As Aug. 1 approaches, and with just a little more than two months remaining in the baseball season, the Kansas City Royals are at .500 and seven games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.
That’s hardly a reason to be ordering confetti or turning cartwheels in the parking lot outside Kauffman
Stadium. But compared to where the Royals have been on Aug. 1 for most of past 27 years, it’s worth mentioning.
Kansas City, I suppose, could still win the American League Central championship. Or the Royals could win one of the wild-card spots in the AL playoffs.
Not will. Not should.
Kansas City has 60 games remaining, starting with tonight’s contest at Minnesota against a floundering Twins team. Twenty-five of those remaining games are against teams with winning records, including 11 with division-leading Detroit and six with Cleveland, which is in second place in the AL Central.
The Royals have six with Minnesota and three with the New York Mets before a four-game home series against Boston in a couple of weeks. Then, after a make-up game against the Miami Marlins in Kansas City, the Royals go to Detroit for a five-game series against the Tigers Aug. 15-18. How big might that series be?
Interesting question. No doubt the Royals are playing some of their best baseball of the season, having won five of seven at home against Detroit and Baltimore before sweeping a three-game set from the Chicago White Sox. Toss out a miserable 8-20 May (don’t Royals fans wish it was that easy?) and Kansas City is 43-31 in the other months.
So as the trade deadline approaches Wednesday, what will the Royals do? Anything? Or will Kansas City stand put, trusting that its improved starting pitching will keep the team in games with a chance to win?
KC needs some offensive thump, but the Royals might not have enough to offer to entice another club to part with a bat. Kansas City could use a second baseman for the stretch run, but teams like the Los Angeles Angels (Howie Kendrick) and others will have a high asking price.
There are no more rumblings about the Royals potentially trading right-hander Ervin Santana, who has been outstanding and could probably bring some value in the trade market. But the Royals are too close to Detroit to start unloading their best pitchers. That wouldn’t set well with fans who are hungry to see what it’s like to be in contention this late in the season.
It hasn’t happened often since the Royals were last in the playoffs, way back in 1985. I had a full head of hair then, though I lost some of it thanks to Don Denkinger. But that’s a story for another time.
Since ’85, Kansas City has been at or over .500 only five times, and just once since 1995. In 2003, the Royals were in a first-place tie in the American League West as late as Aug. 17, but went just 18-22 the rest of the way to finish seven games out.
Take away that season and the Royals haven’t been closer than 11 games of first place on Aug. 1 since 1994. Take away that season and the Royals are a combined 289 games under .500 and 298.5 games out of first place on Aug. 1 since 1995.
Finally, though, there is legitimate hope in Kansas City. The team’s goal of improving its starting pitching in the offseason has worked. Santana and James Shields, acquired from Tampa Bay for uber-prospect Wil Myers, have anchored the staff. Meanwhile, Myers is uber-ing quite nicely for the Rays.
The Royals, though, have had offensive issues all season. They don’t hit home runs. They don’t hit much of anything, really, except in the clutch, when the Royals have been surprisingly good.
So here we are, approaching Aug. 1 with Kansas City still in this thing. The Royals have 17 games remaining against the teams they’re chasing in the American League Central. Eight of those 11 against Detroit are on the road, however. Besides the five-game series in Detroit in mid-August, Kansas City plays a stretch of 12 consecutive September games against the Tigers and Indians.
There is the potential for great drama as we head down the stretch. But I’m not convinced anyone is taking the Royals seriously. I’m not even convinced the Royals are taking the Royals seriously, what with little static as the trade deadline nears.
Dayton Moore could improve this team. But is he willing to trade more of the team’s high-end prospects to do so? Is being within seven games with 60 to play enough to cause Moore to aggressively pursue the hitter or hitters who might be able to help Kansas City continue its charge?
So far, it appears Moore is neither a buyer nor a seller. It looks as if he’s standing pat, hopeful that a team that has been playing well will keep it up.