The Royals DO have postseason possibilities

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I certainly did not figure I’d be saying this eight or ten weeks ago.  I still am not sure that I completely believe it.  But these Royals do have a legitimate shot at the postseason.  They even have a legitimate shot at the real postseason. What’s the real postseason?  It’s all of the postseason that occurs after the wild card game.

At 60-53 as of this morning the Royals have an estimated 34% chance of advancing to the postseason and a 24% chance of advancing to the real postseason according to BP: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/odds/ This site is updated every morning at about 8 AM CDT, so if the odds have changed that’s why.  These are the odds as of 8/8/14 at 17:41.  Some might think these odds are low for a team that would make the postseason if the season ended today, but BP does take into account the runs scored, runs allowed, projected runs scored and allowed and schedule strength so far into its formula.  It also takes into account the remaining schedule strength.

According to BP the Royals only have a projected season record of 84.3-77.7, but at the start of the season BP had them on 77-85 – so that’s significant improvement.  For what it is worth, I thought the Royals would win 87 when the season started, but I thought that had less than a 10% chance of making the playoffs.   But since two of the teams I thought would win 90 have died out there (Tampa Bay and Boston) 87 would have something like a 60% chance of making the playoffs now. Of all the contenders, the Royals have the weakest remaining schedule.  The hardest parts are the upcoming week (San Francisco and Oakland) and later against the Indians, Yankees and Detroit.

But they also have quite a few games against teams that are out of the competition (teams that have less motivation to play their best players: two series against Texas, a series against Colorado, a series against Boston.  They also have games remaining against fringe teams Chicago and Minnesota. With that in mind, I think we can be confident that the Royals chance is as good as the other teams in the race….. So who are all the teams in the AL race?   1)      Oakland.  Oakland is the best team in the American League.

They aren’t in the race because they have already all but qualified for the playoffs.  It would be a collapse of historic proportions for them to miss the playoffs.  Since acquiring Jon Lester, I have to say that the A’s are the team to beat in the American League.  That rotation is Lester,  Samardzija, Hammel, Gray, Kazmir.  When Sonny Gray is your number 3 that’s a fantastic rotation.

What’s worse is this team has a good enough offense they felt they could trade away Yoenis Cespedis!  I would usually argue, but that is Billy Beane over there. They probably are that deep in the lineup.  Current playoff chance: 99%.  Projected wins 95.0. 2)      Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Never count out a team that has Mike Trout.  This team is also in the playoffs barring a collapse of historic proportions.  This team doesn’t have the rotation that Oakland has, but they are better in the lineup.

It will be interesting to see if they can catch Oakland for the AL West title and force Oakland into a wild card game (I do not think they can).  But that lineup with Trout, Pujols, Kendrick, Hamilton, etc is always a threat to take a game by itself.  I think most fans don’t realize how good these lineups are because they play in a division with the three best pitchers parks in all of baseball (Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle).  Current playoff chance: 99%.  Projected wins: 93.5. 3)      Detroit Tigers.  Two weeks ago they were in the same boat with the above teams.

Lately, their depth has come into question AGAIN.  Their decision to go into the season with no shortstop following the injury to Iglesias has to be questioned as it has shown itself to be a bad decision. Their bullpen has been below average all year.  Verlander has been iffy at best.  BUT – any team that has Cabrera, Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez is going to be a threat.  Adding David Price makes them even scarier.  Imagine if they had kept Doug Fister?  Of course, if they had they would not have traded for Price – they would have added a bullpen piece or three instead.

Though they are down, they are far from out.  Current playoff chance: 90%.  Projected wins 89.6. 4)      Baltimore Orioles.  This has to be the surprise.  They are good.  Are they that good?  For the second year of the past three, Buck Showalter is squeezing wins out of a team that just isn’t that good.  Two years ago he got them to win the division when they were being outscored.  He isn’t getting that trick this year – but the team is 16 games over while only scoring 36 more runs than their opponents.  At 65-49 – their Pythagorean projection is only 60-54.  They aren’t a bad team, but they aren’t overwhelming in any way (except maybe Showalter is just that damn good?).

