The Royals have prided themselves on their bullpen the last few years, and while they still lead the league in reliever ERA, it is the bullpen that has let them down in crucial games over the last two weeks. Joakim Soria has borne the brunt of the criticism, and for good reason, after blowing leads in three games in the last two weeks. The Royals now claim that Soria is tired, citing splits that show he is better with more time off.
But the question is, if not Soria, who? Wade Davis needs to be handled delicately after coming off the disabled list with a forearm injury. Rookie Matt Strahm is dealing with bicep tendinitis and is gone this weekend to attend a family funeral. That has left the Royals pitching rookies like Brooks Pounders and Scott Alexander in close games they have no business appearing in.
Should Dayton Moore have added an extra bullpen arm back in August when the team was surging? I didn’t expect the Royals to offer top prospects for an elite reliever like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, not like that would even be possible after the August 1 trade waiver deadline. But there should have been a serviceable reliever, such as a Blake Wood or Blaine Boyer, as I suggested back in August available for a low-level prospect. Even a Fernando Salas or Mac Rzepczynski, both of whom were dealt in August, could be quite useful to the Royals as someone serviceable in the sixth or seventh inning that would allow them not to have to lean on Joakim Soria in close games so much.
Maybe Dayton Moore didn’t feel like his bullpen needed help. After all, they set a franchise record for scoreless innings from a bullpen in August, tossing 41 1⁄3 frames without a run. They led the league in reliever ERA. They got closer Wade Davis back from the disabled list in September. The bullpen seemed to be in good shape.
However the warning signs were there. Luke Hochevar went out for the year with thoracic outlet syndrome. Davis wouldn’t be able to pitch on back-to-back days after his forearm injury. The team has to be careful with Strahm if they don’t want to ruin his future as a starting pitcher. Soria has been walking a tightrope all year, and if they knew about his splits, it should have been clear they needed more depth. Since the bullpen scoreless streak was snapped, the Royals pen has a 3.89 ERA and five losses.
And above all else, teams can always use more depth. Knowing how volatile relievers can be, it helps to have as many options as possible. If the Royals wanted to compete, they should have added some depth. If they didn’t want to compete, they should have considered selling off pieces for next year. Instead, they did nothing, which leaves them in the no man’s land they are in today.