The stakes are so great right now that it's almost impossible to ignore the wild, baseball-related mood swings of people these days. Every win feels like the Royals are going to surge right by Detroit. Every loss feels like the beginning of the crushing losing streak that will take Kansas City out of the postseason picture altogether. The good news for the baseball-addicted Royals fans, those whose mood the next morning is about 99% dependent on the result of the previous night, is that the Royals are currently way better at the whole "not losing" thing than the Seattle Mariners. They've also closed to one game behind the Tigers, but let's focus on the AL Wild Card race for a second.
Two games ago, you could've made a convincing case that the Royals were not going to make the Wild Card game. I suppose you still can, if you're so inclined. However, the Mariners have picked the worst possible time to go cold, dropping series to the stumbling-block-made-of-wet-tissue-appear that is the Houston Astros, and now the first game of the series to a rather listless Toronto Blue Jays team. The Oakland Athletics seem to have finally right the ship to an extent, but the Royals don't need to pass them for a postseason spot -- two of these three teams are getting in, barring a table-run from Cleveland or New York or Toronto (the Blue Jays elimination number is currently at one -- it isn't happening). The Royals have won their last two, and we're at the point in the season where those are each huge results.
It could be argued that Seattle, Cleveland, or even New York are better "true talent" teams than the Royals. The cool thing about that, for those of us hoping to see an 163rd Royals game this year, is that that counts for very little at this stage. With six games to go--three against Cleveland, three against the Chicago White Sox--Kansas City has the all-important wins-in-the-bank. After the "split" yesterday, they're at 85-71. The Mariners, at 83-73, really need to win five out of six to have a reasonable shot at overtaking the Royals (unless Oakland's collapse finds a second wind and Seattle overtakes them instead). The Cleveland Baseball Club, which has played one more game than the rest of these teams, needs to take the next two games for the Royals, or they'll be essentially out of it. New York could very well run the table and not get in. Toronto's probably already looking forward to Hockey.
All this still might be a moot point if the Royals do catch the Tigers. Still, it's comforting to know that the odds actually favor Kansas City's Wild Card prospects now. Should Dayton Moore be lauded for taking eight years to build a team that probably won't win the AL Central in a down year, and probably maybe will get to the play-in game? Nah. Nope. Negative. Is it goddamn exciting to be rooting for a team that could still do either with six games left in the season? You bet it frickin' is.
And now, the Pitching Staff Ups and Downs for the last couple weeks:\
Shields last three starts, including two versus Detroit head-to-head: 20.2 IP, 20 Ks, 6 ER, 2 BB. He's been relatively hittable in those starts giving up about a hit an inning, but he's generally come up big. While his K-rate and strand rate have both decreased this season, a drop in walks and slight increase in grounders and pop outs have left Shields with a year much resembling his 2013. He'll be 33 in December, and there's a fair amount of mileage on his arm, so it figures to be an interesting off-season for him. With any luck, he's got a couple more Big Games in him as a Royal.
We talk a lot about how Guthrie essentially relies on the Royals defense and luck to get through his starts, but Vargas was also cruising well above what his DIPS stats would suggest for most of the year (and yes, he's also a better pitcher, we know that too). In his last three starts, Captain Regression has gutpunched him, and the results have been ugly. He gave up nine baserunners and four runs in the first Detroit start, and was knocked out of the box by the Tigers in the fourth inning of his second go against them. This was sandwiched around a decent start against the Red Sox that was destroyed by Daniel Nava's grand slam.
Vargas will probably right the ship soon, but the Royals really need him to do that in a timely fashion. In his last three starts, he's gone from a 3.14 ERA to 3.59, much more in line with his 3.72 FIP.
Attoned for his sins in the first Detroit series (2.2 IP, 11 baserunners, 6 runs), but surrendering only 11 baserunners over 13.1 IP against Boston and Detroit again. While Boston was the better result, the decent start against Detroit could not have come at a better time - a sweep might have well sent the Royals down a darker path, but instead Guts did his thing. Good on you, Jeremy!
Ventura didn't really deserve to take the loss in Boston, as he K'd six through seven innings while giving up three runs. He picked up the win in his next start, that one against Chicago, going seven and K'ing seven while limiting the White Sox to only three hits. The answer to the question of how much he and Duffy still had the give might very well be, "enough, thankyouverymuch."
Made his first start since the sixth count, wriggling out of trouble in the first to post six scoreless innings. It's anyone's guess how Duffy's arm feels right now, but he looked okay in striking out in five in last night's game. His return could not have been better timed in light of the fact that the Royals still employ...
Hendriks only managed to give the Royals a combined 5.1 innings in his Boston and Detroit starts, then came out of the 'pen in his most recent appearance. The only time he's recorded more than 12 outs in a start as a Royal was his first appearance against the Twins.
More of this, please. After Bueno's collapse and Scott Downs being Scott Downs, it's confusing as hell to watch a lefty reliever actually get people out. Of course Finnegan's not just getting people out, he's displaying some nasty stuff in the process. Eight K's in 5.1 IP speaks to that.
Herrera's had a nice year, but I've heard him described a couple times now as a "revelation." Huh? Herrera's always been good at striking people out, and, while the fact that he hasn't given up a HR at all is pretty crazy, he was never going to give up as many dingers as he did last season. People who call him that must've forgotten how good he was in 2012.
Oh, and since he actually gave up runs, he's not allowed an up arrow this week. Poor guy. Oh, and since I forget if I've already acknowledged this, he's one of the three pitchers (four now, with Finnegan, I hope) that makes people think that everyone in this bullpen is good.
Frasor, as with some of the other dudes later in this post, has had limited opportunities to the point where we haven't seen him in about a week. Unlike those other guys, he's at least got people out most of the time.
Also falls victim to the rule of "anyone in the HDH trio who gives up a run doesn't get an up arrow." There's nothing wrong with Davis, really, he just was bound to give another run sooner or later. I mean, crikey, he's been charged with seven all season long. Davis also broke a Royals record by striking out his 104th batter out of the bullpen.
The prodigal tiny son returns!
Still pitching merely "okay," and giving up a lot of baserunners. After last year's nice season, Louis hasn't really done much, performance-wise, to earn his way back into high leverage work.
Coleman hasn't been particularly effective in mop-up work. Thus, he has officially taken Michael Mariot's job.
Basically the forgotten man at this point. Bueno's regression came just before the Royals discover Finnegan could record outs, so it makes sense that he's only made two appearances in the last two weeks. He was last seen pitching not particularly effectively on the 11th and then recording an out on the 16th.
Scott Downs was ALSO last seen on the 16th. With a 25:20 K:BB in 37.0 IP this year, it's actually surprising he was seen that recently!
It seems weird to me that Greg Holland has only pitched four times in the last two weeks. And then I remember that no matter how awesome he is, he's still a member of an MLB bullpen. And that his inning is the 9th. 87 K's in 60.1 IP, by the way, if you wanted an update on Holland's ridiculousness.
The Royals are once again going against Cleveland tonight, this time without the appetizer loss. Ventura against Salazar, with Cleveland's back against the wall. Go Royals! Happy Tuesday!