Late-season charges nothing new to Royals

Late-season charges nothing new to Royals

KANSAS CITY -- On Aug. 5, the Kansas City Royals dropped their third straight game, falling, 4-3, to the Blue Jays. At that point, the 2015 World Series champions were just 51-58 and sat 11 games back of the first-place Indians in the American League Central and 9 1/2 games back of an AL Wild Card spot. Any hopes of a playoff run seemed to be dwindling.

But marginal odds have never stopped the Royals before. They've defied logic, overcoming deficit after deficit for two magical postseason runs. They trailed, 7-3, with five outs left in the 2014 AL Wild Card Game against the A's. One year later, they trailed the Astros, 6-2, entering the eighth inning of an elimination game in the AL Division Series. Both times they came back.

And sure enough, it seems as though Kansas City is on the doorstep of another comeback. Winners of 13 of 15, as well as five straight series, the club has thrust its name back into the playoff conversation.

"I can't explain it, you just ride it," manager Ned Yost said. "It feels good, don't get me wrong, but it's a run that was not unexpected. We knew even when we were struggling, we were going to get it together and go on a nice run and make things real interesting. We were just waiting for that to happen."

And things have certainly heated up in August. After finishing off their first four-game sweep over the Twins since May 1999, the Royals will enter Tuesday's series against the Marlins having won eight in a row.

"Our rotation has been unbelievable. Our bullpen is back, doing what we're known to do," left-hander Danny Duffy said. "The team's been doing great. [We] just have to keep that up."

Duffy's strong start

"This whole streak that we've been playing with, I feel like everybody's been kind of clicking at the same time," right-hander Ian Kennedy said. "You knew this group was capable of doing it. It just took a little while."

As the season winds down, Kansas City has a chance to continue to move up in the standings. The Royals have 20 games remaining against teams with a worse record than them, as well as 17 games remaining against teams below .500. There's also a chance, however slim, that they could get back into the AL Central race. The Indians have a seven-game cushion over the second-place Tigers, and the Royals are eight games back.

Kansas City will play 20 of its remaining 38 games at Kauffman Stadium. Cleveland, meanwhile, will finish the final quarter of the season with an extra road game and will also have to deal with the Rangers, who lead the AL West, in addition to the Marlins and Astros, both of whom are contending for playoff spots.

Nothing can be taken for granted. The Indians have already been swept once by the Royals this year, and they have had problems with the lowly Twins, who have taken three of four series against the AL Central leaders. Kansas City, which has gone 34-17 against the division this year, has had no such qualms, disposing of Minnesota in 11 of 13 meetings.

"We're playing really good right now. The team is doing way better, too," shortstop and 2015 AL Championship Series MVP Alcides Escobar said. "Yeah, it's good because in the last month, we play a lot of games against teams in the Central. ... That's really good for us. [We're] just trying to win those games."

Escobar's RBI groundout

But it seems the best bet for the Royals would be to snag one of the two Wild Card spots, similar to two seasons ago. Entering Monday, the Royals were 3 1/2 games back of the Orioles for the second spot, with the Astros, Tigers and Mariners still ahead of them. Kansas City is 9-1 over its past 10 games, however, compared to 4-6 for the Orioles. None of the three teams between them has won more than six of its last 10.

And if the Royals are going to climb up the standings, they'll probably need to finish the season somewhere in the vicinity of 24-14. That would give the them 88 wins, which would have been enough for a playoff spot in the AL in each of the past two seasons.

And while that number might seem steep -- it's nearly a 103-win pace for an entire season -- it isn't out of the question. Given the Royals' record against the Twins (11-2), White Sox (9-3) and Tigers (9-4), they'd project to finish 14-5 in their remaining games against those teams if they continue to beat them at a similar rate, putting them 13 games over .500. If they are able to do that while playing merely .500 ball in all of their other games, they'd sit at 86-73 going into the final series of the season -- at home vs. the Indians.

At that point, they still might need three wins to make the playoffs -- if they haven't been eliminated already. But if the Royals have shown one thing over the past two years, it's that it's foolish to count them out prematurely.

"We just tried to start fresh. We got rolling against Detroit there and ... kept building off that," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "Honestly, we're not even really thinking about Wild Card, we're not thinking about division. We're thinking about just getting done what we need to get done in here. ... We all know what we're capable of. We all know as a team we can go on some crazy runs and make some things happen, but the only way that stuff happens is if we take care of business in here."

Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.