The Kansas City Royals have not allowed 4 runs in a game in the month of June.
For all the talk about how this month is the result of the addition of hitting coach George Brett, or an awakening (no matter how minor) of the hitting, the team stands 9-3 in June because of the pitching. There is just no other way around the fact that when a team doesn't allow 4 runs over a 2 week period, even below-average offenses can find the openings necessary to get their pitchers some wins.
Last night the 2013 Royals took the franchise record that was 11 games in a row by the 1991 Royals (Saberhagen! Appier! Gubicza! Boddicker. Luis Aquino. A spot start by Mark Davis). They took the record and made it their own.
The following is a summary of the streak along with historical examples of teams which have had similar streaks since 1916. (Why 1916? limitations of Baseball-Reference). The top record in a single season was 20 games in a row by the 1916 Chicago White Sox.
Since 1969, only 20 teams have had a streak of 12 or more games without allowing 4 runs. 13 in the American League and 7 in the National League (probably thought the no-DH National League would have more of these streaks?)
Streak 1: The last team to go for 12 in a row without ceding 4 runs was the 2012 Anaheim Angels. The Angels didn't allow 4 runs in-between August 29th and September 10th of 2012. The pitchers posted a 1.77 ERA and the Angels won 10 of 12 in a last-ditch bid to snag a playoff spot. The Angels finished at 89-73 with no playoffs despite a poor start to their season.
You could probably guess the Angels rotation: Head and Shoulders spokesman CJ Wilson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, and... Ervin Santana. Ervin Santana was on the last two teams to achieve this sort of streak which may be kinda coincidental but also pretty nifty for his career highlight reel too.
Game 1: It was a day of magic on June 1st, 2013. The Royals, at 22-30, seeking to bounce back from a tough Wade Davis start with the help of James Shields. Shields had a good outing, allowing 1 run in 7 innings but left the game with a tie. The game remained tied until the 10th inning, when David Lough took a go-ahead HBP (literally knocking in the 2nd run), and cow-milking champion George Kottaras hit a double that knocked in two runs, creating a 4-1 Royals victory.
Game 2: The Royals went to Ervin Santana to face off against Yu Darvish. It almost kinda worked, indirectly. Santana gave up an unearned run in the 1st. Darvish left after 7 up 1-0, the Royals scored a run to tie the game. Then they brought J. C. Gutierrez into a tie game. It did not go well as J. C. gave up a home run to Jurickson Profar (another Gutierrez runner scored with Tim Collins in the game). So the Royals gave up 3 runs, and lost. The Royals gave up 3 runs or less in 10 of their 33 losses. Which may not be a good percentage.
Streak 2: The last time a team topped 12 consecutive in this streak was a team that set a high mark to match in modern baseball. The 2010 San Francisco Giants held their opponents to 3 or less for 18 consecutive games from September 5th to September 24th, 2010. The pitchers posted a 1.17 ERA. The Giants won 12 of those 18 games. They lost 6 games in this stretch by either being shutout, or scoring 1 run.
The 2010 Giants rotation over this stretch: Jonathan Sanchez (who may not have as much value as Jeremy Guthrie these days), Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain. The 2010 Giants went from 2 behind the Padres at the start of the streak to a half-game ahead by the end of the streak. The Giants finished 2 games ahead of the Padres (with Jonathan Sanchez winning game 162 to avoid whatever would have happened with the Giants, Padres and Braves all at 91-71 with only two playoff spots on the line).
Then the Giants went on to win the World Series despite having one of the less impressive offenses to win a recent world series. A role model for us all.
Game 3: This was the first home game for hitting coach George Brett and the return of Sal Perez. The pitching gave up 3 runs in 5 innings. Then held the Twins scoreless due to the power arms of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and J. C. Gutierrez. The Royals didn't score any runs, losing 3-0. They dropped to 23-32, their worst record on the year.
