Tag Archive | "Three Games"

Justin Maxwell’s blast helps keep Royals’ playoff hopes alive

When Justin Maxwell walked up to the plate in the 10th inning of Sunday’s game against the Rangers, anyone watching could sense that it was a big moment. Whether you were one of the thousands and Kauffman who rose to your feet or whether you were glued to the television, you could sense the enormity of the situation.

Royals Twins Baseball

The score was tied 0-0 in the tenth inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Former Royal Joakim Soria was on the mound for the Rangers. The Royals were battling for their playoff lives against a team that sat ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.

Maxwell worked deep in the count before squaring up a fastball, sending a no-doubter over the fence in left field. After making contact, Maxwell threw both hands in the air, sensing how big the hit he just delivered really was.

For Royals fans who haven’t had much to cheer about over recent years, this was a signature moment in a season that has surprised even the most die-hard fans.

The 4-0 victory gave the Royals a series win against the struggling Rangers. Texas, who once seemed a lock for the postseason now sits 1.5 games behind the Indians, who now hold on to the second Wild Card spot.

It should be an exciting last week, as five teams are still in contention. The Royals are now 3.5 games back, the Yankees 4 games back and the Orioles 4.5 games back.

The Royals have three games in Seattle against the Mariners and close with four games in Chicago against the White Sox. The Royals have their work cut out for them, because they have to pass two teams and hold off the two teams that are nipping at their heels.

Kansas City turns to prized prospect Yordano Ventura, who will start on Monday against the Mariners in one of the biggest games of the year. It is only the second career start for the flame-throwing right-hander.

The Royals need to win nearly every game to make up their 3.5 game deficit and emerge from the five-team clutter.

Every game is important, and as Maxwell showed on Sunday, any moment can become an iconic moment as the Royals attempt to make the postseason for the first time since 1985.

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The Royals hang on in playoff hunt

When a team like the Royals are in a Wild Card chase, every game is like a playoff game. And when they play six games against two teams ahead of them in the division, it’s important to win those games. In last Friday’s game against the A. L. Central leading Detroit Tigers, the Royals didn’t play well and lost 6-3. They rebounded in Saturday’s game and won 1-0, evening the series. In Sunday’s series finale, the Royals were tied 2-2 through seven and a half innings. Manager Ned Yost made the decision to have Jeremy Guthrie pitch the bottom half of the eighth, who at the time kept the Royals in the game.  But it was a costly decision, with Guthrie giving up a home run to Alex Avila, handing the Royals a 3-2 loss. In a crucial series, the  Royals lost two out of three games to the Tigers. It was a series the Royals really needed to win, but they didn’t.

JeremyGuthrie

Next up, the Cleveland Indians. With their two losses to Detroit, the Royals needed to sweep the Indians to move up in the Wild Card standings. And after their 7-1 victory Monday night, a sweep looked possible. Royals top pitching prospect Yordano Ventura was on the hill for Tuesday’s game and for six innings, Ventura kept the Indians to one run, striking out three and walking two before handing a 3-1 lead the the Royals reliable bullpen.

But the bullpen wasn’t reliable that night. A shaky outing from Kelvin Herrera tied the game at 3-3 and Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar each gave up a run, giving the Royals a 5-3 loss. In a 162 game season, one loss isn’t a big deal. But in a tight Wild Card race, a loss could mean missing the playoffs. Had the Royals won, they would be two games back of the second wild card spot with 11 games to go. Instead, they ended up 3.5 games back. It was a game the Royals needed to win, but they didn’t.

But if there’s a theme for the 2013 Royals, it’s resiliency. With their playoff chances on the line, the Royals came back Wednesday night with a 7-2 victory. While the win keeps their playoff hopes alive, the Royals still have three teams ahead of them in the Wild Card chase, and they’re 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. With ten games remaining and an 80-72 record, time and games are running out. But the next three games at Kauffman Stadium are against the struggling Texas Rangers, one of the Wild Card hopefuls. From there, the Royals finish the season on the road against the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox.

