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Reds in last place despite positive run differential

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The Reds salvaged their three-game series in Oakland, winning Thursday afternoon’s game 3-0. The first two games didn’t go well, as Mike Fiers no-hit them on Tuesday and they suffered their fourth walk-off loss of the season on Wednesday. Despite a +23 run differential, the 16-22 Reds are in last place in the NL Central.

There are just seven teams with a better run differential than the Reds: the Rays (+59), Cubs (+57), Dodgers (+51), Astros (+47), Twins (+44), Yankees (+32), and Phillies (+31). They are all first- or second-place teams. The Reds’ Pythagorean record — their expected record based on run differential — is 22-16, a five-game difference.

It’s been a brutal week and a half in particular for the Reds. On April 30, the Reds came back to tie the Mets at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning only to suffer a walk-off loss on a Pete Alonso sacrifice fly. Exactly one week ago, Noah Syndergaard single-handedly beat them 1-0 with a home run and nine shutout innings. The next day, the Reds lost a 12-11, 11-inning slugfest with the Giants, as Evan Longoria struck the decisive blow with a solo homer. The Reds again fell apart late on Sunday against the Giants, surrendering a tie-breaking two-run home run to Brandon Crawford in the top of the ninth. Following that loss, closer Raisel Iglesias blamed the way the Reds were using him for his struggles. Then there was Tuesday’s no-no and Wednesday’s walk-off loss against the A’s.

Fortunately for the Reds, it’s a long season. They will, at some point, have a stretch of good luck. And they’re a better team than many people gave them credit for being at the beginning of the season.

The Royals are paying everyone. Why can’t all of the other teams?

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Over the past several weeks we’ve heard a lot of news about teams furloughing front office and scouting staff, leveling pay cuts for those who remain and, most recently, ceasing stipends to minor league players and releasing them en masse. The message being sent, intentionally or otherwise, is that baseball teams are feeling the pinch.

The Kansas City Royals, however, are a different story.

Jon Heyman reported this afternoon that the Royals are paying their minor leaguers through August 31, which is when the minor league season would’ve ended, and unlike so many other teams, they are not releasing players either. Jeff Passan, meanwhile, reports that the Royals will not lay any team employees off or furlough anyone. “Nearly 150 employees will not take pay cuts,” he says, though “higher-level employees will take tiered cuts.” Passan adds that the organization intends to restore the lost pay due to those higher-level employees in the future when revenue ramps back up, making them whole.

While baseball finances are murky at best and opaque in most instances, most people agree that the Royals are one of the lower-revenue franchises in the game. They are also near the bottom as far as franchise value goes. Finally, they have the newest ownership group in all of baseball, which means that the group almost certainly has a lot of debt and very little if any equity in the franchise. Any way you slice it, cashflow is likely tighter in Kansas City than almost anywhere else.

Yet the Royals are paying minor leaguers and front office employees while a great number of other teams are not. What’s their excuse?