On Tuesday the Kansas City Royals lost for the 81st time this season. Barring a neigh-miraculous 14-0 run for the remainder of the season (even six games against the Indians doesn’t make that likely), they will finish below .500 for the ninth straight season. Whilst few (if any) truly expected the Royals to actually be in contention this year, there were high hopes that they could get over the .500 mark this time. It didn’t really go as planned, however.
Although injuries have been a big problem this year (as previously noted) they have not been the only or even the biggest factor. The Royals have had decent if not spectacular offensive production and of course have had the best defence in the league. But the real problem has come from the pitching.
Since trading Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers before the start of the 2011 season the Royals have been lacking a true ace at the start of the rotation. It has been hoped that Luke Hochevar would fill this role, he certainly has the talent to do so, but he has never performed consistently enough.
Bruce Chen has lead the team in wins for a few years in a row, but as good as he has been he has still not been a true ace and has been a bit short of his previous self this year. (Though his outing last night was superb.) After those two established names at the top of the rotation, the rotation right now is filled out by Jeremy Guthrie, Luis Mendoza and Will Smith.
But that’s just the rotation right now, there has been almost a revolving door of young starters over the course of the season. The off-season trade for Jonathan Sánchez could only be described as ‘ill-fated’ and all of Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy, Nate Adcock, Vin Mazzaro, Everett Teaford and Ryan Verdugo have started for the Royals at some point during this season.
The constant personnel changes have certainly not helped the pitchers and that in turn has had a huge effect on the team record. It is always the case that starting pitching is important for a winning team (the notion that hitting wins games and pitching wins championships is only half right), but it is surprisingly dramatic for the Royals. In their worst month, July, they had a record of 7-19 and an ERA of 6.95 for the starting pitchers. In their best month,August, they have a record of 17-11 and an ERA of 3.90 for the starting pitchers.
This is something that will likely improve for the Royals as their younger pitchers gain experience and become more comfortable. But it is clearly going to be the most pressing concern over the offseason and either a big free agent signing or a trade for someone to anchor the rotation must be in order.