With yet another loss, the Royals dropped to 4-9 in September.   With 19 games remaining, they will have to go 12-7 to just finish .500 for the month (plus a little of October).  It is an arbitrary timestamp to divide up team or player performance by simply turning the page on a calendar, but it is a handy (and easy) way to analyze a chunk of games.

In the case of September records (and for the purposes of this article, that will include the smattering of games that have been played the first week of October), they do give us some indication of how a team is playing as the season winds down.  It can be fools’ gold, where a bad team has, say, an 18-8 September and makes moves in the off-season based on the idea that they were better than they were, but we are not talking about bad teams today.  We are talking about playoff teams and your Kansas City Royals are having a somewhat irrelevant September, not because they are bad, but because they are already a playoff lock.

I’ll digress for a moment and make fun of the following people:

  • Those worried about the Minnesota Twins catching the Royals.  If the Royals win just five games the rest of the year, the Twins would have go 15-4 just to tie them. FIFTEEN and FOUR, people.
  • Those certain Johnny Cueto is on the take with Vegas.  Yeah, because that happens with professional players making millions.
  • Those that believe all Cueto cares about is the money.  Hmm, seems like a pitcher headed into free agency would likely want to pitch well in order to make, you know, more money.
  • Those that don’t care about Cueto because ‘he’s not a Royal’. I don’t know where that line of crap came from (feels like a Texas A&M or The Citadel kind of thing), but then you also are not allowed to care about Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis, Edinson Volquez, Ben Zobrist, Ryan Madson and Kendrys Morales.  You know who else isn’t ‘a Royal’?  Dayton Moore and Ned Yost.
  • Those, and this is the ‘look at me, I’m a super smart contrarian’ crowd, that ‘were worried about this happening with Cueto when we got him’. You were worried about Cueto imploding? Even though there is six seasons worth of data (including the first four months of this season) that give no indication of this?  So, you were guessing then, right? Hey, I like to gamble and I like to guess, too, it doesn’t make me smart.

Anyway…..

Rany Jazayerli brought this up last week, but you can take some comfort in the Royals recent tailspin by looking at the 2000 New York Yankees.  That team lost its last seven games of the regular season, giving up seven runs or more in six of those games and never scoring more than four runs.  They then proceeded to win the ALDS, the ALCS and the World Series. I have written several times about how a baseball team can not just ‘flip the switch’.  The 2000 Yankees stand as an example of ‘wanna bet?’.

Let’s take a look at some more playoff teams.  Below are all the teams that have made the playoffs in the last ten years, sorted by best September record to worst with their post-season results included:

Team Season Win Pct Wins Losses Post-Season
Cle 2013 0.778 21 6 WC Lost
Det 2011 0.769 20 6 ALCS Lost
Phi 2010 0.767 23 7 NLCS Lost
Tex 2011 0.760 19 6 WS Lost
Colo 2007 0.724 21 8 WS Lost
Wsh 2014 0.704 19 8 NLDS Lost
STL 2013 0.704 19 8 WS Lost
Oak 2013 0.704 19 8 ALDS Lost
NYY 2007 0.704 19 8 ALDS Lost
LAA 2005 0.700 21 9 ALCS Lost
StL 2011 0.692 18 8 WS Won
SD 2006 0.690 20 9 NLDS Lost
LAD 2014 0.680 17 8 NLDS Lost
Phi 2008 0.680 17 8 WS Won
LAD 2008 0.680 17 8 NLCS Lost
Cle 2007 0.679 19 9 ALCS Lost
Atl 2012 0.667 20 10 WC Lost
SF 2012 0.667 20 10 WS Won
NYY 2005 0.667 20 10 ALDS Lost
Min 2009 0.656 21 11 ALDS Lost
SF 2010 0.655 19 10 WS Won
StL 2014 0.654 17 9 NLCS Lost
Pit 2014 0.654 17 9 WC Lost
LAA 2008 0.654 17 9 ALDS Lost
NYY 2012 0.645 20 11 ALCS Lost
Balt 2012 0.645 20 11 ALDS Lost
Oak 2012 0.645 20 11 ALDS Lost
NYY 2009 0.645 20 11 WS Won
Colo 2009 0.645 20 11 NLDS Lost
Bos 2013 0.640 16 9 WS Won
Ari 2011 0.640 16 9 NLDS Lost
Min 2006 0.633 19 11 ALDS Lost
Hou 2005 0.633 19 11 WS Lost
Balt 2014 0.630 17 10 ALCS Lost
TB 2011 0.630 17 10 ALDS Lost
Det 2014 0.615 16 10 ALDS Lost
Bos 2008 0.615 16 10 ALCS Lost
CHW 2005 0.613 19 12 WS Won
Phi 2007 0.607 17 11 NLDS Lost
Mil 2011 0.600 15 10 NLCS Lost
Min 2010 0.600 18 12 ALDS Lost
NYY 2006 0.600 18 12 ALDS Lost
Bos 2009 0.594 19 13 ALDS Lost
LAA 2009 0.594 19 13 ALCS Lost
Bos 2007 0.593 16 11 WS Won
TB 2013 0.586 17 12 ALDS Lost
CHC 2007 0.586 17 12 NLDS Lost
LAD 2006 0.586 17 12 NLDS Lost
Det 2012 0.581 18 13 WS Lost
Wsh 2012 0.581 18 13 NLDS Lost
Bos 2005 0.581 18 13 ALDS Lost
KC 2014 0.577 15 11 WS Lost
LAA 2014 0.577 15 11 ALDS Lost
Ari 2007 0.577 15 11 NLCS Lost
NYY 2011 0.571 16 12 ALDS Lost
StL 2012 0.567 17 13 NLCS Lost
LAD 2009 0.567 17 13 NLCS Lost
Pit 2013 0.556 15 12 NLDS Lost
Cinc 2012 0.552 16 13 NLDS Lost
Oak 2006 0.552 16 13 ALCS Lost
Cinc 2013 0.538 14 12 WC Lost
StL 2005 0.536 15 13 NLCS Lost
Phi 2011 0.533 16 14 NLDS Lost
Tex 2010 0.533 16 14 WS Lost
SD 2005 0.533 16 14 NLDS Lost
Phi 2009 0.529 18 16 WS Lost
SF 2014 0.520 13 12 WS Won
Atl 2005 0.517 15 14 NLDS Lost
Det 2013 0.500 13 13 ALCS Lost
ChC 2008 0.500 12 12 NLDS Lost
LAA 2007 0.500 14 14 ALDS Lost
NYM 2006 0.500 15 15 NLCS Lost
Tex 2012 0.484 15 16 WC Lost
TB 2010 0.484 15 16 ALDS Lost
Atl 2013 0.481 13 14 NLDS Lost
TB 2008 0.481 13 14 WS Lost
Atl 2010 0.467 14 16 NLDS Lost
Cinc 2010 0.467 14 16 NLDS Lost
StL 2009 0.452 14 17 NLDS Lost
LAD 2013 0.444 12 15 NLCS Lost
CHW 2008 0.444 12 15 ALDS Lost
NYY 2010 0.433 13 17 ALCS Lost
Det 2006 0.429 12 16 WS Lost Lost last 5, all at home (3 to KC)
StL 2006 0.414 12 17 WS Won Lost 9 of last 12
Oak 2014 0.385 10 16 WC Lost
Mil 2008 0.385 10 16 NLDS Lost

Not surprisingly, teams that make the playoffs are usually pretty good teams and pretty good teams usually win lots of games.  As such, many of the past playoff teams played winning baseball in the last month of the season.  A fair number because they had to, just to get in, but there are teams with big leads that on that list that had big Septembers as well.  Probably worth noting is none of the best ten September records of the last ten years won the World Series.  Although to be fair, three of those teams did make the Series.

Sorting the list by post-season result (and this doesn’t sort out right as far as success, other than it puts the World Series winners first and the World Series losers second – I could do better, but I won’t) we get this:

Team Season Win Pct Wins Losses Post-Season
StL 2011 0.692 18 8 WS Won
Phi 2008 0.680 17 8 WS Won
SF 2012 0.667 20 10 WS Won
SF 2010 0.655 19 10 WS Won
NYY 2009 0.645 20 11 WS Won
Bos 2013 0.640 16 9 WS Won
CHW 2005 0.613 19 12 WS Won
Bos 2007 0.593 16 11 WS Won
SF 2014 0.520 13 12 WS Won
StL 2006 0.414 12 17 WS Won Lost 9 of last 12
Tex 2011 0.760 19 6 WS Lost
Colo 2007 0.724 21 8 WS Lost
STL 2013 0.704 19 8 WS Lost
Hou 2005 0.633 19 11 WS Lost
Det 2012 0.581 18 13 WS Lost
KC 2014 0.577 15 11 WS Lost
Tex 2010 0.533 16 14 WS Lost
Phi 2009 0.529 18 16 WS Lost
TB 2008 0.481 13 14 WS Lost
Det 2006 0.429 12 16 WS Lost Lost last 5, all at home (3 to KC)
Cle 2013 0.778 21 6 WC Lost
Atl 2012 0.667 20 10 WC Lost
Pit 2014 0.654 17 9 WC Lost
Cinc 2013 0.538 14 12 WC Lost
Tex 2012 0.484 15 16 WC Lost
Oak 2014 0.385 10 16 WC Lost
Wsh 2014 0.704 19 8 NLDS Lost
SD 2006 0.690 20 9 NLDS Lost
LAD 2014 0.680 17 8 NLDS Lost
Colo 2009 0.645 20 11 NLDS Lost
Ari 2011 0.640 16 9 NLDS Lost
Phi 2007 0.607 17 11 NLDS Lost
CHC 2007 0.586 17 12 NLDS Lost
LAD 2006 0.586 17 12 NLDS Lost
Wsh 2012 0.581 18 13 NLDS Lost
Pit 2013 0.556 15 12 NLDS Lost
Cinc 2012 0.552 16 13 NLDS Lost
Phi 2011 0.533 16 14 NLDS Lost
SD 2005 0.533 16 14 NLDS Lost
Atl 2005 0.517 15 14 NLDS Lost
ChC 2008 0.500 12 12 NLDS Lost
Atl 2013 0.481 13 14 NLDS Lost
Atl 2010 0.467 14 16 NLDS Lost
Cinc 2010 0.467 14 16 NLDS Lost
StL 2009 0.452 14 17 NLDS Lost
Mil 2008 0.385 10 16 NLDS Lost
Phi 2010 0.767 23 7 NLCS Lost
LAD 2008 0.680 17 8 NLCS Lost
StL 2014 0.654 17 9 NLCS Lost
Mil 2011 0.600 15 10 NLCS Lost
Ari 2007 0.577 15 11 NLCS Lost
StL 2012 0.567 17 13 NLCS Lost
LAD 2009 0.567 17 13 NLCS Lost
StL 2005 0.536 15 13 NLCS Lost
NYM 2006 0.500 15 15 NLCS Lost
LAD 2013 0.444 12 15 NLCS Lost
Oak 2013 0.704 19 8 ALDS Lost
NYY 2007 0.704 19 8 ALDS Lost
NYY 2005 0.667 20 10 ALDS Lost
Min 2009 0.656 21 11 ALDS Lost
LAA 2008 0.654 17 9 ALDS Lost
Balt 2012 0.645 20 11 ALDS Lost
Oak 2012 0.645 20 11 ALDS Lost
Min 2006 0.633 19 11 ALDS Lost
TB 2011 0.630 17 10 ALDS Lost
Det 2014 0.615 16 10 ALDS Lost
Min 2010 0.600 18 12 ALDS Lost
NYY 2006 0.600 18 12 ALDS Lost
Bos 2009 0.594 19 13 ALDS Lost
TB 2013 0.586 17 12 ALDS Lost
Bos 2005 0.581 18 13 ALDS Lost
LAA 2014 0.577 15 11 ALDS Lost
NYY 2011 0.571 16 12 ALDS Lost
LAA 2007 0.500 14 14 ALDS Lost
TB 2010 0.484 15 16 ALDS Lost
CHW 2008 0.444 12 15 ALDS Lost
Det 2011 0.769 20 6 ALCS Lost
LAA 2005 0.700 21 9 ALCS Lost
Cle 2007 0.679 19 9 ALCS Lost
NYY 2012 0.645 20 11 ALCS Lost
Balt 2014 0.630 17 10 ALCS Lost
Bos 2008 0.615 16 10 ALCS Lost
LAA 2009 0.594 19 13 ALCS Lost
Oak 2006 0.552 16 13 ALCS Lost
Det 2013 0.500 13 13 ALCS Lost
NYY 2010 0.433 13 17 ALCS Lost

Twenty teams made the World Series in the last ten years (math!) and only three of those twenty had losing Septembers and only one, the 83-79 2006 Cardinals, won the championship. Now, I should not be so greedy, given my adult life pretty much began with the 1985 World Series and was followed by a barge fulls of crappy baseball, but just making the playoffs this year is not really a big deal for me.  I can live with getting to the World Series and losing, but I will feel like 2015 is something of a disappointment if the post-season ends for Kansas City before that.

More years would give us a better taste without question. The 1980 Royals were not great down the stretch and they made the Series.  If the Royals continue to swoon in September, maybe I’ll be motivated to dig deeper or, better yet, maybe someone younger will allocate some time away from Clash of Clans (or whatever, I don’t care) to give us twenty, thirty or forty years of data that will make us feel better.

I am concerned, but not panicked.  The above numbers are hardly absolutes, but they are not exactly reassuring, either.