The Kansas City Royals are not playing well. They dropped an extra-inning game to Minnesota late Wednesday night and are 83-56, still with the best record in the American League.
The Royals remain comfortably ahead of the second-place Twins in the American League Central. They’re going to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
But KC still has something big to play for – home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. And while once it appeared the Royals were a lock for that edge, things have changed.
Because the Toronto Blue Jays have changed.
The Royals were 61-39 on July 29 and blowing away the rest of the American League. Toronto was in everybody’s rear-view mirror, sputtering along at 51-51.
Since then, however, the reinforced Blue Jays are 28-9 while the Royals are 22-17 for a net gain of seven games for the Jays. Toronto now trails KC by just four games in the race for the American League’s best record.
The New York Yankees are still in the mix, too, just a game-and-a-half behind Toronto in the AL East and 5 1/2 behind KC for best record.
So the final three weeks-plus has significance and it starts tonight when the Toronto begins a huge four-game series against the Yanks at Yankee Stadium.
The Royals begin a three-game series at Baltimore on Friday and will play 17 of their final 23 games on the road.
Toronto, meanwhile, will play 13 of its remaining 23 games on the road while the Yankees have 12 road games and 11 at home.
Toronto and the Yankees meet seven times down the stretch. The Blue Jays also have a four-game set at Baltimore with three-game trips to Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
New York has a three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field as well as three on the road against Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore.
Here are the remaining schedules for the three AL teams chasing the league’s best record:
Kansas City (83-56) – at Baltimore (3), at Cleveland (4), at Detroit (3), Seattle (3), Cleveland (3), at Cubs (1), at White Sox (3), at Minnesota (3).
Toronto (79-60) – at Yankees (4), at Atlanta (3), Boston (3), Yankees (3), Tampa Bay (3), at Baltimore (4), at Tampa Bay (3).
New York (77-61) – Toronto (4), at Tampa Bay (3), at Mets (3), at Toronto (3), White Sox (3), Boston (4), at Baltimore (3).
The rest of September is going to be fun. The Royals are 48-27 at Kauffman Stadium and 35-29 on the road. Toronto is hard-charging, but those seven games left with the Yankees are going to be huge. Let’s see what happens.
▪ Who is the Royals’ MVP so far?
Lorenzo Cain gets votes. Eric Hosmer gets votes. Wade Davis gets votes.
What about Kendrys Morales. Some – I won’t name names – scoffed at the notion of picking up Morales as DH after the 2014 season. It appeared his career was in decline and some questioned – again, not naming names – wondered whether he was an upgrade over Billy Butler, who left for Oakland.
Well, Morales has been a huge middle-of-the-order bat for the Royals. He leads KC with 101 RBI and 39 doubles and has smacked 17 home runs. He’s been more than the Royals could have imagined as has given the lineup just the right chemistry. He’s one of the best acquisitions in Royals history.
I’d probably go with Cain as the MVP because of his all-around mad skills. But Morales has been a big part of the team’s improved offense.
▪ Ben Zobrist is working out rather well, wouldn’t you agree?
The Royals need to try and sign him as a free agent after the season, but that’s a topic for another day.
Zobrist and Johnny Cueto were big acquisitions at this season’s trade deadline and while Cueto has struggled recently, Zobrist has been a consistently-good addition to the offense.
But how are the pitchers the Royals dealt away for Cueto and Zobrist doing? It’s a mixed bag.
Kansas City sent Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed to Cincinnati in the Cueto deal.
Finnegan, who had an impact in the postseason for the Royals last season, has struggled since being traded. In eight starts at Triple-A Louisville, he was 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA.
Lamb, who starts tonight for the Reds against St. Louis, is 0-3 with a 6.11 ERA in five starts for Cincy.
Reed, though, has had a better time of it since being traded. At Double-A Pensacola in the Southern League, the 22-year-old is 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA over 49.2 innings, during which he’s struck out 60.
The two pitchers traded to Oakland for Zobrist also have had mixed results.
Aaron Brooks has made six starts with the A’s and is 1-3 with a 7.62 ERA.
Meanwhile, left-hander Sean Manaea, pitching for Double-A Midland in the Texas League, is 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA in seven starts. He’s fanned 51 in 42.2 innings.
Thanks for reading.