Game 4: The Royals had lost 11 home games in a row going into the June 5th game. They hadn't won a home game since May 5th. They went to the only man who could stop the bleeding, the run-prevention machine known as Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie gave up a run in the first, loaded the bases and threw 39 pitches. Then the Royals actually scored runs in the bottom of the first, going up 3-1. Guthrie didn't throw more than 16 pitches in any of his last 5 innings. The Royals went on to win their first home game in a month and Jeremy Guthrie continued to wiggle out of the bear trap (as he had done v. the Cardinals in St. Louis during the 4hr Rain Delay Game).
Streak 3: The only other team to top 12 games in a row since 1993 was the 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks didn't cede 4 runs from August 9th to August 23rd. Their pitchers posted an ERA of 1.86 and the team won 12 of 13 games. The Diamondbacks' rotation over this streak: Miguel Batista, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Rick Helling and Brian Anderson.
Somehow Miguel Batista went from member of the horrid 2000 Royals pitching staff to useful pitcher pretty quickly. Miguel Batista may be done with baseball after he was released by the Toronto Blue Jays a few weeks ago, becoming one of 7 pitchers not used by the Blue Jays major league team this year. Also, Brian Anderson went on to become a rental for the 2003 Royals, before he got a contract, and then everything went horribly wrong there. He now works on the TV side for the Tampa Bay Rays and he may see a mark set by his team surpassed by this Royals team. Arizona went from 70-45 to 82-46 over the streak, losing to St. Louis in the NLDS in 3 games.
Game 5: The Royals went to the last man to give up 4 to win the Twins series on June 6th. Wade Davis took on Mike Pelfrey in a duel between two really lousy pitchers. Davis gave up 3 runs in the first, but never gave up a 4th. The Royals offense managed to eventually score 3 runs off of Mike Pelfrey. Then in the bottom of the 8th, the Royals randomly devoured relief pitcher Casey Burton, scoring 4 runs and sealing a 7-3 victory with a Lorenzo Cain home run.
Game 6: Before last month, a matchup of James Shields and Jordan Lyles was seen a slam dunk by Royals fans. Then the Astros didn't just beat James Shields, they beat the Royals in a series in Houston. This started a malaise where the offense didn't work, and where the pitching posted a 5.01 ERA over an 8 game losing streak. Fortunately the pitching at least recovered dramatically.
As for the matchup, the Astros scored in the 3rd. The Royals scored in the 4th on a Sal Perez home run. Shields saw the lead slip away in the 7th. But the Royals broke the tie with the powerhouse Astros in the 8th with a single and two doubles. Thus extending their winning streak to 3 and this streak to 6.
Streak 4: Rex Hudler can probably talk to you in some form of detail about the 2002 Anaheim Angels. About their poor start (6-14 start), the 40 years of frustrations, and such. But on August 29th, the Angels launched a 12 game streak of pitching dominance. The Angels were 78-54 at the time of the August 29th game, battling the Mariners for a wild card spot. The pitchers posted a 1.86 ERA in those 12 games, and the team went 11-1. The Angels were now solidly in the wild card spot and 2 games behind the Oakland A's (a team you may have saw in Moneyball) despite the A's winning the final 5 games of their 20 game win streak during the Angels pitching streak.
The Angels rotation over this time? Kevin Appier (who drifted back to KC in 2003 post-Angels release and pitched his final ML games with the Royals), Mickey Callaway (out of baseball within 2 years), Ramon Ortiz (was just pitching until a sad injury in San Diego), John Lackey, and Jarrod Washburn (did you know that he debuted vs the Royals? did ya? in a game where luminaries like Joe Maddon, Tony Muser, Jamie Quirk and Felix Martinez were ejected due to lots of poorly-thought out fights and beanballs and stuff)
The Angels went on to win the World Series, as you may remember. Thus providing a constant inspiration to all teams that started slowly.
Game 7: The Royals got on national TV (kinda) as the baseball fans of several states saw Ervin Santana making his 90th bid for 100 wins against Erik Bedard. This time around, the Royals just decided to cut to the chase and stomp the Astros pretty hard from the outset. The Royals went up 2-0 in the 1st, up 5-0 in the 4th, and up 6-0 in the 5th. The Astros scored some runs, but the Royals still won 7-2. The winning streak was 4. Ervin Santana won his 100th game. The team could stop ordering 100th win cakes in preparation for a 100th win that took a month to pull off.
