Don't Kill The Mellinger

Let’s go ahead and look at the AL wild card 'race'

Updated: 2013-08-27T23:04:52Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

We’re gonna try something new here today. Usually, when I begin writing a column or even a blog post I have an idea of what I’m trying to say. Often, I even know how I want to say it. I understand that this is news to many of you (I’m also sober when I write).

That doesn’t apply today (well, the sober part does).

What we’re going to do today is look a little closer at the wild card race because, well, because I just tweeted this:

"#Royals were 8 games back of the Tigers, then won 13 of 15, and are now 8 1/2 games back of the Tigers."

So, gross.

Anyway, this’ll be a little different than what the tireless Pete Grathoff is doing over at Ball Star. Or, at least, I hope it’s different. Like I say, I don’t know where this is going.

If the season ended today, the Rays would win one wild card spot and the A’s and Rangers would be in a virtual tie for the other. Baltimore, Cleveland, and the Royals are also within five games.

Rays, 66-47

Baseball Prospectus playoff chances: 90.6 percent.

Remaining games against contenders: 21 total. Three at Dodgers, three at Orioles, one at Royals, three at A’s, three vs. Red Sox, four vs. Rangers, four vs. Orioles.

Royals’ best hope: Honestly, it’s beating a dead horse, but, uh, Wil Myers is hitting .335/.386/.532 with seven doubles, eight home runs, 30 RBIs and five steals in 41 games. If your Kansas City-ness has forced you to imagine the Royals mounting a glorious run into, say, a one-game playoff only to lose it when Myers hits a walk-off homer, well, you wouldn’t be the first. Whatever the Royals’ best hope truly is, it involves Myers going into a prolonged slump.

A’s, 64-49

Baseball Prospectus playoff chances: 72.4 percent.

Remaining games against contenders: 19 total. Three vs. Indians, three at Orioles, four at Tigers, three vs. Rays, three vs. Rangers, three at Rangers.

Royals’ best hope: The A’s are built mostly on pitching, but can 85-year-old, 415-pound Bartolo Colon keep this up? He’s 14-4 with a 2.75 ERA. His adjusted ERA would be the second-best of his career. If he fades, the rest of the rotation is mediocre, though it’s backed up by a good and well-rested bullpen.

Rangers, 65-50

Baseball Prospectus playoff chances: 80.1 percent.

Remaining games against contenders: 16 total. three at A’s, three vs. Pirates, three vs. A’s, four at Rays, three at Royals.

Royals’ best hope: Unlike the Tigers – who, considering the upgrade defensively and how many ground balls their pitchers throw may have actually improved by replacing Jhonny Peralta with Jose Iglesias – the Rangers basically went with the stoner’s method of coping with Biogenesis. It’s all good, don’t worry about it. Nelson Cruz hit 27 home runs for the Rangers, and was the protection behind cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre. With Cruz suspended, the Rangers have used David Murphy, Engel Beltre and Leonys Martin in right field. The early results are actually quite positive – a right fielder has had a hit in each of three games, and the Rangers have scored 23 runs – but that’s still a big loss. The Royals need it to be a very big loss.

Orioles, 63-51

Baseball Prospectus playoff chances: 24.7 percent.

Remaining games against contenders: 26 total. three at Diamondbacks, three vs. Rays, three vs. A’s, three at Red Sox, three at Indians, three at Red Sox, four at Rays, four vs. Red Sox.

Royals’ best hope: The Orioles have the toughest schedule of the group, and that’s without including seven games against the Yankees, who I haven’t put in here because they’re seven back, five is usually used as the arbitrary cutoff, and also because screw the Yankees. Also, the Orioles rely so heavily on Chris Davis’ production (he’s driven in 20 percent of their runs) that a slump from him^ would be jarring. You remember how he and the Orioles did at the K a few weeks ago, right?

^ I saw a stathead use Davis’ .347 batting average on balls in play as a way of predicting a slump for him. Normally, anything much over .300 is an indication of luck, of unsustainability, so a regression to the mean can be expected. If only it were that simple here. Davis’ babip was .335 last year, .390 the year before that, and .338 for his career. The guy hits a lot of line drives (24 percent of his contact) and a lot of balls out of the yard (24 percent of his fly balls).

Indians, 62-52

Baseball Prospectus playoff chances: 31. 2 percent.

Remaining games against contenders: 19 total. One vs. Tigers, three at A’s, three at Braves, three at Tigers, three vs. Orioles, three vs. Royals, three at Royals.

Royals’ best hope: this one’s simpler, because with six games left against the Indians the Royals don’t need hope. They just need to beat the Indians head-to-head. Not that a little help wouldn’t be appreciated, and toward that end, can Jason Kipnis wake up and realize he’s Jason Kipnis? Also, the Indians’ pitching is only so-so: ninth in the league in ERA. They’re particularly vulnerable in the bullpen, which took two losses out of the last three in the Tigers’ series.

Royals, 58-53

Baseball Prospectus playoff chances: 3.7 percent.

Remaining games against contenders: 25 total. Four vs. Red Sox, five at Tigers, one vs. Rays, three vs. Tigers, three at Indians, three at Tigers, three vs. Indians, three vs. Rangers.

Royals’ best hope: contrary to a talking point that seems to be making its way around the city, the offense isn’t doing all that much better. The Royals are averaging 4.3 runs per game since the All-Star break, compared with 4.0 before the break. As with pretty much everything else about this team, it’s the pitching and defense: 2.7 runs allowed after the break, compared with 4.1 before. I don’t mean that as a buzzkill. Quite the opposite, actually. There are signs that Eric Hosmer has it figured out, and Mike Moustakas has been dangerous the last few weeks. If the Royals can get consistency out of their top five hitters – Hosmer, Moose, Perez, Gordon and Butler – with one or two being hot at any given time, then contributions from some of the others, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to keep this interesting.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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