COMMENTARY | The Kansas City Royals are just three wins from guaranteeing that the franchise finishes with a .500 record for the first time since 2003.
Unfortunately, for the team to stay relevant in the American League postseason race, however, those three victories must all come in a crucial home series against the Cleveland Indians starting Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City (7-9 against the Indians on the season), is 6-4 over its last 10 games and sits eight games back of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, while Cleveland is five games behind first place in the division.
Both teams are deeply entrenched in the wild-card race, as they are 3 1/2 games and a 1/2-game back in the standings, respectively. Sandwiched between the Royals and Indians are the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, while the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers -- who begin a pivotal four-game series of their own Monday night -- share the lead.
The Royals began a tough 15-game stretch on September 6 with a home series against the Tigers before going on the road to both Cleveland and Detroit. Kansas City went a respectable 5-4 in those games, but being on the outside of the playoff picture with just 22 games to go at that point the team needed to find a way to come out on top a couple more times to minimize the pressure as the season began to wind down.
After this series with the Indians, the Royals will welcome the Rangers to town to cap off a span that will ultimately decide the team's postseason fate. Kansas City finishes on the road over its final seven games, playing three against the Seattle Mariners and four with the Chicago White Sox.
While there is still a small chance for the Royals to make a playoff push -- considering which teams they close the season with -- the next six games will be just as critical in determining whether Kansas City falls just short or does indeed sneak in the postseason.
The Royals will turn to James Shields tonight, who they acquired to be the ace of their staff and to pitch in these exact situations. Kansas City sent top prospect Wil Myers to the Rays in the deal, among others from both sides to even out the trade.
Kansas City has an opportunity tonight to stay relevant when most wrote the team off at the All-Star break.
A win keeps the Royals within striking distance of reaching the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. A loss, however, all but squashes any hope of returning to the playoffs this season.
Jeremy Sickel has successfully created and operated numerous websites. His work can be read on Yahoo and Bleacher Report, and he has also appeared on various podcasts and sports talk shows around the country. Interact with Jeremy on Twitter @JeremySickel.
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