In the last four weeks (July 2-29) the Royals have gone 14-8, thanks in no small part to a nine-game winning streak that ended Saturday night. They picked up the pieces and yanked another win from the jaws of defeat on Sunday and they’re ready to start rolling again.
Like any stretch of good baseball there are some high quality pitching performances to be seen, here. Mostly from a suddenly incredibly dominant ‘pen, but a couple of the starters more than held their own as well.
RP Jake Junis - Key Stats: 1 GP, 1 W
Jake was promoted and did what is rapidly becoming his “thing” he pitched a single inning of relief in an extra inning game and was immediately demoted the next day. This time was his best performance a single inning without allowing a walk and striking out 2 to give the Royals a chance to beat the Tigers the next inning. Which they did. He’ll be back again, soon.
RP Al Alburquerque - Key Stats: 1 ER, 6 IP, 3 K/3 BB
Al is the odd man out after the trade with the Padres. The Royals not only designated him for assignment but requested unconditional release waivers for him after his latest stint with the club. He wasn’t exceptionally dominant but he pitched well enough that someone will probably take a chance on him before the season is up.
RP Ryan Buchter - Key Stats: 0 K/9, 1.50 WHIP
In case you’re having trouble remember which of the new Royals relievers is which, Buchter is the lefty with a high-spin fastball that has gotten better results than his peripherals. He pitched an uneventful inning in Detroit Wednesday but gave up an unearned run while walking 2 in only one-third of an inning against Boston yesterday before being bailed out by his trade buddy.
RP Brandon Maurer - Key Stats: 21.60 K/9, 1.80 WHIP
Just like he has in games, so far, Maurer appears following his left-handed pal. He is the flame-throwing but erratic righty of the duo who seems to have pitched better than his results. So far he’s pitched only 1.2 innings but he’s struck out 4 which is a pretty impressive way to start things off. He struck out the side around a pair of singles and a walk to close out the blow out win in Detroit on Wednesday.
SP Travor Cahill - Key Stats: 4 IP, 5 ER, 2 HR
Trevor Cahill made his Royals debut on Saturday night and looked an awful lot like the guy he replaces in the rotation. The good news is that so far this season that is Cahill’s absolute worst start by Game Score v2. It would have been a pretty typical start for Wood.
SP Luke Farrell - Key Stats: 2.2 IP, 1 HR, 3 BB
I’m the kind of guy who decided Mike Moustakas was his favorite player early in 2014. I started following the Royals in ‘98. I love a good underdog story so Luke Farrell was perfect for me. Unfortunately, he was not even remotely perfect in his MLB debut. He was so bad that not only was he immediately demoted but he was cut from the 40-man roster and traded to the Dodgers for cash considerations the first time they needed room. Good luck in Los Angeles, Luke!
SP Travis Wood - Key Stats: 3 GS, 8.31 ERA, 5.54 K/9
The last 4 weeks include all of Travis Wood’s starts, so far this season. He was not good as a starter for the Royals which should be shocking considering he was not good as a reliever for the Royals. Predictably he pitched 6 innings and only allowed 2 runs and striking out 7 in his Padres debut, Friday. He even threw in an RBI single in helping to lead his team to victory. I still don’t regret moving him, though.
RP Mike Minor - Key Stats: 4.35 ERA, 12.19 K/9, 61.0% LOB
For the first time all season Mike has looked a tiny bit vulnerable. That Left on Base percentage will probably not stay that low and he’s still striking guys out almost 5 times as often as he walks them so he’ll probably be fine. Right now, though, he’s probably the worst option out of the pen.
SP Jason Vargas - Key Stats: 7.23 ERA, 20.7 HR/FB%, 5.79 K/9
Vargy hit his first speed bump in the form of the month of July. He sandwiched a pair of really bad starts against Seattle and Detroit around the All-Star Break but rebounded with a 5-inning, 2-run performance against the White Sox and an even better 6-inning, 1-run performance against Boston. Still, his strike outs and groundballs are way down from earlier this year and you have to wonder how much further his surgically repaired elbow can be trusted in 2017.
SP Jason Hammel - Key Stats: 2 HR, 7 BB, 23.2 IP
I flipped Jason back and forth between good and bad multiple times. Hochevar’s clone has been remarkably mediocre in his last 4 starts but 5 starts ago he was really bad. Then yesterday he was slightly above average, so I can’t really use either of those as tie breakers. He’s given up exactly 3 runs in 3 of his 4 starts and has not pitched more than 6.1 innings. He has only even made it through six twice in 4 goes. He’s keeping the walks and home runs down, though. So there’s that, at least. He’s a more than serviceable fifth starter if Cahill and Vargas can get their acts back together.