With ten games to go and 8.5 games back of the Tigers, the only chance for the Royals to make the playoffs is a Wild Card berth. To do that, they need to win seven or eight games and have key losses from other teams in the Wild Card hunt to make the playoffs. It’s a long shot, but it’s up to the Royals to win their games and make it happen.

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The St. Louis Cardinals Versus Left Handed Pitching

FransiscoLiriano

 

The St. Louis Cardinals struggle against left-handed pitching so goes conventional wisdom. I really can’t remember a time that this wasn’t said. During the 80’s, The Cards struggled against lefties like Sid Fernandez (as if any of The Cardinals today have anything at all to do with the players in the 80′s) while being able to score runs off of great right-handers like Nolan Ryan. It was credited to the fact that Fernandez was a lefty and not the fact that at his height, he was almost at the level of Ryan as a pitcher.

I bring up the past, not because it means anything to today, but I wonder if that conventional wisdom that is part of the team’s history may be why people are so quick to repeat it today. The point is, if The Cardinals struggle off of a righty, the struggles are credited to other factors. But against lefties, it’s almost always credited to the fact he is just a lefty.

So with the playoffs coming up, and some great lefties on the horizon like Francisco Liriano and Clayton Kershaw, I want to study how successful The Cardinals really are against lefties.

A recent Post-Dispatch article pointed out The Cards were 15-20 against lefties. The article stated:

Those wins stand out because the Cardinals this season are 15-20 against left-handed starters. They’re the only team in the National League with a winning record that has a losing record against lefties.

The Cardinals have the highest average in the National League overall at .272, but they are hitting just .239 against left-handed pitchers, which puts them 11th. In the three games against left-handed starters before Sunday, they were hitting .306. And even if you add in the struggles they had against Minor, they’re still at .281 in their past four games. That’s a big step forward.

The article was written on August 30th. Since then The Cards have gone 2-2 against lefties. The problem is more to do with small sample size than actual facts. The Post-Dispatch articles argues that the Cardinals are improving against lefties by winning 3 in a row before losing to Mike Minor. So if you add the 2-2 record in since then, they are 5-3. But the article then desperately tries to figure out a reason why The Cardinals are improving, even crediting Kolten Wong.

The recent success the Cardinals have had against lefties started right about the time they called up Kolten Wong from Memphis and the team shifted to more of a platoon concept. It’s not a strict platoon, since right-handers David Freese and Pete Kozma still get starts against opposing right-handers. But the Cardinals’ lineup Sunday had just one lefty, second baseman Matt Carpenter. Otherwise, Matheny went with his right-handed options when he could: Shane Robinson instead of lefty Jon Jay in center, Kozma instead of lefty Daniel Descalso at short and Freese at third instead of the Wong-Carpenter parlay

But as we now know, Wong struggled greatly this year hitting .163/.196/.184. But regardless of his struggles, The Cards winning pct improved against lefties. The article even points out The Cardinals are 2-0 against Kershaw, but even that doesn’t mean too much as both games they won because of good pitching. On Aug 6th they beat Kershaw by scoring 2 runs off of him and on May 26th they scored 4 runs off of him.

So more than likely the “struggles” against lefties is more overevaluting a small sample size, as any 35 game period for the best teams in baseball can produce a slightly below .500 record. As did the 35 games The Post-Dispatch viewed.

But when we look deeper at the stats, and not focus so much on wins and losses, this is what we see:

Versus righties The Cards are: .279/.341/.410/ with a WRC+ 110.

Versus lefties The Cards are: .235/.297/.370 with a wRC+ 85

Now when you compare The Cardinals to other teams, you do see slightly inferior numbers.

Other teams against lefties

Pirates 263/.332/.410 wRC+ 110

Dodgers .266/.328/.396 wRC+ 104

Reds .242/.318/.391 wRC+93

So why do The Cardinals struggle against lefties? It would show proof if you saw lefties shutting down left-handed hitters on the team. But against lefties, Matt Carpenter has a great OPS of .803, Matt Adams a slightly below average OPS of .667 and Jon Jay has an OPS of .602, which could be deemed as struggling if it wasn’t for the fact that Jay has struggled as a hitter altogether this year.

