The title, for Royals’ fans, can be put in the same category of certainties as ‘the sun coming up tomorrow’ and ‘just checked Twitter, someone is outraged’.
If the playoffs began today, Kansas City would play the winner of a New York-Houston wild card game, while Texas would open up the ALDS at Toronto. Should the Royals win and Toronto win, the ALCS would open up in Kansas City. There is a current of ‘I don’t care about the home field advantage’ line of reasoning lately. You should care. The Royals are 48-27 at home this year, and just (a respectable just, but just nonetheless) 39-35 on the road. The Blue Jays are 49-27 in Toronto and just a .500 team away from there. Give a damn, dammit.
Of course, that point is irrelevant if Kansas City does not get to the ALCS. Ask the Angels how much they enjoyed having home field advantage all the way through the playoffs: didn’t do much for them when the American League championship was played in Baltimore and Kansas City. The Royals, and perhaps the recent slump will keep them from doing so, cannot afford to assume they will just waltz through the divisional series on their good looks.
Opposing them in the divisional series will either by the Yankees, the Astros, the Rangers with a very outside shot of it being Minnesota or the Angels. With just 13 games left to play and trailing by three and one-half games, I don’t see New York catching Toronto. Frankly, I hope they do not, as the Blue Jays (even without Tulowitzki) scare the hell out of me.
The Yankees are an interesting team in that the are nine games over .500 at home and six games over .500 on the road. The win and lose at roughly the same rates against right handed and left handed pitching. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games, 10-10 in their last twenty and 15-15 in their last thirty. They are 21 games over .500 against losing teams and five games under against teams with winning records. They have one regular (counting the injured Mark Teixiera as a regular) under the age of 31. The have a suspect starting rotation after Tanaka and maybe the very young Severino. They sport a hellish back of the bullpen where Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have combined to strike out 209 batters in 132 innings. New York has hit 203 home runs: 107 of them at home, where the Yankees’ slugging percentage is 21 points higher than on the road. Their regular lineup features six left-handed hitters, two switch-hitters and Alex Rodriguez.
The Astros are 51-25 at home and SEVENTEEN games under .500 on the road. Their record over the last 10, 20 and 30 games is essentially the same as that of the Royals. They have a much better record against right-handed pitching and have slugged 207 home runs: well over half at home, where they slug 61 points better as a team. The Astros have Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers and Scott Kazmir and caught lightning in a bottle with Mike Fiers. They also have a good bullpen and no position player regular over 30 years old. Houston has a predominately right-handed hitting lineup with six regulars with on-base percentages of .301 or less. They have Carlos Correa.
The Texas Rangers have gone from dead to leaders of the AL West. They have gone from having Wandy Rodriguez in their starting rotation to having Cole Hamels. Prince Fielder has a .380 on-base percentage and Shin-Soo Choo gets on-base at a .372 clip. Mitch Moreland and Fielder are the only two Rangers with more than twenty home runs. This is a different kind of Texas Rangers team than we are used to. The Royals actually have a higher team slugging percentage than Texas.
It won’t surprise anyone that the five teams that would currently make the playoffs in the American League are among the six highest scoring teams in the league. Interestingly, the Astros have allowed the fewest runs, the Royals are third, the Blue Jays are fifth, the Yankees are seventh and the Rangers are way down at thirteenth.
Take it all for what you want (and there is admittedly not a lot here). This is just a brief overview of what might lie ahead. Once the picture clears, we can really dig into who the real adversary will be in round one for the Royals.
Truthfully, outside of the Blue Jays, I feel good about the Royals matching up with any of the rest. Especially knowing that the first two games of the opening series will be in Kansas City.