NOAH TRISTER, AP Baseball Writer
Just about everything is going right for the Kansas City Royals these days. They’ve won 24 of their last 31 games to take over first place in the AL Central.
Even the schedule seems to be breaking their way. The Royals played their last nine games against teams currently in last place — and they’ll play 10 of their final 33 against last-place Minnesota, Texas and Boston.
Manager Ned Yost, however, is taking nothing for granted.
“These are the games that ‘according to the standings’ and this and that, these are games you’re supposed to come in and win — and that’s not always the case,” Yost said. “You don’t understand the difficulty of coming in and playing a major league game. It’s hard to win a major league game.”
The team chasing the Royals in the division can certainly vouch for that. Second-place Detroit had to fight back over the weekend just to salvage a four-game split against the Twins. Minnesota scored 32 runs in the first two games of that series.
According to STATS, the Royals have the easiest schedule in the American League the rest of the way, playing opponents with an aggregate winning percentage of .479. But how significant is that? The Tigers will face teams with a winning percentage of .496, so they’ll have a chance to go on a run themselves if they play well enough.
In baseball, there are no gimmes on the schedule — and that’s even more true this year, when there’s a decent chance nobody will lose 100 games. Texas, which has baseball’s worst record, is on pace for 99 defeats. The Twins may be in last place, but they’re on pace for 72 wins and just gave Detroit’s pitching fits.
And on the flip side, baseball hasn’t had a 100-win team since 2011, and nobody is on pace for it this year either. The parity in the game right now is one reason nobody’s schedule will be that easy or that hard down the stretch.
For what it’s worth, the toughest remaining schedule belongs to Texas — the Rangers can’t play against themselves, after all. Their opponents have a .537 winning percentage.
The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers (.467) have the easiest road ahead, but the second-easiest schedule belongs to San Francisco, which trails the Dodgers by 4 1/2 games in the division.
Here are five things to watch around the majors this week:
HOLDING ON?: The Milwaukee Brewers are clinging to a 1 1/2-game lead in the NL Central, but they catch a bit of a break this week because second-place St. Louis will play a three-game series at third-place Pittsburgh. The Brewers will have a chance to gain ground on one or both of those teams.
TATTERED TIGERS: Detroit’s starting rotation looked imperious when the Tigers traded for David Price, but injuries to Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander left the team in a surprisingly precarious position. Youngsters Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer failed to make it out of the second inning in their starts against the Twins. Verlander is back now, and there’s an off day on the schedule Monday, but a doubleheader next weekend against the Chicago White Sox means the Tigers will still have to piece things together.
LAST STAND?: Can the New York Yankees reach the postseason in Derek Jeter’s final season? It looked like a longshot, but New York has won four straight to pull within six games of first-place Baltimore in the AL East, and the Yankees are only 3 1/2 games behind Seattle for the second wild card. This week — with a game at Kansas City followed by three at Detroit and three at Toronto — should be telling.
WILD WEST: The Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics have the top two records in baseball, and there’s plenty of incentive to win the AL West and avoid the one-game playoff between the league’s wild cards. Los Angeles leads by a game after a victory over the A’s on Sunday night, and the Angels will host a four-game series between the teams that starts Thursday.
CITY OR STATE?: The Washington Nationals have won 12 of 13 to open an eight-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East. The Nationals will play an interesting interleague series at Seattle starting Friday, but it looks as though Washington will avoid facing Felix Hernandez.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel now has a 1.46 ERA for his career, easily the lowest in baseball history for a pitcher with at least 275 innings.
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