Away from the heat and light of the playoff races there are still smaller battles going on for the teams who were long sense out of contention. One of those takes place at the weekend with the Cleveland Indians making their last visit of the year to Kauffman Stadium and the Kansas City Royals. It is not an important series on the face of it, but that can be deceptive.
For the Indians, they are trying to regroup at the end of the season after a collapse of staggering proportions. At the All-Star break they were 44-41, in second place and only three games off the division lead. But since then they have gone 18-47 including an eleven game losing streak and an incredible 5-24 month of August. So far this month they are 7-11. It’s still not been good, but they have just about kept themselves out of last place. They would very much like to end the year on a positive run and start to put the shambles of the second half behind them now rather than next March.
The Royals are in a fairly similar situation, albeit less dramatically. The year has not gone to plan, but hopes are higher for next year and a good finish to this season would not at all go amiss. They are 9-10 so far this month and if they get that above .500 it would be the fourth time this season they have had a month with more wins than losses. (The problem has been that they other two months have seen way more losses than wins.) The Royals also have a chance to all but secure a third place finish. They come into the game 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland (who are tied for fourth with Minnesota). With six head to head games left in the year, the Royals know that even a decent series should guarantee a mid-table finish for the first time since 2003 and only the third time since 1995. It would certainly be a nice boost as they try to force their way into playoff contention in the next few years.
Beyond any of that, however, is the simple fact that there has been some bad blood between the two teams recently. If one were to pinpoint an obvious candidate for a Central Division rival for the Royals it would be the White Sox, but in fact it is the Royals-Indians games which have come much closer to having that sort of atmosphere. Already this year we have seen batters intentionally hit, fines handed down from the league for tweeting about trying to hit batters, a bench clearing incident and a disgraceful bit of showboating by Indians closer Chris Perez. (And in case anyone thinks that last one flew under the radar, the video was very promptly shown after he gave up the game winning hit in Kansas City a month later.) There will have been few tears shed in Kansas City about the Indians post ASG failings this year and there will likely be some extra interest around this series.