Kansas City Royals Climb Back Into AL Central Race With Unexpected Pitching

The Kansas City Royals suddenly found religion—in this case that means starting pitching, getting not just quality starts, but shutouts in three of the last five games. No one knows when the echoes of Dennis Leonard, Paul Splitorff and Bret Saberhagen were reawakened, but there they were, standing on the mound as Felipe Paulino, Bruce Chen and Vin Mazzaro, helping the Royals raise their record to 24-30 and keeping within 6.5 games of the lead in the American League Central.

Paulino has been nothing short of a revelation, as he’s thrown put zeroes on the board in four of his six starts and posted a 1.70 ERA. With him joining a team that has a respectable bullpen a good offense, it’s not too much to call Paulino one of the most consequential breakouts of the 2012 season anywhere.

Then add the work of Vin Mazzaro who threw a shutout of his own, with help from the relief corps and finally 34-year-old lefty Bruce Chen. The veteran has been on a steady upswing since his season hit its low point on May 4. He’d been beaten up by the Yankees, his ERA was approaching 5, but then things turned for the better. Five of the last six starts have been outstanding, the team has won all five of those quality outings and the ERA is down to 4.37.

Chen is capable of giving consistent, steady work through the long haul. The fate of this team will depend on whether Paulino can continue to pitch at a level even remotely approaching his current form (let’s say his ERA settles around 2.90 for the season). If that happens, Chen can settle into his more natural role as a middle-of-the-rotation vet, rather then be misplaced as a #1, something the continued disappointment that is Luke Hochevar forces him into.

If the Royals are sending a message that they can be contenders in an AL Central that’s looking increasingly up for grabs, the message doesn’t seem to be heard. Las Vegas, astonishingly, still has the Royals priced at 30-1 odds just to win the division. That’s with Detroit struggling, with Cleveland having pitching problems of their own and far greater offensive woes than Kansas City and with Chicago sure to cool down eventually, at which point their own lack of offensive depth has to be dealt with.  Am I saying Kansas City’s going to win it? No. But I think if you played this season out thirty times they’d do it a heckuva lot more than once and if I was in Las Vegas that 30-1 price tag would look rather appealing.

Whatever you think of the Royals’ long-term prospects, it’s safe to say that the patient is finally off the respiration that was the 10-game losing streak early in the year and there’s every reason to think they can give the good people of Kansas City something to cheer for until the Chiefs hit the field again.

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