The Kansas City Royals still have a shot.
Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, the Royals sit just three games out of the second Wild Card spot in the American League. This is despite the team having a record of just 17-23 since August 1, having an overall record of just 72-72, and having looked nothing like a playoff team over the last two months. Surprisingly enough, all that stands between them and a third postseason berth in four seasons are the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, and Texas Rangers (who share the same record as the Royals).
However, the odds are heavily against the Royals making the playoffs. According to the statistical projection site FiveThirtyEight, the Royals have just a 5% chance of making the playoffs, and are expected to finish with an 80-82 overall record. In addition, the site projects the Twins to have a 58% chance of making the playoffs, which makes them the most likely team to win the second Wild Card spot. The Twins are expected to finish with an overall record of 84-78, which would separate them from the Royals by just four games.
So, with that being said, here is the Royals’ blueprint to winning the second Wild Card spot:
Take care of business against teams with losing records
Of the Royals’ 18 remaining games, ten of them are against the White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Toronto Blue Jays. All three of these teams are out of playoff contention, and only the Blue Jays are even within ten games of .500. The Royals must have a winning record against these teams, as their schedule compares favorably to the Los Angeles Angels, who play just seven games against teams with losing records over that time period.
Unfortunately, the Royals’ remaining schedule does not compare favorably to the Twins and Rangers’ schedules. Both the Twins and Rangers have only six games remaining against teams with winning records, and they also have multiple games remaining against the league’s bottom-feeding teams. That means the Royals must also win several games against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees: all likely playoff teams.
For the Royals to stand a chance against their remaining schedule, they must find a way to close out games, and stabilize their rotation. Since the All-Star break, the team has an ERA over five, and has blown 11 save opportunities. One way that they can stabilize their pitching is to:
Find a role for Danny Duffy
Duffy has been on the disabled list since late August with left arm discomfort, but according to the Kansas City Star, he could return as early as this weekend. Duffy threw a simulated game on Monday, and all intentions are to return Duffy to the starting rotation in a limited capacity this weekend. The Royals do not want to risk further injuring Duffy, however their current pitching situation necessitates that he return as soon as possible.
Instead of returning Duffy to the rotation, the Royals should move him to the bullpen. By moving Duffy to the bullpen, the team reduces the stress that he is putting on his arm, and they have a reliable option to pitch in close games.
Moving Duffy to the bullpen would not be entirely unprecedented. In fact, Duffy has spent time as a reliever in parts of each season from 2014 to 2016. According to Fangraphs, Duffy has a 2.08 ERA in 34 & 2/3 innings pitched in his career as a reliever. Over his time spent in the bullpen, Duffy has been used as both a long-reliever, and as a late inning option. However, given the current bullpen situation, Duffy would best be used as a long-relief option.
Using Duffy in late-game situations would over-complicate the team’s late-inning philosophy, which is already sufficiently complicated. The Kansas City Star reported on Saturday, that manager Ned Yost has removed Kelvin Herrera from his role as closer, and has instead chosen to have a closer-by-committee for the remainder of the season. The closer committee consists of righty reliever Brandon Maurer, and lefty relievers Mike Minor, and Scott Alexander. Adding Duffy to the mix provides the Royals with a lefty bullpen arm to be used earlier in games, and allows Yost to preserve using his closers in unfavorable situations.
In addition, adding Duffy to the bullpen turns the bullpen from a position of weakness, into a position of strength for the Royals. Given the recent starting pitching struggles for the team, the bullpen has been used heavily in the earlier parts of games. With the addition of Duffy, Yost has more options when transitioning between the rotation and the bullpen. Both Duffy and Trevor Cahill can be used to pitch multiple innings in the middle of games, and then Herrera can be used in an 8th inning set-up role before calling on one of the closers to pitch the 9th inning.
While the return of Duffy improves either the starting rotation or the bullpen, the Royals also must find consistency offensively over their next 18 games. In order to optimize the situation for their starters they must:
Use the DH as an off-day
The Royals cannot afford to have any of their power-hitters swoon over the next couple of weeks. However, as tends to be the case, slumps are all too common the deciding factor in the outcome of the Wild Card race. Yost must prioritize keeping his star players in the lineup, even if it means having to play an inferior player out in the field.
As an example, All-Star catcher Salvador Perez has historically struggled offensively in September. Currently he is doing nothing to dispel this trend, as he is hitting .175 this month, to go along with a putrid .125 average last month. By having backup catcher Drew Butera primarily handle the catching duties over the next several games, Perez can take the time to rest his body and reset his approach at the plate.
There is no guarantee that having slumping players DH will improve their offensive performance, however, the Royals cannot afford to sit their starters at all during the next several weeks. With the odds stacked against them, complacency is no longer an option. If the team wants to sneak into the playoffs as the second Wild Card, it must place each of its players in the best situation to succeed. The team will have to win games against its remaining opponents with winning records, and by eliminating late-inning bullpen blow-ups, and fatigue induced rally-killing strikeouts, they may just have a shot.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Kansas City Royals article is published, fill out our email notification form.