It’s a Friday, in the latter half of September and the Detroit Tigers are coming to town. It’s a big deal. We have not had a big deal in September that involved the Royals in a while. I think I like it.
Sitting one-half game behind the Tigers (1 full game really, when you factor in the pending loss coming up in Cleveland) and one-half game (or tied, really) for the first Wild Card spot, the Kansas City Royals pretty much control their own destiny. Of course, so do the other teams in the race as well.
Just win, baby.
I do not see a clear path to the American League Central title that does not include the Royals winning at least two out of three this weekend. Things happen, sure. Strange things like continuing to hand the ball to Joe Nathan in the ninth inning. Still, the Tigers finish up the season with seven games at home: three with the White Sox and four with the Twins.
For reasons that only the baseball gods know, Detroit is just 8-8 against Chicago and an even worse 7-8 against the hapless, yes HAPLESS, Twins. One could say those numbers might indicate the Tigers going 4-3 or 3-4 over the last week of the season. Of course, one could also say that a team like the Tigers, markedly superior to both the Sox and Twins, might go 6-1, too.
The Royals, on the other hand, finish the season on the road. Let’s just put the completion of the rain shortened Cleveland game in which they trail 4-2 in the bottom of the 10th in the loss column and move on. After that, Kansas City plays three at Cleveland and finishes with four at Chicago.
Counting the ‘loss in waiting’, Kansas City is just 7-10 against Cleveland, but a salty 10-5 against Chicago. You can take some solace in the fact that the Royals are 5-1 this year at Comiskey Park and there is talk that the White Sox are considering shutting Chris Sale down for the season as well. Unfortunately, Kansas City is just 2-5 playing at Cleveland in 2014. Adding to the problem, the Indians are still kinda sorta in the race. Certainly, they’ll entertain thoughts that sweeping Kansas City in their home park would give them a shot at the Wild Card.
Basically, Cleveland is going to care. Chicago and Minnesota? Not so much.
On the Wild Card front, the free-falling Oakland A’s play three at home against the Phillies. The old and ineffective Phillies. They then play three home games against the Angels, who are probably the playing the best baseball of anyone, but who have also clinched their division and may or may not care at all. The A’s finish up with four on the road against Texas, a team that just swept them at home.
On the season, Oakland is 8-8 against the Angels, but have dropped the last five games to LA. They are 7-8 against Texas, but 5-1 when playing at Arlington. Of course, all those games at Texas occurred in the first half of the season, back when Oakland was, you know, good.
Assuming the Royals don’t just implode in Cleveland, the only other team that is really in the wild card race is Seattle. The Mariners play three games at Houston, four at Toronto and finish with three at home against the Angels.
Dayton Moore and Ned Yost should be sending all kinds of flowers, candy and beer to the Angels’ organization right now, encouraging them to continue to play their regulars the last week of the season. That team could do more to help the Royals lock up a Wild Card spot than anyone (other than the Royals themselves, of course).
Anyway, Seattle is 9-7 against both Houston and LA and 3-0 against Toronto. The Blue Jays, like Cleveland, may or may not really believe they are in the race. However, again like the Indians, Toronto will likely view a sweep of the Mariners to be their way back into the hunt.
This is the time of year when you never are quite sure what a non-contending team is going to do and how much they care. You also don’t know what a team that is already in the post-season like the Angels will do, either.
What we do know, is that Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle and Oakland care. Four teams, three spots. Win and get in. You don’t need a spreadsheet or projections from here on out. The games left (full games, mind you) can be counted on your fingers.
Seven wins, in any combination, makes the Royals a lock for some kind of post-season berth. Six, gives them a shot. Five? That’s dicey.
I remember hanging on every pitch and scoreboard watching in late September. I was young, had hair, ran faster and jumped higher back then, but I remember. Let’s have some fun, boys and girls.
And for godssake, let’s win.