MLB Coverage: Kansas City Pitches Its Way Into The Race

The Kansas City Royals just keep coming in the American League wild-card race. The Royals are 34-20 since the All-Star break, and within 2 ½ games of the playoffs in a jam-packed race that has six teams battling for two spots. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage looks at how Kansas City has turned it around.

Pitching is the reason. Since the All-Star break, the Royals have the best staff ERA in the American League, and the balance throughout the rotation and the bullpen is remarkable. There is no one starting pitcher that’s really standing out—of the four starters who have made 10-plus starts since the break, none have an ERA below 3.00 in that timeframe. But none have an ERA over 4.00 either.

 James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen have just churned out consistent starts, night-in and night-out. Then Kansas City got big shot in the arm (no pun intended) when Danny Duffy came off the disabled list and in five starts has a buck-85 ERA.

The bullpen has been a strength of this team for a few years now, something that was usually under-the-radar, because they always entered games where the rotation had given it up. Now that the starters are holding their own, the Kansas City bullpen looks increasingly ominous to opposing teams.

Greg Holland has been one of the game’s best closers, and since the break he’s been lights-out. Holland has nailed 20/21 save chances and done with an 0.72 ERA. Luke Hochevar never hacked it as a starter, but has found his niche in relief, with 1.24 ERA since the break. Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Louis Coleman have been similarly dominant in the second half. It’s gotten so that the Royals’ reliable setup man Aaron Crow, and his 3.86 post-ASB ERA almost looks like a liability.

What it boils down to is this—at every phase of the game, on any day, Royal opponents are facing a pitcher who is either pitching well, or absolutely dominating. Tough spot to be in for an opponent.

Kansas City’s offense remains somewhat of a disappointment, but in the second half, they’re seventh in the American League in runs scored, at least enough to win with their pitching. Eric Hosmer has picked up the pace, with a stat line of .396 on-base percentage/.486 slugging percentage in this timeframe, the biggest positive difference in the offense.

What Royals manager Ned Yost would undoubtedly like is for Alex Gordon to get on base more frequently. While the left field has ten post-ASB home runs, he also has a .287 on-base percentage. Mike Moustakas at third has gone from awful to tolerable, at .315/.426. Moustakas is good enough to join Hosmer as a real offensive asset. Salvador Perez, the highly regarded young catcher, and Billy Butler, the veteran DH, have been solid, if not spectacular.

It’s added up to enough runs to win games and a franchise that has not made the postseason since the realignment of 1994 and accompanying playoff expansion, now has a real shot. It’s teams that have deep pitching that win in the playoffs. San Francisco showed us that in 2012. If the Royals make it in, can we dare to say that they could win the organization’s first World Series title since 1985? Yes, we can say it. But I’m sure in KC, they’re thinking one step at a time.