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Royals Ups and Downs: Living on a Prayer Edition

They’ll make it, I swear!

Jason Vargas gets a gatorade bath.
All attempts to cool off Jason Vargas have failed.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Well, here we are in July halfway through the season and the Royals are charging hard into both the division and wild card races. Just like everyone expected. No one has suggested anything could be even a tiny bit different this season. Not at all. That’s gotta be fueled by some good pitching performances, right? You betcha.

(All stats courtesy of

The Good

SP Jason Vargas - Key Stats: 6-0 Record, 42.9 GB%, 1.98 ERA

Listen, I don’t know what to tell you. Vargas is insane this year. None of this makes any sense but it shows no sign of stopping. Over this stretch he had a complete game shutout and his worst start was either the 5 inning 2 run win over Houston or the 6 inning 3 run win over the Angels. Every other start was at least 7 innings and 2 or fewer runs allowed. Vargas’ ace turn is a big part of why the Royals have been so successful in June despite missing Duffy.

SP Jason Hammel - Key Stats: 2.14 BB/9, 1.07 HR/9, 4.07 ERA

All of his stats looked much better before his start on Saturday but even with it they look OK. After starting the year by walking nearly everyone Hammel has really done much better with that, including 4 starts in the middle of this stretch where he went 6.2 innings or more every time and only walked 1 while striking out a total of 19. That’s a pretty good ratio. The Royals will hope the Minnesota start was more of a blip than return to form.

RP Mike Minor - Key Stats: 2.63 ERA, 9.22 K/9

What do you want me to tell you? Mike Minor is good, everything about him is good. He doesn’t walk people, he strikes out a bunch, doesn’t give up home runs and gets plenty of ground balls. He needs to be in the setup rotation with Matt Strahm on the DL.

RP Scott Alexander - Key Stats: 70 GB%, .390 BABIP, 10.20 K/9

Scott has been very good this year, including over the past month, but the thing is, he could get even better. Somehow despite all the groundballs he gets he has allowed a .390 BABIP. You wouldn’t think that could continue, if it goes down he’ll be as dominant as any reliever in the league.

P Travis Wood - Key Stats: 10/3 K/BB, 2.08 ERA

Before the end of May Wood had walked more than he’d struck out; fixing that is a big part of his rebound since then. In fact it’s fixed it so well that he actually got his first start of the season, yesterday, when the Royals got tired of throwing out rookies to get shelled every other game.

The first worry with allowing Wood to start is his career splits - he’s been very good against lefties and pretty bad against righties - but those splits haven’t been evident over this period. Lefties have hit him a tiny bit better - .250 AVG and 1 HR vs .243 AVG and 0 HR - but those are pretty similar. Of course, the sample size is only 13 innings.

In the end his start went alright, he was gassed a bit at the end. He’s probably earned another time through.

RP Peter Moylan - Key Stats: 2.00 ERA, 12.00 K/9

Pete isn’t just helping out with his “Sledge-iatto”; he’s pitching well, too. He’s basically become a fireman/ROOGY in the bullpen since the last time we looked here. He has only pitched more than a single inning once and has appeared in a total of 9 innings across 13 appearances. The new role agrees with him and has helped fuel the recent Royals success.

RP Kevin McCarthy - Key Stats: 2.77 ERA

McCarthy was demoted in the middle of this span and got shelled in his first appearance after he was recalled, but has otherwise been gotten good results. He’s getting a pretty good number of ground balls but he’s barely striking anyone out - only 6 in 13 innings. If he’s going to pitched low-leverage middle innings he’s still doing just fine, though.

The Bad

SP Jake Junis - Key Stats: 9 HR allowed, 6.35 ERA

Jake had an interesting June(is). He actually had 1 really good start, 1 pretty good one and 3 duds. He was demoted after the last start - 6 runs in 6 innings in a loss to Detroit - but he’ll be back. If he can get the home run ball under control he’s still got a chance to be a decent middle-of-the-rotation guy.

