It's been a strange year for the Kansas City Royals. On June 1st, the Royals dropped a 4-0 decision to the Blue Jays to fall into the AL Central basement, 6.5 games out of first. Since then, the Royals have won 12 of 14 games, including their last nine, to wrest first place (at least temporarily) from the Tigers.
Their place in the standings is unusual enough: it's the third time in the last quarter-century Kansas City has been in first this late in the season, and the first since 2003. But even more unusual is the offensive outbursts that have carried them past the Tigers in the last two games. The Royals followed up Monday's 11-8 pounding of Justin Verlander with an 11-4 pasting of defending Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
How common is it for a team to score 11 runs in consecutive games against the same team? First, let's use a theoretical approach. Tom Tango has a program on his website that allows us to calculate the expected number of runs scored per game for a specific batting line. If we plug in the 2014 American League numbers, we find that, for the average team scoring 4.29 R/G, there is a 3.8 percent chance that they will score at least 11 runs in a given game. That means there's a one-in-683 chance they match the Royals' recent outburst. Since we're talking about the entire American League here, if we assume there are eight games per day, we would expect to see a one-in-683 event about once every three months.
But this isn't an average offensive team we're talking about here. This is Kansas City, where home runs go to die and the walk is a mythical beast. How common is it for the Royals to put up 11 runs in consecutive games? I plugged the Royals' batting line -- excluding their two most recent games -- into the same program. A team like the Royals is expected to post consecutive 11+ run games once every 1,683 games, or just over once a decade. We note, though, that whereas the actual 2014 Royals averaged 4.1 R/G before playing the Tigers, but Tango's program expects them to collect 3.8 R/G. This is surprisingly pessimistic, but I chalk it up to the comparative lack of power and walks.
Enough theory. The Royals haven't had the same roster over the last decade -- in fact, they've usually had a worse roster -- so it's been even longer than expected since the last time they scored at least 11 runs in back-to-back games. On June 30 and July 1, 2001, Kansas City tagged Bartolo Colon and Charles Nagy for a combined 16 runs en route to 11-7 and 13-11 victories. That was 2,092 games ago. Since that time, 115 other teams have achieved the same feat, including 11 Royals opponents.
What makes the Royals' achivement even more special is the fact that they collected those runs off former Cy Young winners. I went back through the 2009 season, but couldn't find another example of such decorated teammates getting hit so hard on consecutive days. Maybe the best comparison happened in 2010, when the Milwaukee Brewers pasted Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley in consecutive games. But Billingsley finished the season with 3.5 rWAR, and Scherzer has almost accumulated 3 rWAR already this season.
To make matters worse for the Tigers, this is actually the second time this year they've allowed at least 11 runs in consecutive games, falling to the Rangers 12-2 and 12-4 over Memorial Day weekend. The last team to be hit so hard twice in the same season was the 2012 Indians, who were pounded by the White Sox May 26-27 and the Twins July 27-28.
Things could be worse for Tiger fans. The record for consecutive games with at least 11 runs belongs to the 1929 New York Giants. On June 19, the Giants traveled to Philadelphia to play six games against the Phillies over four days, including two doubleheaders. By the time John McGraw's team headed back to New York, they had swept all six games by a combined score of 73-42, scoring at least 11 runs in all six games.
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All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference. Special thanks to Scott Lindholm for providing details on the Royals' first-place drought.