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KC shouldn't be concerned with home-field pursuit

CHICAGO -- Never underestimate the competitiveness of baseball players and the men who put teams together. No matter the circumstances, they always want to win.

Dayton Moore, the Royals' general manager, is still amazed at how the 2006 season ended.

"We went to Detroit for the last series of the season,'' Moore said. "The Tigers needed to win one game to win the division; if we lost one game, we would have have been drafting 1-1 the next year, and we were going to get David Price. We swept them. We would have liked to have had David Price, but we were all proud of that sweep. You always want to win. Always.''

For altogether different reasons, the Royals find themselves playing games this week that they can afford to lose, and they are.

The White Sox beat Johnny Cueto 4-2 on Tuesday, one night after the Cubs had held on to win 1-0 over 12 innings against Yordano Ventura and the vaunted bullpen in a makeup game at Wrigley Field.

Luckily for Ned Yost, his team is in the victory-lap portion of its 2015 campaign, having clinched the American League Central title last Thursday. But other than using his reserves for the next game after the clincher, it's been hard to tell anything has changed for the Royals.

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After securing the top AL Central spot, Kansas City set its eyes on overtaking the Blue Jays for the AL's best record, which would give the Royals home-field advantage in every series in October. Kansas City trails by 1 1/2 games, but they are effectively 2 1/2 back because of a 5-2 loss to the Jays on Aug. 2, which gave Toronto the tie-breaker that comes from winning the season series.

That's OK. If you're ever going to fall short of a goal, this is the one.

As the AL's No. 2 seed, the Royals would face the AL West champ (most likely the Rangers) in the ALDS rather than winner of the Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser. While you'd like to win every game you play, it's probably time to accept that position, and begin resting players and focusing on how to beat Texas.

Moore calls home-field advantage "very important,'' but he knows history hasn't shown that it has a great bearing on wins and losses in October, except maybe in domed stadiums. The now-extinct Metrodome in Minneapolis was one place, for sure, and Moore adds one with potential.

"Toronto,'' Moore said.

OK, those of us who were at Rogers Centre for the World Series in 1992 and '93 have to admit he has a point. With its noisy crowds and unusual turf, it will be a tough place to play in October. But the Jays have to win a round to make that a factor for the Royals, and nothing's more unpredictable than October baseball.

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Moore admits that the biggest reason teams want to start their postseason series at home is so their fans can attend the most games possible.

"It's crucial for them,'' Moore told MLB Network Radio.

He's right. It matters more to fans than to players and the teams themselves.

Joe Maddon made that point talking about the Cubs' pursuit of the Pirates.

"Obviously, in a one-game playoff, you'd like to be home for your fans,'' Maddon said. "Otherwise, I don't necessarily see a strong advantage in baseball.''

The Royals didn't have home-field advantage in the ALDS or ALCS last year, and they still swept the Angels and the Orioles. Kansas City opened at home in the World Series, and the squad wound up losing to the Giants before numb fans at Kauffman Stadium in Game 7.

When the postseason arrives, what is going to matter is how the Royals play, not whether they have home-field advantage. Yost is confident that his team will be ready.

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"Our guys, you can call 'em kids, but the postseason experience they got last year, they're right there,'' Yost said. "It's not like we really needed veterans, but we added a couple good ones with Jonny Gomes and Ben Zobrist. It's nice to add them to complement the team we have.''

During their extended stay last October, the Royals were 6-2 at Kauffman Stadium and 5-2 on the road. The one game that haunts Moore was on the road -- the fourth game of the World Series, when they had a 4-2 lead and lost 11-4.

While home-field has historically been an advantage in the World Series (the AL holds it this year because of the All-Star Game victory that Yost oversaw), it hasn't meant anything in earlier rounds.

Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, teams with home-field advantage have won the best-of-seven League Championship Series only 19 of 40 times and the best-of-five Division Series 40 times in 80 series.

That's about as split down the middle as you can get.

In the past 10 years, No. 1 seeds have gone to the World Series 20 percent of the time. They've been eliminated in the first round 45 percent of the time.

Doesn't sound like a huge advantage, does it?

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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