Game 8: Nothing says marquee baseball like Lucas Harrell facing Luis Mendoza. Somehow these two had a pitchers duel for awhile as the game was scoreless until the 8th inning when the Royals went bonzo-gonzo on Hector Ambriz. The Royals locked down the win in the 9th with another Holland save and their 5th win in a row. They had swept the team that some said could never be defeated, the 2013 Houston Astros. We were living in the era of the Rallysauce.
Streak 5: One odd tendency for these streaks is that they happen over the 2nd half of the season far more than in the first half. All of the 4 streaks mentioned before this one happened in August or September. This streak is not one of those streaks.
The 2002 Braves also posted a 12 game streak from July 15th to July 27th. Their pitchers had a 1.56 ERA over those 12 games with the team winning 9 of 12 games. The rotation of Jason Marquis, Kevin Millwood, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Damian Moss (out of baseball by 2004!) carried the Braves from solidly ahead (58-34, up 9.5) to very very ahead (67-37, up 13.5). This is the first of two Braves streaks that will be mentioned. The 2002 Braves finished 101-59, won their 8th division title in a row (11th in a row if you disregard 1994), and lost to the Giants in 5 in the NLDS.
Game 9: Some said that feasting on the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros wasn't impressive. Fortunately the schedulers had decided to follow up the Twins and Astros with the Detroit Tigers. Doug Fister faced Jeremy Guthrie. The masses were enthralled. From the outset, Jeremy Guthrie utilized the powers of his anti-rallysauce pitching to keep Miguel Cabrera in the ballpark and the Tigers off the scoreboard. But a momentary failure in Guthrie's "let Miguel Cabrera fly out to the outfield" plan occurred as Cabrera hit a two run home run, putting the Tigers up 2-0. Guthrie summoned the forces of Rallysauce and in the bottom of the 3rd, Escobar reached, Hosmer reached, Sal Perez hit a triple, and Lorenzo Cain knocked in Sal Perez with an infield single to make the game 3-2 Royals. Guthrie resumed his strategy of inducing flyballs from the Tigers, Aaron Crow struck out Miguel Cabrera, and the Royals won 3-2.
Game 10: Did someone tell you that this was gonna be easy? Max Scherzer faced Wade Davis on Tuesday. The Tigers scored twice off of Davis, but the Royals responded by tying the game in the 5th. But the Tigers took the lead in the 8th off of a HBP, Cabrera moving to 3rd on a single and a sac fly. The Tigers led 3-2 going into the 9th, and summoned the Kewpie Doll of Doom, the potato known as proven closer Jose Valverde. Valverde unleashed his fastballs-only arsenal that night but Sal Perez hit a single, pinch-runner Elliot Johnson stole 2nd, but Valverde unleashed the one non-fastball in his toolbox to strike out Billy Butler looking on an inside pitch. Butler didn't take it too well, arguing, viewing the footage, arguing some more, getting ejected, arguing some more. Then Cain and Lough made the 2nd and 3rd outs with the tying run on 2nd and the Tigers won. The Royals winning streak was over, even as their pitching streak survived.
Streak 6: One common refrain of Ned Yost and Dayton Moore is essentially a theory that one day (rhetorically, not literally), we'll wake up and this team will be good. The 1991 Atlanta Braves have kinda emerged as an ideal for these situations (question that reality if you wanna but it's their ideal). The 1991 Braves did start 33-31 (only 2 wins better than this team, although the Braves had a good May and bad April, and the Royals had the reverse) and they weren't in first place from May 13th to August 28th. But the 1991 Braves, using the talent accumulated when Bobby Cox was the team's GM, managed to go to two consecutive World Series in a row. But after 1991 and 1992, the Braves eventually added even more to their pitching for 1993 by signing Greg Maddux.
On the morning of August 28th, 1993, the Braves were 79-50, in 2nd place, and 4 1/2 back of the 83-45 Giants. Then for the next 14 games, from August 28th to September 11th, 1993, the Braves didn't give up 4 runs once. The pitching had an ERA of 1.71 and the team won 12 of 14 with a rotation of Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Kent Mercker. By the end of the day on September 11th, 1993, the Braves were 91-52 and in first place by 1 game. The Braves finished 104-58, the franchise's first 100 season since 1898, and they won the NL West by 1 game.