So who is really struggling against lefthanders? Molina’s OPS is .891; Holliday’s OPS is .770; even Freese’s OPS is .787 despite having an OPS of .691 against righties. Most of the starting players on the team have an OPS over .700 against lefties.

The big anchor on the team seems to be (surprise surprise) Pete Kozma. Kozma has the third most at bats against lefties this year at 137 with a horrible OPS of .551. By allowing someone so underachieving to rack up so many at bats is sure to bring the team average down. By removing him from the equation, The Cardinals numbers are more equal to the other teams in comparison. That may be an irrelevant point, as someone has to play shortstop this post season, and it’s either him or Descalso who has an OPS of .586 against lefties. But it does bring some assurance that an outlier is hurting the team as opposed to it being a team epidemic.

It appears the conventional wisdom that The Cardinals can’t hit lefties is created for several reasons. 1) It is a smaller sample size 2) fans are over evaluating the randomness of the win-loss record against lefties, which is actually just under .500 and 3) Kozma played so poorly this year over so many at bats that it brings the numbers down.

Whatever theory you accept, at least take solace in knowing the numbers against lefties are improving, either by strategy or just the numbers regressing back to the mean as more games are played.

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Examining the Royals’ rest of season schedule

The end of the season is drawing closer and closer and the playoff race is heating up in the American League. The Kansas City Royals, despite dropping two of three games in Detroit, still have hopes of catching one of the two wild card spots.

JamesShields

Kansas City currently sits 3.5 games behind the Rays and the Rangers who are both 81-67 and would be the two wild card teams if the season ended today.

The problem for the Royals is they would have to pass four teams in order to make the postseason. The Indians are just 0.5 games out of the wild card, while the Orioles are 2.5 and the Yankees are 3.0. The Royals have 13 games remaining and need to get hot quickly. Let’s take a look at the Royals’ remaining schedule:

3-game home set with the Indians starting Monday
This is a big opportunity for the Royals to make up games in the standings. Kansas City is 7-9 on the season against the Indians, but they took two of three at the Tribe a week ago. The Royals will have ace James Shields on the mound to open the three-game set, going up against lefty Scott Kazmir of the Indians. Shields beat Kazmir back on September 11 in Cleveland.

3-game home set with Rangers starting 9/20
This is another chance for the Royals to make up ground in the wild card race. Texas has struggled in September after leading the AL west for a large portion of the year. The Royals are just 1-2 against Texas this year, after losing a series back in early June.

3-game set at the Mariners starting 9/23
The Royals are 3-1 this year against Seattle after taking three of four in a home series with the Mariners back in the first week of September. All four games in that series were deciding by two runs or less, so this should be a challenging series for the Royals in a time where they need to pick up victories.

4-game set at the White Sox starting 9/26
The Royals close the season in Chicago facing the last-place White Sox. This could be a dangerous series as the White Sox have little to play for except for spoiling the Royals’ season. Chicago actually leads this season series 8-7, but the two teams haven’t met since the end of July.

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Home-field advantage could be vital for St. Louis Cardinals

Although the St. Louis Cardinals did not have full possession of first place in their own division heading into play Sunday, they were just three games away from having the best record in the National League, which could be a vital advantage come October.

Busch_Stadium Retired Numbers

The Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates had identical 86-62 records as of Sunday and both trailed the Atlanta Braves by three games for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, until the World Series, of course, because the American League won the All-Star Game in July.

But that nonsense aside, home-field advantage is a strong reward for having the best record. The term includes the word “advantage” for a reason. Part of what doomed the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants was the same factor that helped St. Louis win the World Series the year before.

Those winning teams played games 6 and 7 at home where they felt more comfortable and could feed off of the energy from their fans and the home environment.

Now, home-field advantage certainly does not guarantee success. The Cardinals won every postseason series in 2006 despite never having home-field advantage, and they beat the Washington Nationals in the 2012 division series even though the final three games were in Washington, D.C.