Machado has been very good after a terrible start to the year.  Missing Wieters all year has been a difficulty for them.  Their outfield defense is not very good when Cruz plays, but it is excellent when David Lough plays.  We shall see what happens; they have relied very heavily on their bullpen and I think it has pitched better than it should project to pitch.  The fact that they already have 65 wins in a division where no one is all that good (the best teams are in fourth and fifth place!) helps them as Boston is clearly too far back to challenge and Tampa is as well.  Current playoff chance 84%.  Projected wins: 88.8. 5)      New York Yankees.

Most others are not surprised.  I am.  This is just NOT a good team. They’ve been outscored by 23 runs.  That gives them a Pythagorean projection of 55-59.  They played a good chunk of the year with poor second base play and poor third base play.  They have patched the holes and they should be better down the stretch than they have been.

Their starting rotation is going to fade badly however, I think.  I like Kuroda and Tanaka, but CC Sabathia is on the 60 day DL and Tanaka and Phelps are both on the 15 day – and the Yankess are currently doing a four man and pray rotation.  Current playoff chance: 35%.  Projected wins: 84.5.  According to Baseball prospectus the playoffs are NYY v LAA in the wildcard with Baltimore, Oakland and Detroit winning divisions.  That said, they only have NYY at 35% to make. 6)      KC Royals.  We know the problems scoring runs.  We know the great fielding.  We know the bullpen has been shakier than it will be going forward.

The Royals have outperformed their Pythogrean, too, by the way.  Pythagorean is only 58-55.  My fear for the Royals: regression and injury in the starting rotation.  On the flip side: they really shouldn’t be this bad at the dish. 7)      Toronto Blue Jays.  For the last few years, I have expected them to be better than they have been.  This year, I didn’t – and they are.  Their second base play was projected to be awful and it’s been OK.  Their starting rotation doesn’t overwhelm but it seems to be getting the job done. JA Happ, RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Stroman these are not names that you think of when you think of good pitching.  But it’s a balanced pitching group.

The back end (Stroman) has a 3.49 ERA, no one has an ERA over 4.40.  It isn’t great, but they aren’t out of a lot of games.  FLIP it and you see some big bashers: Encanacion, Francisco, Bautista, Rasmus all have more HR than any Royal.  Look out also for Melky Cabrera: his .315/.367/.480 line is as good as it seems.  At 61-55 they have not over performed their Pythagorean- a reason to suspect they will be as good as they have been.  Current playoff odds: 26%.  Current win projection: 84.1. 8)      Seattle Mariners.  I still think this team is better than 8th best in the league.  While they are only 60-54, their Pythagorean projection is 66-48.

They have outscored their opponents by 70 runs.  Only the Angels and A’s have better differentials in the American League.  How can anyone count out a team with that rotation: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Young, Paxton, Ramirez.  It is a good pitcher’s park, it’s true but when Iwakuma is your number 2 that’s a fine group.  The bullpen has been excellent.  The lineup has two huge performers in Seager and Cano.  Their weaknesses are at SS and DH (Brad Miller and Corey Hart, respectively).  The worst thing for the Mariners is their remaining schedule is just ugly: Blue Jays (2 series), Tigers, Nationals, Angels (2 series), A’s (2 series).

Current playoff odds: 23%.  Current win projection: 83.1. Other teams retaining a greater than 1% chance are: 9)      Cleveland 6% – terrible fielding team held together by good lineup and great bullpen work – and a very good manager in Terry Francona. 10)  Tampa Bay Rays 5% – this is the best team that is out of it.  Even without David Price they are threat to anyone they play.  Too many teams to pass. So that’s about it.

I would pick the Mariners as the fifth playoff team, but that schedule just kills them.  I can’t pick the Yankees as I just don’t believe they are good.  So where do I go? The A’s and Angels will make the playoffs.  After that it is somewhat open.  The Tigers will make the playoffs.  The Orioles will make the playoffs – that lead is just too strong to believe they can give it back and their two challengers are just too flawed. So the rest will have ONE team.

The candidates are: Yankees, Blue Jays, Royals, Mariners, Indians and Rays. Drop the Indians and Rays as they have too many teams to pass.  Drop the Mariners for their schedule.  Drop the Yankees because they aren’t good enough.  That leaves the Blue Jays and the Royals.  I think it’s going to be the Royals.  The Royals have a better chance of stealing the division than the Jays do, so they have that route as well as the wild card route. I’m actually becoming a believer.  This is exhilarating and scary. photo credit: frank thompson photos via photopin cc

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Author: Charles Winters

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