The Kansas City Royals have had a phenomenal past couple of years by any measure, ending a 28 year playoff drought and coming close to winning the World Series in 2014, and doing that exact thing in the ensuing 2015 season. After years of being a downtrodden and all-but-forgotten franchise, the Royals have catapulted themselves back into the national consciousness, caused several teams to scramble around trying to re-create their bullpen hydra, and even showed up at the White House last week. All and all, it’s been a fun and well-deserved ride for a franchise and fan base that had long awaited such accolades.
All good things must come to an end, however, and for the Royals in 2016, it’s time to recognize the kind of historical company they’re keeping and act accordingly.
At 48-50, the Royals are eight and a half games back in the AL Central, trailing the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. If you looked at only one side of that coin, you would find an excellent 31-18 record in Kauffman Stadium, giving them one of the best home records in baseball (trailing only the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox in wins). Looking at only the home record doesn’t tell the full story, though, and just as you can’t divorce yin from yang, you also can’t laud the Royals’ record at home and avert your eyes from the away.
The Royals are an abysmal 17-32 on the road, putting them in such august company as the Twins (17-32), Brewers (17-31), and Reds (14-32). You know, teams long consigned to the proverbial couch that non-playoff teams watch October baseball from.
The Royals would have to go 24-8 on the road the rest of the way out to have a winning road record by a single game. Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible, right? So can’t they just continue to play well at home and sneak their way into the post-season? Maybe. Surprisingly enough, there are one or more teams with losing road records in the playoffs virtually every year since the wild card began.
The Royals aren’t just battling against their road record, though. They’re also running a minus 35 run differential on the season, fourth worst in the American League.
You may be saying to yourself at this point, intrepid Royals fan, that there have been two wild card spots since 2012 and thus an extra chance in each league to make the playoffs... surely that is worth sticking things out for? After all, the Pirates and the Tigers are in the same boat this year, though with far less exaggerated home/road splits and negative run differentials that come closer to breaking even.
There are only two teams who have made the playoffs since the advent of the wild card in 1995 that have had both a losing road record AND a negative run differential, that being the 2005 San Diego Padres and the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Fellow BtBS writer Carl Triano detailed those two team's exploits earlier this year. In doing so, he was attempting to show the long shot nature of another team who had aspirations of competing despite a sizable negative run differential: The Philadelphia Phillies.
We knew earlier in the year when the Phillies were smoking hot that their win/loss record was a mirage, and to belabor the point, one would cast a foreboding look toward their negative run differential (which was around minus 30 runs in mid-May and now sits at a robust minus 97 runs). In contrast, it seems many people want to cut the Royals some slack, and understandably so. This is, after all, largely the same group that captured the crown a mere nine months ago; but performances change from year to year, injuries mount up, and the results to date speak for themselves.
The first big blow to the offense was losing Mike Moustakas in a nasty late May collision with teammate Alex Gordon which resulted in a torn ACL in his right knee and took the productive third baseman out for the season. Even with Moustakas out, the team decided to part ways with Omar Infante in June, finally having their fill of his punchless bat. The aforementioned Gordon has put up a .204/.309/.345 slash line in a slump filled, injury shortened season that has seen him appear in only 66 games. Now, Lorenzo Cain has been out for a month with a lingering hamstring issue.
The pitching staff hasn't been spared either. Chris Young has been injured and ineffective. Kris Medlen has been ineffective and injured. Wade Davis is still the man, but he also has spent time on the DL. The vaunted pen lost Greg Holland (injury) and Ryan Madson (free agency) from last season and appears to have lost a step in the process, checking in at eleventh in bullpen fWAR, down from fifth at the close of 2015.
Baseball Prospectus puts the odds of the Royals making the playoffs at 4.5 percent (though their odds were last updated Saturday morning and have likely gone down). FanGraphs’ odds are even lower, giving the Royals a 2.1 percent chance at making the playoffs, illustrated by this nifty table:
Chart courtesy of FanGraphs
Indeed, there are signs that the Royals have come around to embracing their reality:
Teams talking with the Royals say they're "wide open to listening" on Volquez, Davis, Morales, etc but want MLB-ready players back, not kids— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 25, 2016
Don’t get me wrong: I am not sitting here advocating a complete sell-off; indeed, I’m more of a mind with Corinne Landrey, who suggests trading with an eye toward the immediate future by targeting controllable pieces. By doing that, and getting healthy, there’s no reason with this core that we can’t be talking about the Royals as contenders again in 2017.
As far as 2016 goes, it’s clear that someone else is going to wear that crown.