But home-field advantage certainly does help, and it could help the Cardinals this year more than normal, especially with the glut of young pitchers on the roster and potential postseason starters in second-year pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

Along with a much better record against teams below the .500 mark, the Cardinals other lopsided record is their home and away splits.

St. Louis has played 20 games above .500 at Busch Stadium compared to four games above .500 on the road. Not surprisingly, their stats fall in line with those records.

The Cardinals hit for a .271 batting average at home compared to .260 on the road, but the bigger difference is how the pitching staff performs in away games. The Cardinals’ staff has a 3.29 earned-run average in home games but a 3.73 ERA on the road.

It would also be important for the Cardinals to finish with the best record in the National League because their potential postseason opponents have even more dramatic home and road splits.

The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers pitch to a 3.13 ERA at home compared to 3.47 on the road, and the NL East-leading Braves have a National League-best 2.47 home ERA but a 3.70 ERA away from Turner Field.

The only aspect of the game that would benefit a road team is the Dodgers offense, which hits .258 at Dodger Stadium and a Major League Baseball-best .274 on the road.

The Cardinals also lost three of their four games at home to the Dodgers in early August, but that was also during a stretch when they lost 13 of 17 games that included a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta.

Once the Cardinals got their season back together, they took three of four from the Braves in late August at Busch Stadium. They have also won six of nine games against the Pirates at home while losing seven of 10 in Pittsburgh. Against the third-place team in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals have also won six of nine home games and split the away games 5-5.

The Cardinals are nearly guaranteed a spot in the 2013 playoffs and have an excellent chance to win the NL Central with just one opponent with a winning record, the Washington Nationals, remaining.

But they also still have a chance to catch the Braves for the best record in the National League, and that accomplishment could make a large difference in which team represents the league in the World Series.

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Could the Royals make the playoffs?

Perhaps it’s the Royals fan in me, but I’m waiting for the Kansas City Royals to go on another losing streak and fall out of the Wild Card race. Or totally collapse and not even finish at or above .500. Sure, the Royals are 77-69 as of September 12 and it’s almost certain they’ll finish above .500 for the first time since 2003. But if any baseball team can have an epic collapse, it’s the Kansas City Royals.

JamesShields3

Yet the Royals are playing well and winning games. In the last 44 games over 44 days, the Royals went 26-18. They have one of the best post All-Star Game records in baseball. After a seven game losing streak around three weeks ago, their season appeared to be over. Since then, they’ve gone 13-5. Last Friday the Tigers, arguably the best team in the American League, beat the Royals 16-2, handing them their worst loss of the season. If anything would sink this young Royals team, it was that game. But the Royals shrugged it off and won the next two games, then took two of three games against the Cleveland Indians. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Royals being 8.5 games back of Detroit and seven games back in the Wild Card, with little chance of making the playoffs. Now they’re seven games back of Detroit and only two games back of the final Wild Card playoff spot.

As a Royals fan, I’ve discovered this phenomenon called September scoreboard watching and checking the standings. I keep checking the baseball scores and MLB division and wild card standings on my ESPN Scorecenter app. I start rooting for teams like the Boston Red Sox to win their games against the Orioles, Rays and Yankees, the teams ahead of the Royals in the Wild Card race. Every time the Red Sox beat them and the Royals win, the chances of a Royals Wild Card spot improves. I root for the Chicago White Sox, a team I don’t really care for, to win their nine games between the Tigers and Indians. If the Royals win and the Tigers and Indians lose, the Royals have a chance to move up in the A. L. Central standings.

In a way, this Royals playoff run is surreal. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting the Royals to go on another losing streak or a team ahead of them in the Wild Card gets hot. There’s so much recent historical disappointment and losing, I expect things to go bad. Until the Royals make the playoffs, I’ll still be skeptical. But if the Royals go on a 14-2 winning tear similar to what the Colorado Rockies did late in 2007… well, a guy can dream, can’t he?

