Last season, one of the toughest parts of watching the Royals down the stretch was that they hardly ever managed to beat a team by a large number of runs. Every game seemed like it was scratch and claw, get it to the pen and win by one or two runs. Every game had stress. Every game had to be followed to the bitter end. They were almost tough to enjoy. Everyone loves watching a blowout, and that was the last thing the Royals did. Sometimes its nice to just sit back and enjoy a game you know you are going to win.
For the first time in 30 years, the Royals are primed to be division winners – the first time winning the American League Central Division in franchise history. During the existence of the division itself, the Royals have gone through a great transformation. The strike-shortened 1994 season was the last memory many had of Kansas City being a legitimate contender. They of course never got that chance, and the years that followed saw the Royals finish either third or worse 18 of the first 19 seasons the division was in existence. The out of place darlings of the 2003 season being the lone exception in which the Royals were able to even finish above .500 until they broke through in 2013.
For as long as the Central Division has known the Royals, the Royals have stunk. Last season was the closest they had come to winning the division when they finished a single game back of the Detroit Tigers.
While the Royals have rightfully laid claim to being the American League Champions, they still have a large piece of unfinished business and that is to ensure bringing the Central Division title to Kansas City. Regardless of how important someone may think it to be in this day in age of Wildcard games, it still stands to reason that the Royals do not yet have one and its time for that to end.
Entering today, the Royals (63-42) maintain a 9.5-game advantage over the tumbling darlings of the division, Minnesota Twins. The Twins find themselves 2-8 in their last 10 games and have begun to dig themselves into a hole in regards to even having a shot at the postseason. They now sit one game out of the final Wild Card trailing both the Angels and Blue Jays, and are now only two games over .500. This after at one point sitting at a season-high 10 games over .500 at 50-40. In fact, if the Royals went 29-28 down the stretch, the Twins would have to go 38-18, just to tie for the divisional lead.
The next closest contender for the Central Division crown is the defending champion Detroit Tigers. Most will remember they are the team that decided to sell at the deadline and have since found themselves without their longstanding GM Dave Dombrowski after he was released by the owner out of a necessity for “going a different direction.”
The Tigers traded ace pitcher David Price, masher Yoenis Cespedes and former Royals closer Joakim Soria. While it could be argued the Tigers did an excellent job of building a foundation for the future with the haul they received for these pieces, they certainly have done nothing but hinder any opportunity for this season. They currently sit at 51-55 and have lost six of their last 10.
Looking at the rest of the division, the White Sox made a brief run at returning to relevance with a 7-game winning streak before more recently losing six out of seven, and the Indians have looked the part of divisional doormat for almost the entirety of the season.
So what does all this mean?
Despite the inclination for most Royals fans to constantly feel the need to look for the inevitable collapse, the Royals are in a pretty good place. The closest threat to them is a team plummeting to the .500 mark. The next closest team just sold out to not even try and the teams below them show no signs of being any threat at all.
The Central Division is the Royals Division to lose.
Fangraphs even goes so far as to give them a 98.3% change to win the division. Its the beginning of AUGUST folks!
The numbers aren’t quite there yet, but they are growing and the Royals have not even been doing so great. They just got finished losing four out of five games between the Jays and the final game with the Indians, yet after winning last night have actually WIDENED the margin. If they can just managed to maintain, the rest of the teams might just take care of the rest for them.
Of course there are always examples to cite, the most recent and notable being last years Oakland Athletics, but even they still managed to make the playoffs after a collapse that saw them finish 14 games over .500 after at one point being 23 games over. Its possible the Royals may share the same fate, but one major difference is the Royals did not trade away any pieces ON the team like the A’s with Yoenis Cespedes (who has been on four teams now in the last 160 games ). Never trade what you need for something you need. After that trade, the A’s simply quit hitting the ball, and we all remember the ultimate demise in the Wild Card game.
So relax…kick back…enjoy the season. The Royals are the defending American League Champions. They have zero pressure to end any playoff droughts. They are still playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and they still want to win. That’s a pretty good combination.
Pair that with a dominant lead in the division, the closest threats falling away, and having the best record in the AL? Well…..this one is turning into a blowout.
Next up? Homefield advantage.
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