they’ll be good for a couple losses that probably shouldn’t be. In 29 games, I’m not sure I’d be shocked with any win total up to maybe 15 or so. September is weird for baseball and even weirder for bad teams, I feel like.
On the Orioles side, they traded away their biggest star but also their second baseman, one of their starters and two very good relievers. Now, Jonathan Villar has been good for them and Cedric Mullins has been a lot of fun in center field, so the offense didn’t take as much of a hit as it could have, but they still lost a guy in Manny Machado who was and is an absolute beast. But woof, that rotation. And while the bullpen is still probably better than the Royals, it’s not in any way good. Not that Brach was anything special for them, but he was at least a known commodity. I obviously don’t know as much about the Orioles and their potential September callups as I do the Royals, but I think they’re actually somehow less talented, so that’s not great in the Royals quest to reach the bottom.
The Orioles are really bad at home, but on the road, they’re exceptionally bad with a 16-50 record and this upcoming series against the Royals starts a nine-game trip for them. They play a total of 15 road games the rest of the way. Orioles fans would probably tell you they’ll be lucky to win three of them and they might be right.
Basically what it boils down to is this is the biggest series of the year for both teams. Getting swept can all but lock up being the worst for the Orioles, but if they falter and win the series or even sweep, anything can happen. All eyes will be on Kauffman Stadium this weekend as the baseball world eagerly watches the race to the bottom.