Although their playoff hopes are now lost, that the Kansas City Royals reached many significant milestones in 2013 shouldn’t be understated.
Leading the way in this department for the team is their latest big-name acquisition, “Big Game” James Shields. It can’t be overstated how much “Big Game James” means to the Royals’ hopes for a 2014 playoff run. He earned his 100th career victory last night against a weak Chicago White Sox lineup. His dominance over the league’s less impressive offensive teams just goes to show his remarkable reliability and consistency. Since 2008, he’s started exactly 33 games in every season. Last night’s ball game was his 34th start of the year.
The man known as “Juego Grande” entered the game leading the American League in innings pitched and quality saves. Shields will now finish the season with a 13-9 record and a 3.15 ERA. No Royals starter has recorded an ERA that low since Zack Greinke in 2009; and while this Royals team already sits 10 games above .500, the ’09 club won only 65 games.
One need only look at the rest of KC’s rotation to see the difference in the two teams. 2009′s second-best starter was Brian Bannister, who earned an uninspiring 4.73 ERA in 26 starts. Both Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana recorded an ERA comfortably lower than that this season.
While it’s unknown if Bruce Chen will re-sign and it’s somewhat unlikely that Kansas City will be able to pay for Santana to return, Shields and Guthrie are already signed up through the 2014 season. If the Royals decide not to re-sign either starter, the well is deep with minor league talent that they can plug into the starting five if need be, not to mention veteran Felipe Paulino, who looks to be fully recovered from his 2013 arm surgery.
Before getting injured in 2012, Paulino put up a dazzling 1.67 ERA with the Royals through seven starts. It seems Royals fans still have plenty of places to turn for optimism if the team chooses to let go of some pitching this offseason.
The latest Royals victory also gave KC their first season with 85 or more wins since 1989. That season was also the last time a Royal led the AL in innings pitched. Along with Shields’ 100th victory, significant achievements were also claimed by Jamey Carrol and Eric Hosmer. Carrol recorded his 1000th career hit with a double, while Hosmer recorded multiple hits for the 60th time this season, making him the AL leader in that statistic.
With big numbers coming from their constantly improving young talent, and consistent production from some proven veterans, the Royals already look primed for a 2014 playoff run. Management has expressed the desire to go out and get another big bat in the offseason, so this remarkable young team is only going to get better, especially if the Glass family decides to shell out to bring back Santana.