SP Ian Kennedy - Key Stats: 8 HR, 3.69 BB/9, .212 BABIP

Kennedy looked terrible for 5 starts after returning from the injury - 3 of which are represented here - but rebounded against the Angels to take a perfect game bid into the seventh inning. Unfortunately it was spoiled by a home run. Overall he made 6 starts and at least 4 runs scored while he was on the mound in all but that 2. He looked good against Detroit, again, so hopefully that will continue but that BABIP says things may get worse before they get better.

RP Kelvin Herrera - Key Stats: 6.55 ERA, 7.36 K/9

When Kelvin is bad, he’s bad. He’s allowed runs in 4 appearances, 3 or more in 3 of those. The one time he allowed one it was unearned. So you could argue he’s been the victim of just a couple bad outings. The thing is he isn’t striking anyone out. He’s had 12 appearances over this span and struck out more than one only twice; he struck out nobody in 6 of those appearances. I don’t know about you, but I find the lack of strike outs far more concerning than the runs allowed.

The world will never know

RP Joakim Soria - Key Stats: 7.84 ERA, 1.20 FIP, 13.94 K/9

That ERA is atrocious, it’s true, but most of that stems from a pair of terrible games at the very beginning of this stretch where he allowed 4 runs to Detroit without recording an out and then 2 runs in an inning to Cleveland in his next appearance. If you take those two appearances out he’s only allowed 3 runs across 9.1 innings in 11 appearances.

He’s got a quality 60 GB% to go with a very pretty strike out rate. His walk rate is a tad high but his BABIP is also an unreasonable .467. The reason he’s here is because the process appears to have been good even while the results haven’t necessarily followed. He’s an enigma. Get good again soon, please.

SP Eric Skoglund - Key Stats: 7.45 K/9, 4.66 BB/9, 3.03 FIP

Skoglund had an amazing debut, going 6.1 innings and shutting out the Tigers. After that he had a pair of miserable starts which saw him unable to even pitch into the third inning in either. One of these was caused by a rain delay, but he was pitching poorly anyway. He has not yet allowed a home run at the major league level, but walked 4 while striking out only 3 in 3.1 innings across the final 2 starts. He was demoted from the rotation and then to the minor leagues in favor of Kevin McCarthy. He was recently re-promoted to the major league pen when Junis was demoted. Skoglund will probably return to the minors when Duffy comes off the disabled list to resume his spot in the rotation on Tuesday.

RP Neftali Feliz - Key Stats: 1.80 ERA, 4/2 K/BB

Feliz was cut by the Brewers but has pitched perfectly acceptably in 5 appearances for the Royals, allowing a single run in his first appearance.

SP Luke Farrell - Key Stats: 2.2 IP, 5 ER, 2/3 K/BB

Farrell made his major league debut and it was less inspiring than the others who have done so for the Royals, this year. But, hey, Salvy thinks he’s going to be good.

RP Seth Maness - Key Stats: 1.93 ERA, 6.14 FIP

The Royals took a chance on the righty reliever with a UCL injury who opted to forgo Tommy John surgery. He was actually pretty good in his limited action, allowing only a single run on a solo shot in 4.2 innings of relief. Unfortunately he was demoted to the minor leagues to make room for Jake Junis to join the rotation. He was then designated for assignment to clear a space on the 40-man roster for Luke Farrell to make his major league debut, Saturday.

P Matt Strahm - Key Stats: 5.12 ERA, 18/7 K/BB

Strahm made his first three big league starts during this span, and all but 1 of his relief appearances were planned to be more than a single inning. Unfortunately his last appearance he was tasked with piggy-backing an ineffective Luke Farrell and tore or discovered he had torn his left patellar tendon. Typical recovery time for that injury is 6 months so he’s probably done for the year.

The bullpen and lineup have both looked a lot better, especially since the start of June. If Hammel and Kennedy can rebound, Vargas continues Vargasing, and Danny Duffy can be the guy the Royals have gotten used to the Royals might just not stop winning baseball games.