The Kansas City Royals are a fairly dismal 65-78 this year following last night’s tough loss to the Minnesota Twins. It’s not close to even being .500 let alone in contention for any significant honours. This is usually where the phrase ‘playing for pride’ gets trotted out and it’s certainly not an inaccurate one. The Royals are indeed playing for the goal of holding their heads high in the offseason and getting to whatever small milestones they can. But the schedule means that there is another word frequently heard about the Royals: ‘spoilers’.
The Royals this year have seven games left against the Detroit Tigers (four in Detroit, three in Kansas City) and three at home against each of the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox. The Tigers and White Sox are locked in a close battle for the AL Central title and the Angels are just about clinging to life in the Wild Card race. All three know that a bad series against the Royals could be a disaster. This is not the role that the Royals would have envisioned at the start of the year, but it is one they seem to be taking with some relish. Since the start of a three game series against the White Sox on 17 August, the Royals are 10-6 against playoff chasing teams and have won five out of six against the Tigers and White Sox.
It makes for a very interesting looking last fortnight of the season in the AL Central. The Tigers and White Sox play each other just one more time; a makeup of what would have been yesterday’s game. Not only will their relative performances against the Royals make a significant impact on the final standings, but the Tigers actually finish the year with a three game series in Kansas City. It’s possible the division could already be decided by the time that starts on 1 October, but it is unlikely. The Tigers will not be too concerned of course, one hardly expects to lose to a third place team, but they will no doubt be wary of a repeat of 2006. That year the Royals ended the season by sweeping Detroit out of first place. The team who might be a bit more concerned is Chicago. They only have three games against the Royals remaining and are still in first place. But they are 5-10 against the Royals this season and the last time they were in Kansas City they were swept in a three game series.
Regardless of how the division actually finishes, this is good for the Royals. They will get a taste of spotlight and opposition of a tight pennant chase and with a young team who they are looking to plant in that spotlight in the next few years this will be a valuable experience. (They won’t get much of the atmosphere playing at home, though the four game series in Detroit might provide that.) Playing spoiler is not the next best thing to a proper pennant chase, but the Royals have been out of contention for so many years that being able to do it properly is still quite welcome.