On the heels of suffering six straight losses, four of which were due effort of the bullpen, the Royals return home to take on a red-hot Seattle Mariners team who as of Sunday, leads the Major Leagues in wins. But as Kansas City remained scoreless for the last eight innings of Sunday’s series finale, spoiled the third straight quality start by 23-year old Brad Keller, I remembered an opinion I heard following Opening Day’s victory.
While listening to The Drive on 610 Sports with Carrington Harrison, many fans resorted to calling in about the near bullpen collapse of squandering a five-run lead in the ninth inning in game one against Chicago. Following a 2018 season in which the Royals finished dead last in bullpen ERA, frustration slung in Dayton Moore’s direction on failing to correct a glaring issue that caused Kansas City to start last season 5-20. But Harrison refrained from bashing the four relievers used to record three outs and spun the hair-pulling-out incident into a positive. To sum up, he explained the bullpen is going to have nights like this. If you’re basing the Royals progress on wins in 2019, it will be a disappointment. The true measure of success would center on Adalberto Mondesi and Brad Keller’s development into stars Kansas City so desperately needs them to be.
Royals relievers nearly coughed up yet another five-run lead in game two against the White Sox, but the Royals emerged unscathed in an 8-6 win. Unfortunately, Ian Kennedy blew a ninth innning save in the fourth game of the year against the Twins. Jake Diekman failed to hold a two-run eight-inning lead the next day, while Wily Peralta gave up the game-winning hit in extras. Kyle Zimmer imploded to load the bases on three straight walks in Detroit, while Kevin McCarthy walked home the go-ahead run. Wily Peralta gave up a gut-punching grand slam on Saturday to continue the epic string of bullpen blow-ups.
Infuriating isn’t strong enough to describe the start for the Royals in 2019, had they held the lead in just half of those games, their record would be .500. The driving force that propelled the team to two American League pennants and a championship - the bullpen - has now become the Achilles’ heel that is limiting “The Process” from taking shape in the first half of the season.
Scanning over the stats, Brad Keller currently boasts a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings. Jakob Junis posts a 4.63 ERA and has collected 14 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. Jorge Lopez sits right behind him with a 4.09 ERA while holding hitters to a .256 average. Even Homer Bailey pitched efficient enough in his Royals debut, striking out nine over five innings of work. The offense has carried its weight, for the most part, averaging 4.3 runs per game and including a lineup of 1-5 performing with collective .274 batting average while driving in 28 of the teams 35 total runs this year.
Nonetheless, Kansas City is positioned in the basement of the American League Central eight games in, thanks largely in part to a bullpen that has allowed 21 runs on 28 hits and walked 19 in 22.1 innings of work.
But retracing back to Harrison’s words, what arms in the 2019 Royals bullpen truly makes an impact the next time Kansas City re-enters postseason play? Kyle Zimmer has shown the most promise and even he faltered in his second outing, walking the bases loaded in a high leverage situation. Yet, Zimmer isn’t a young prospect by any measure at 27 years of age.
Sure, if some are holding out on the Royals striking a weak division this season and the possibility of making a run still remain in the cards, then, of course, a few of these relievers would be listed on the postseason roster (sigh). However, the reality is, with a bullpen this atrocious, the Royals will not sniff nor come within 15 games of a Wild Card or first place spot.
The best case scenario for the front office is Jake Diekman becomes a tough “LOOGY” (Lefty-handed one-out guy), Brad Boxberger collects at least 15-20 saves before the deadline, and Wily Peralta finds his groove similar to last season while maintaining an upper 90’s fastball. Maybe Ian Kennedy excels in his newly found bullpen role, but with his remaining contract, the Royals will likely be better off holding onto the right-hander.
If the Royals sought a chance, they would replace those names with Triple-A arms in Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Arnaldo Hernandez, Jake Newberry, Connor Greene, or possibly Scott Blewett. Replenishing the bullpen with youth not only weeds out the aged veterans, but reveals if Kansas City can start rebuilding a cornerstone piece within their own system.
Let us not forget Greg Holland was drafted in the 10th round in the 2007 MLB draft before debuting three years later and struggling mightily with a 6.75 ERA in 18 ⅓ innings. It wasn’t until Jonathon Broxton was traded in the mid-2012 season that Holland was given the closing duties and took off from there. Although not from the farm system, Wade Davis was a failed starter turned Cyborg in 2014. Kelvin Herrera needed three seasons before he found command and footing in the big leagues.
Of course, there’s no sure-fire thing that the next HDH combo is lurking in Omaha. But it will never be known until their shot is given. After all, many of the most dominant set of relievers in the history of the game didn’t start out setting the world ablaze.
It hurts, its frustrating, and the start couldn’t have gone worse for the relief staff. But in the grand scheme of things, it ultimately won’t matter. The future of the Kansas City bullpen has yet to arrive, and if the trade value declines of any of the current arms, cutting bait and trying Omaha might be the next best move for Moore.