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Previewing the Cardinals 2014 Schedule

Yesterday afternoon, the Cardinals released the details of their schedule for the 2014 season. After some of the adjustments made to the scheduling process in the first year of the balanced schedules, there were plenty of new elements to get used to. Constant interleague match ups, two game “natural rivalry” series, an increase in four-game stands and increased divisional play all changed the course of the season and the weight of each ballgame.

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Next spring will be the ninth season for Busch Stadium III, as well as the inaugural year for Ballpark Village. But looking ahead inside the park, there are new challenges on the horizon for the Cardinals. Most notably, the interleague alignment will pit the baseball’s two most competitive divisions from this season against each other, as the National League Central will face off against the American League East.  This will undoubtedly create a much tougher road throughout the season, yet create a number of attractive match ups, both a current and historical sense.

Also, the I-70 Series vs the Kansas City Royals will remain in the fold, as the two-and-two format will remain in place, with two consecutive series in each team’s home ballpark.

Unlike this year, the team will play a heavier home schedule before the All-Star Break with 48 home games at Busch Stadium before the July 14-17 Mid-Summer Classic, and another 33 after. While announcements on ticket availability, promotions and game times will come in the future, here are a few of the highlights and series of note for the upcoming season.

  • The season opens March 31 in Cincinnati with a three game series against the Reds, before moving on to Pittsburgh for a three-game weekend set.
  • Opening Day in St. Louis is Monday, April 7 versus the Reds for the second consecutive season
  • April 11-13: First home series versus the Chicago Cubs
  • May 2-4: First weekend trip to Wrigley Field
  • Longest Homestand: From May 12-June 3, the team plays only three games away from Busch
  • Interleague visits to Busch: The New York Yankees visit Busch from May 26-28, the Tampa Bay Rays for a two game series July 22-23 and the Boston Red Sox from August 5-7.
  • Interleague Travels: The Toronto Blue Jays June 6-8, Tampa Bay Rays June 10-11 and to Baltimore to face the Orioles August 8-10.
  • I-70 Series: The Kansas City Royals come to Busch from June 2-3, and the Cardinals go to Kansas City June 4-5.
  • Holiday home stands: Memorial Day versus Yankees, Fourth of July (vs. Miami Marlins) and Labor Day (September 1 vs. Pirates)
  • The final home stand of the season is a nine game stand against the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds from September 12-21.
  • The season ends visiting the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 28.

 

 

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The Kansas City Royals aren’t ready for the playoffs yet

If there was any hope the Kansas City Royals would make the playoffs, they were damaged by a seven-game losing streak August 17-24. After sweeping the Friday August 16 doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, the Royals went on to lose two games to the Tigers, three games to the Chicago White Sox and two games to the Washington Nationals. The Royals fell back to .500 and hurt their chances to win a Wild Card spot, much less win the American League Central. But just as the Royals appeared to slip into below .500 oblivion, they won their next four games and as of August 28, they’re four game above .500.

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The Royals aren’t a bad team, but they’re not good enough to be a playoff team either. To sum it up, the team is like Luke Hochevar as a starter: They have spurts of brilliance, then they go on a momentum killing losing streak. If you count winning and losing streaks of four or more games, the Royals have three four-game winning streaks, one six-game winning streak and one nine-game winning streak. Conversely, the Royals have three four-game losing streaks, one eight -game losing streak and one seven-game losing streak. The team is 26-27 in winning and losing streaks of four or more games. And it’s a big reason why they’re just a few games above .500.

The Royals are 8.5 games back of Detroit and seven games back in the Wild Card. The only way the Royals will make the playoffs is to keep winning. And they haven’t showed enough consistency to do that. Yes, they just won four games in a row, but they can just as easily lose four games in a row. And there’s too many A.L. teams who are better than the Royals in the Wild Card race, like the Tampa Rays, the Oakland A’s, and the Baltimore Orioles. The Royals have an easy schedule, but time is running out. They can keep winning games, but if the teams ahead of them in the playoff hunt keep winning games, it won’t matter.