RP Kelvin Herrera - Key Stats: 2.00 ERA, 10.00 K/9
For the last 4 weeks Kelvin has finally reverted back to the high-strikeout, high-walk mow-’em-down machine we’ve come to know and love. The only runs he gave up during this stretch were the 2-run homer to Mikie Mahtook against Detroit in Kansas City which famously was the start of their 9-game winning streak. So in a way, we can thank Kelvin for giving the Royals the opportunity for that emotional come-back that led the way to so many future wins. He also didn’t allow a base runner in 6 of his 11 appearances.
RP Neftali Feliz - Key Stats: 1.00 WHIP, 66.7 LOB%, 2.37 FIP
Feliz has pitched 9 innings in 9 appearances and given up 3 runs, always in games the Royals were going to lose anyway. It’s a bit worrisome that someone with his stuff has only struck out 5 in those innings but he struck out 3 in his last two appearances including Saturday night when he looked flat filthy while earning the hold in the sixth inning of that contest.
SP Ian Kennedy - Key Stats: 8.59 K/9, 3.68 ERA, 0.92 HR/9
Ian is now looking like the pitcher Royals fans have gotten used to with one rather important exception. He isn’t giving up as many home runs. He did have one atrocious start against the White Sox a couple weeks ago that the Royals managed to win anyway, but other than that he’s going a minimum of 6 innings in every start and only allowed even 3 runs once. That start against the Angels really seems to have helped him turn things back around.
RP Scott Alexander - Key Stats: 8 K, 8 BB, 87.9 GB%
Scotty has managed to pitch to a 1.54 ERA but he’s also issued a lot of walks. Interestingly the vast majority of those walks happened in his first 4 appearances over this stretch. Also his only runs allowed. He has a 6-game stretch without allowing an earned run and over that period he has only walked 1. Rex said Saturday night that Alexander didn’t care if he walked people because he assumed he could just get a double play on the next guy. While that’s probably the right attitude to have, he needs to be aware that his infield defense is not perfect behind him. He also has a miniature 2-game streak of allowing unearned runs thanks to infield errors.
RP Kevin McCarthy - Key Stats: 1.13 ERA, 90.9 LOB%
It may surprise some people to know that Kevin McCarthy was probably the right guy for demotion even considering Scott Alexander’s walks. Kevin only walked 1 in the month of July but he has only struck out 2. Despite being another sinker-baller in the Royals ‘pen he was only getting a 51.6 GB% and he was allowing a .313 BABIP. High BABIPs with low strike out numbers are bad news for relievers. It’s good that he was getting some results and it’s sure he’ll be back, soon, but Maurer, Buchter, and Alexander probably have more upside for the moment.
RP Joakim Soria - Key Stats: 8.25 K/9, 0.75 BB/9, .214 BABIP
I know it’s going to be cool to start railing against Soria again after his blown save helped end the Royal winning streak on Saturday but he has continued to be very, very good this year. He only walked 1 batter in 12 innings in the last 4 weeks while striking out 11. One interesting tidbit is that it seems he gives up runs almost every time he allows a hit. He only allowed hits in 4 of 12 appearances and a run scored in 3 of those.
RP Peter Moylan - Key Stats: 0.00 ERA, 62.1 GB%
The Aussie has done everything he can to make up for his struggles earlier this season with more than his coffee making skills. He has pitched an entire month without allowing an earned run. He’s even beating lefties. He’s faced 9 of them since July 2 and only allowed a single while striking out a pair.
SP Danny Duffy - Key Stats: 25 K/3 BB, 0.84 HR/9
The Royals’ ace returned from injury just before the All-Star Break and it was just in time to take over the lead of the staff from the faltering Jason Vargas. Danny has only one bad start in this stretch; it was against the Tigers in an incredibly hot game. He pitched well for several innings but the heat and the amount of time sitting on the bench watching his teammates score runs finally got to him in the sixth inning and he allowed a handful of runs before being pulled. He also had one of the best starts of his career when he went 8.1 innings of 1 run ball against the Rangers but was out-dueled by Cole Hamels just after the All-Star Break.
The Royals will need more good pitching as the head toward the home stretch of the season. Their bullpen seems set to do just that while their rotation certainly has shown enough promise to think it might be possible. Only 2 more months until we see if all their hard work and Dayton’s mid-season deals can pay off.