Game 11: James Shields and Justin Verlander faced off in front of a baseball crazed crowd of people who could go to a baseball game at 1pm and thousands of schoolchildren. Shields gave up a run in the 1st and a run in the 5th. Shields departed after 7 on the hook for a loss and Verlander left after 7 on the hook for a win. The bottom of the 9th was a moment that defines men. The Tigers kept Drew Smyly in the game to give up a single to Eric Hosmer. Then with a man on 1st, the time had come to summon Jose Valverde. Valverde, despite his recent struggles, hadn't blown a save to the Royals since 2010. He got Sal Perez to fly out to right field and he struck out Billy Butler swinging. Eric Hosmer stood on 2nd as Lorenzo Cain went down 0-2.
Then Jose Valverde, loaded with hubris, and other substances, launched his one non-fastball, the splitter. Lorenzo Cain hit it into the seats, tying the game, and handing Valverde his first blown save v. the Royals in years. Afterwards, Lough reached on an error by Cabrera, and went to 2nd on another error by Fielder. Only the tender mercies of platoon advantages and second chances gave Detroit another inning. But their hitters didn't do a thing v. Greg Holland, and in the 10th, Miguel Tejada got on base, moved to 2nd, moved to 3rd, and Eric Hosmer hit a groundball into the outfield to win the game. In celebration, the team poured BBQ sauce on him and freaked out Eric Hosmer's mother. A good time was had by all. The Royals were on their way back.
Game 12: happened last night. You may have seen it. Ervin Santana and Jeremy Hellickson were exchanging scoreless innings until the 6th when the vaunted Rallysauce showed up, and the Royals began to repeatedly hit the ball onto the Trop's turf. The Royals scored 5, then Elliot Johnson hit his 2nd home run (and his 2nd off of Jeremy Hellickson). The Royals went on to win 10-1 to set their team record. Ervin Santana ate a banana. Chris Getz pinch hit for Billy Butler. Chino Cadahia stood undefeated as a temporary full-game manager.
What comes next? The Royals pitchers have put up an ERA of 1.49 in the month of June. The only teams whose pitching was that good in a month played in 1916, 1917 or 1968. The post-1968 record for team ERA in a month is 1.72 (Yankees, August 1981 and White Sox, July 1992). It would not be a surprise or a disappointment to expect the Royals final ERA for this month to probably be closer to 3.00 than 1.50 even with how they've pitched in the first 12 of the 27 scheduled games in June.
This pitching has been airtight for the last 2 weeks. Which means the offense doesn't have to be top-half immediately to win at this moment. But obviously if the offense improves, then there's going to be a lot of winning going on if the pitchers continue to be this good.
Can we start trying to buy scalped ALDS tickets right now? probably not. As noted on one of the summaries of a previous streak, these pitching streaks tend to be 2nd half streaks. Streaks in August where a team on the fringes gets on a hot streak or a team that is already awesome decides to remove all suspense.
Obviously this team has to make the 2nd half of June similar to the first half of June on the pitching side, while the hitting still has room to improve and become more consistently good from day to day.
Also it would be cool if they got James Shields a win soon.
This streak could end quickly tonight. That's just how these things go. But this team went from their nadir 23-32, to 31-33 in the span of this streak. The rest of their destiny is to be determined. We will see how it all shakes out very soon.
But in the meantime, only 14 teams since 1969 have held their opponents under 4 for 13 consecutive games. Enjoy rare events as they occur. This pitching is the best pitching this franchise has had since the mid-1990s (not too daring a statement). As long as Shields and Santana are a great combined 1-2 and Jeremy Guthrie's pitches are powered by anti-rallysauce, all they have to do is get occasional good starts from Luis Mendoza and Wade Davis (as we wait for Felipe Paulino or Danny Duffy to become major league ready).
Enjoy it no matter how long or short it lasts. You're kinda seeing a sort of major league (or Royals) history right now.