It’s frustrating, but the Royals are playing better than they have in years. And they’re playing well enough to finish above .500. But they’re not playing well enough to make the playoffs.

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What Went Wrong In Kansas City Royals Sweep?

A hot start after the All Star break had Royals fans dreaming of the postseason. The problem was that the Tigers and Indians matched the Royals’ early success after the midway point. Now, the luster of that hot streak has faded and the Royals have dropped five straight games, including a sweep at the hands of the lowly White Sox. So what happened in the three-game series against the Chicago south-siders? Here is a look at what went wrong:

JustinMaxwell

John Danks continues mastery of Royals
Danks shut out Kansas City over eight innings in the series opener (a 2-0 White Sox win). He scattered seven hits and struck out two Royals. Danks has really struggled this year, with a 2-10 record entering his start against the Royals. But the blue and white of the Royals was a welcome sight for the veteran left-hander. Danks improved to 6-0 in his career against Kansas City over 13 starts. His ERA in those 13 starts is 2.47 and his WHIP is 1.17.

The Royals bats went silent
In the three game series, the Royals scored a total of five runs, with a high of three runs in the series finale. Justin Maxwell‘s double in the opener was the only extra base hit in the series for the Royals, who posted an OPS of .465. Kansas City had a three-game total of 20 hits and hit for a terrible .198 average with 23 strikeouts. They also squandered scoring opportunities, leaving 18 on base.

Good starts were wasted
The Royals starters were solid in the series, but ended up recording a loss in two of the three games. Ervin Santana opened the three-game set with a good performance. He scattered four hits over six impressive innings of two-run ball. Jeremy Guthrie had one bad inning in game two, when he allowed a Dayan Viciedo grand slam as part of a five-run frame. Shields allowed three earned runs over seven innings, with eight strikeouts in a no-decision, before Luke Hochevar gave up a game-winning home run to Conor Gillaspie in the 12th inning.

Addison Reed notches a tri-fecta
In three tight wins, Reed slammed the door on the Royals, with three saves in three games. The talented young closer allowed one hit and one walk over his three flawless innings and struck out three Royals. The three straight saves give Reed 34 on the season on a team with only 52 wins.

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The Royals are in the A.L. playoff hunt

Things are going well for the Kansas City Royals. In the last 10 games, they’re 8-2 and have a 58-53 record. Mike Moustakas is finally hitting. Closer Greg Holland won Major League Baseball’s Delivery Man of the Month for July. The Royals team ERA is 3.57, tied for first in the American League. The team is playing well lately and for the first time in a long time, the Royals are in the playoff hunt after being left for dead before the All-Star Break.

Royals Walk Off Win

But the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are playing well and winning too. When the Royals win, they win. If the Royals lose, the Indians lose (and lately the Tigers keep winning) and the Royals don’t gain on the Tigers and Indians.

As of Wednesday night, the Royals are fifth in the Wild Card race, five games back. Of the four teams ahead of them (Tampa Bay, Texas, Baltimore and Cleveland), the Royals only face the Indians for six games and Texas for three games. And the four teams ahead of them in the Wild Card are within 1.5 games of each other.

And if that’s not enough, in the next 11 days the Royals will play four games against the A.L. East leading Boston Red Sox and five games against the Tigers. In between those series, the Royals play the Miami Marlins, so there’s a chance to win more games if they don’t take the Marlins for granted.

The Royals haven’t played an above .500 team since July 25. Since then, the Royals are 10-2, which is good, but winning against below .500 teams should be expected. To be fair, the two teams above .500 the Royals played since the All-Star Break were the Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, and the Royals went 5-2 against them. Since the All-Star Break, the Royals are the only team in the Major League that have won all their series.

The next 11 days will determine if the Royals are for real. If they hold their own with the Red Sox and Tigers (and gain on the Tigers in the standings), the Royals won’t play an above .500 team until they play the Tigers again on September 6. In fact, the Royals play the Tigers and Indians 17 more times, 11 of which are against the Tigers. It’s simple: if the Royals keep winning series, they have a chance to make the playoffs.

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