Royals

After beating the Tigers 6-1, the Royals believe they still can make a run to the postseason

Eric Hosmer (35) celebrated in the dugout with his Royals teammates after he hit a solo home run in the seventh inning off Tigers ace Justin Verlander on Tuesday night in Detroit.
Eric Hosmer (35) celebrated in the dugout with his Royals teammates after he hit a solo home run in the seventh inning off Tigers ace Justin Verlander on Tuesday night in Detroit. The Associated Press

It was the final weeks of August, and a baseball team was struggling. The lineup featured All-Stars, and the team had a playoff pedigree, and a city had become accustomed to winning. And still, it did not matter. For close to five months, a group of good friends lingered around .500, treading water and teasing their fans with moments of hope.

The losses mounted. So did the injuries. The natives grew restless. As the calendar pushed toward September, the fans in a Midwestern city prepared for an October without playoff baseball.

If this sounds like the 2016 Royals, you would be not be mistaken. But in this case, the story is about the 2009 Minnesota Twins, the last team to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record after 120 games — and now the model for what the defending World Series champions are trying to do.

This is a story with precedent — but barely. This is a trip to the Roulette wheel at midnight. This is an idea that, that after a 6-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday, does not seem quite so crazy.

“We have as good a possibility of going on a run to finish this thing off as anybody does,” said left-hander Danny Duffy, after crafting another gem. “I believe that we can do it. All of us do.”

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Baseball history, of course, is littered with second-half charges, historic collapses and improbable playoff appearances. The juggernaut fades. The chase begins. The impossible dream becomes real. But there is also a reason the playoff projections at FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Royals roughly a 3 percent chance to make the playoffs as of Tuesday night afternoon.

Teams are not supposed to come back from this with 40-plus games left. But in 2009, one did. The Twins sat at 58-62 after 120 games, 5  1/2 games back in the American League Central. Six weeks later, they were crowned American League Central champions, finishing 87-76 and taking down the Detroit Tigers in a one-game playoff. Seven years later, the Royals still believe they are capable of something similar.

“It’s not easy, obviously,” said reliever Wade Davis, still confined to the disabled list. “I think you probably need some help along the way. But you got to do a lot of the work yourself. It’ll be hard, but for sure, we can.”

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The parallels between the 2016 Royals and 2009 Twins are hardly perfect. For one, the Twins were dealing with a much more manageable challenge in the American League Central. There is also now a second wild card spot, which changes the dynamic. But for the moment, the Royals are doing their part.

On Tuesday at Comerica Park, they took down the Tigers for the second straight night, improving to 10-5 in August and 4-1 on a six-game road trip. Duffy allowed just one earned run in 7  2/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.73 and burnishing his credentials as a bonafide ace. The offense popped four homers, including three solo shots against Detroit starter Justin Verlander. (Raul Mondesi led the way with his first career blast.) The Royals, 59-60, climbed within one game of .500 as they prepared to play their 120th game of the season on Wednesday.

There is nothing particularly magical about the 120-game mark, of course. But there is this fact: In the last 10 years, 88 major-league teams have made the playoffs. Just two were at or below .500 after 120 games.

The Royals are trying to become the third.

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“All you need is a little window,” Davis said. “You don’t need much to motivate you to push, you know. Obviously, if you get into the last week and you’re seven games back, that’ll be tough. But as long as you’re within some kind of striking distance and you play those teams enough, which we happen to, I think that gives us an opportunity to stay motivated and keep playing.”

For now, of course, this is all a little conceptual. And to imagine the Royals making a genuine run over the next six weeks is to ignore the flaws that have plagued them all season. There is still no fifth starter. The offense can still have lulls. Until this trip, the road has been a real bear.

But if you’re searching for strands of hope, you could find them on Tuesday night in Detroit. There was Alex Gordon, cranking a 420-homer to right field and hitting .393 over a seven-game hitting streak. There was Eric Hosmer, hitting a mammoth shot to center and ending a homer drought that stretched back to July 31. There was the Royals’ bullpen, down Davis and Luke Hochevar, allowing nothing over 1  1/3 innings.

And yes, there was Duffy, delivering yet again, continuing his dark horse campaign for the American League Cy Young award after another dominating effort. Duffy finished with five strikeouts and allowed just three hits and two walks. When the night was over, he had improved to 4-0 with a 1.14 ERA in the month of August. On Tuesday, he cruised despite a changeup that offered issues for much of the night.

“I say this every time,” Duffy said, “but I’m just trying to keep it simple and follow (catcher Salvador Perez). He called as good of a game as I threw tonight. And I just follow him. My defense made great plays behind me, once again. They never cease to impress.”

So here the Royals, still 10 games out of first in the American League Central, still chasing five teams in the race for the second wild card spot, still a long shot for another miracle. But hey, it could be worse. For the moment, they are still breathing.

“There’s not a single person in here that doesn’t think we could go get it,” Duffy said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Royals 6, Tigers 1

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Orlando cf

4

0

0

0

0

3

.326

Cuthbert 3b

4

0

0

1

0

0

.294

Cain rf

4

0

1

1

0

1

.282

Hosmer 1b

4

1

1

1

0

0

.271

Morales dh

4

1

1

1

0

1

.243

Perez c

4

0

0

0

0

1

.256

Gordon lf

4

2

1

1

0

0

.217

Escobar ss

4

0

1

0

0

0

.260

Mondesi 2b

2

2

1

1

1

1

.213

Totals

34

6

6

6

1

7

 

Detroit

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Kinsler 2b

3

0

0

0

1

1

.286

McGehee 3b

4

0

0

0

0

1

.282

V.Martinez dh

4

0

1

0

0

0

.301

J.Martinez rf

4

0

1

0

0

0

.305

Upton lf

3

0

0

0

0

1

.226

McCann c

3

0

0

0

0

1

.210

Saltalamacchia 1b

2

1

1

1

1

0

.200

Machado ss

3

0

0

0

0

1

.125

Collins cf

3

0

0

0

0

2

.232

Totals

29

1

3

1

2

7

 

Kansas City

001

010

121

6

6

0

Detroit

000

010

000

1

3

1

E: Saltalamacchia (4). LOB: Kansas City 2, Detroit 3. 2B: Cain (15), J.Martinez (24). HR: Mondesi (1), off Verlander; Gordon (9), off Verlander; Hosmer (16), off Verlander; Morales (20), off Lowe; Saltalamacchia (11), off Duffy. RBIs: Cuthbert (38), Cain (48), Hosmer (67), Morales (56), Gordon (19), Mondesi (7), Saltalamacchia (34).

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 2 (Hosmer 2); Detroit 3 (Kinsler, McCann, Saltalamacchia). RISP: Kansas City 2 for 5; Detroit 0 for 8. Runners moved up: Upton.

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Duffy W, 10-1

7.2

3

1

1

2

5

103

2.73

Soria

0.1

0

0

0

0

1

5

4.03

Moylan

1

0

0

0

0

1

6

3.60

Detroit

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Verlander L, 12-7

7

4

5

3

1

6

112

3.44

Rondon

0.2

1

0

0

0

1

7

3.93

Ryan

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

1

3.02

Lowe

1

1

1

1

0

0

10

7.81

Verlander pitched to 3 batters in the 8th.

Inherited runners-scored: Soria 1-0, Rondon 3-2, Ryan 2-0. WP: Duffy 2.

Umpires: Home, Dale Scott; First, Lance Barrett; Second, Bob Davidson; Third, Dan Iassogna. Time: 2:43. Att: 28,663.

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