How The Royals Can Rule

Royals CelebratingJohn Rieger/USA TODAY Sports

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's September 15 Renegades Issue. Subscribe today!

NO KC FAN needs reminding. The last time the Royals made the playoffs, George Brett was spraying line drives around Royals Stadium. Now here we are, on the eve of September, and the Royals are still relevant! And about to appear on Sunday Night Baseball ! How can they overcome a 28-year playoff drought, the longest in MLB? Here's my three-step plan to increase their playoff odds.

The mid-August trade for veteran Josh Willingham gives KC a bat to exploit platoon advantages, but to make the postseason, the Royals must find a role for Christian Colon, their first-round pick from 2010. At Triple-A Omaha this season, Colon put up an OPS around .800. Plus, he can play second, short and third. ZiPS projects a .263/.322/.372 line from Colon the rest of the year, far better than, say, what the Tigers can get from any of their extra infielders.

Since 2004, the Royals' .472 winning percentage in September ranks 24th in MLB. That has to change. The good news is that KC's opponents the rest of the way have won just 48 percent of their games. Compare that with Detroit's foes (50 percent), Seattle's (51 percent) and Toronto's (51 percent). It might not seem like a big difference, but swap the schedules of KC and Toronto and the Royals' odds to win the division drop from 49 percent to 38 percent.

By ZiPS' rest-of-season projections, KC's rotation ranks 13th, behind every other AL playoff hopeful. The fix: Dump league-average starter Jeremy Guthrie and use a four-man rotation in September. Going with James Shields, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Jason Vargas improves the Royals' rotation rank from 13th to seventh. And with a deep pen, Ned Yost can manage workloads and make sure his best pitchers throw the high-leverage innings.

If the Royals follow my advice ...
They'll increase their playoff odds from 69 percent to 75 percent, according to my ZiPS projection system-- and the club will make a chunk of change in the process. According to SABR president Vince Gennaro's research, a playoff appearance is worth roughly $34 million in additional revenues over the next five seasons.