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Old 04-29-2003, 10:51 AM  
spe725 spe725 is offline
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Wild-card race could be a battle Royal

This is great! People talking about the Royals in the postseason. I didn't realize we only have to play 6 games over .500 for the rest of the season to finish with 90 wins. I'll still be happy with anything over .500, but 90 wins would be so great.

Tuesday, April 29

Wild-card race could be a battle Royal

By Jeff Bradley
ESPN The Magazine

Go ahead and bookmark this link to the American League wild-card standings. Trust us, you're going to be using it a lot this summer.

Having spent the better part of the last two weeks watching Mike Sweeney and the Kansas City Royals, we've come away thinking the ALWC is going to be the best, most wide-open race in all of baseball this season. Why, you ask, would the Royals -- they of the 4½-game lead in the AL Central -- make me think of the wild-card race?

Well, because on one side of the equation, the Royals are simply not as good as their record. And, no, this is not a knee-jerk reaction to Mike MacDougal's first blown save Sunday afternoon in Toronto. It's just realistic. Even bad teams have hot streaks. "We had a nine-game winning streak last year," catcher Brent Mayne said. "And lost 100."

So, there you go.

But on the other side of the equation, barring a catastrophe on the order of, say, last year's Indians -- who started out 11-1 only to then go out and lose 15 of 17 -- the Royals have all but guaranteed they'll be playing meaningful post-All-Star-break baseball.

Let's just throw out the last two seasons, when the AL wild-card winner won 99 (Angels) and 102 (A's) and use the 2000 season -- when 91 wins did the trick for the Mariners, as my barometer. Unless the Angels are going to take a complete post-championship dive, the American League West is the best division in the AL, and the teams should pay a price for having to play each other 19 times. In other words, if the Royals can stay on pace for 90 wins (which means playing about six games over .500 the rest of the way), they should be right in the ALWC race the whole way. Consider that the Royals play the Tigers and Indians a combined 21 times after the break and you see another reason to believe Kansas City can get somewhere near the 90-win plateau.

Now, consider the rest of the teams likely to be competing for the American League's Fourth Division. The Red Sox, Mariners, Angels, White Sox and Twins. See the common thread? All of these clubs are flawed in one way or another. With the Red Sox, it's the bullpen. With the Mariners, there's the power shortage. The Angels starters, even with rings on their fingers, scare no one. The White Sox are thin, as are the Twins.

All the more reason to think this race will go down to the wire.

Tuesday night, the Royals will go head-to-head with one of the teams that figures to be in the wild-card race the whole way, the Red Sox. They'll play each other three times this week (at Fenway Park) and three times next (in K.C.). If the Red Sox were truthful, they'd probably admit they're already thinking about the wild card. That they've already taken the Yankees off their minds and are focusing on just getting to the postseason.

Meanwhile, no one around the Royals wants to think about any of this stuff. Sweeney, who knows he'll be locked to the Royals through 2007 if they finish .500 or better (this year or next) insists he will be "ecstatic" if the Royals finish .500. "But," Sweeney adds, "We've got a goal, as a team, to win 90-plus."

Says manager Tony Pena, "We come to the ballpark every day thinking that anything is possible in this game. No one has to tell us we're good. We know we're good."

We agree. Good enough to be bookmarked all summer long.

Jeff Bradley is a staff writer at ESPN The Magazine.
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Old 04-29-2003, 03:20 PM   #2
Oz_Chief Oz_Chief is offline

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If the Royals are simply not as good as their record then what is their flaw? The BoSox lack the bullpen. The Mariners lack power, etc., etc. What do the Royals lack?

Realistically, I think Affeldt's blister problem is a hurdle to overcome. However, with Peña around, I think the team will look at this as an opportunity to test the young arms from down on the farm.

I think the Royals are a pretty solid ball team. They have a good combination of young, hungry players and experienced (still hungry) vets. Throw in a never-say-die manager and I believe they can make the playoffs.
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