As baseball enters its final month of the regular season, the Kansas City Royals are surprisingly on the verge of playoff contention.
Immediately following the All-Star break, the Royals were, arguably, the hottest team in baseball, going on a 19-5 run that put the Royals square in the hunt for a wild-card berth.
But after the 19-5 streak, Kansas City lost 10 of its next 12 games and faded back into irrelevance.
Now, though, the Royals are threatening again. The team has won eight of its last 10 games and is sitting just 4.5 games back of the wild card.
So with just 24 games left on the schedule, can the Royals pull off what seemed impossible just a few weeks ago and sneak into the playoffs with a great showing in September?
Looking at the Royals' remaining opponents, there are certainly plenty of winnable games. There's five games against the Seattle Mariners and four against the Chicago White Sox, which equates to 37.5 percent of Kansas City's remaining slate.
The Mariners and White Sox have a combined winning percentage of .429 and are a combined 39 games under .500. With the Royals six games over .500, Kansas City needs to grab a good chunk of those nine games. Seven wins in those nine contests should be the goal.
Every other team the Royals face in September, though—the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers—have winning records. In fact, the Tigers and Rangers are leading their respective divisions and have two of the top three records in the American League.
The matchup between Texas and Kansas City is just a three-game stint at Kaufman Stadium. So if the Royals simply just take that series two games-to-one, that should be good enough.
That series starts on Sept. 20, pretty late in the season. So the Rangers could be resting some of their marquee players down the stretch if they've secured a playoff berth by then. So that could work into Kansas City's favor.
The Royals have six games with the Tigers—three at home and three on the road—on their docket as well. Kansas City actually has a winning record against Detroit this season, with the season series standing at 7-6 in favor of the Royals.
If the Royals can just split the six games remaining with the Tigers, a series win over Texas at home would guarantee that Kansas City would win at least five games over the top two teams in the AL. That's all that can truly be asked of this team.
What will make or break this season for the Royals is the six games they have remaining with Cleveland. Just like the Tigers, the Royals play three games at home and three on the road against the Indians.
Currently, the Indians are one game ahead of the Royals in the wild-card race. One of the wild-card spots is almost all but guaranteed to go to either the Oakland Athletics or an AL East team, so there's no way both the Indians and Royals will make the postseason.
That means, Kansas City has to win two more games than the Indians down the stretch to pass them. Four wins out of six, meaning winning both series or at least sweeping one and not getting swept in the other, would take care of that requirement.
Right now, the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees all sit above Kansas City in the chase for that second wild-card spot. Now since all three of those teams are in the AL East, they're sure to beat up on one another to an extent. That should help the Royals climb up the ladder.
Overall, the road ahead is tough for Kansas City to make the playoffs. They've got 11 home games left compared to 13 road games. The give-and-take on that deal is that nine of the Royals remaining home dates are against Detroit, Cleveland and Texas. So they get to face their toughest opponents at home, while going on the road to face weaker ones.
The season ends with a seven-game road trip with stops in Seattle for three games and Chicago for four. Kansas City will be coming off their six-game home stint with Cleveland and Texas just before that, so fans will have a great idea about where the Royals stand before leaving Kaufman Stadium for the rest of the regular season.
After the Royals finish up their current series against the Mariners, they've got 15 straight games against teams with a better record than them. Kansas City absolutely cannot lose a series in that stretch.
However, Kansas City is, once again, playing some good baseball as of late. If they can carry this momentum into the last stretch of the season, they could very well sneak into October.