Royals face crucial stretch of games

By Steve Sell
May 05, 2015

The Kansas City Royals’ impressive 16-9 start can be attributed to an unexpected robust offense and an airtight bullpen that is masking some inadequate starting pitching.

The Royals are about to embark on a brutal rest of May that will either legitimize their regular-season glitz or reveal it to be an aberration.

Among the items to watch this month are three games this weekend at Detroit — I think winning one of three would be the best they could expect — plus a whopping six games with the hated New York Yankees, who are on pace with the Royals and always seem to have their number. The teams meet for three games next weekend in Kansas City, then have a return three-gamer at Yankee Stadium during the final week of May.

And don’t forget a three-game series with baseball’s best team at this point, the St. Louis Cardinals. I’m guessing there won’t be a seat to be had May 22-24 when the in-state rivals square off in the City of Barbecue, though don’t be surprised to see a sea of red in the upper deck.

Royals fans are rightfully giddy at this point, but storm clouds are gathering. Concerns have to be mounting about the poor starts of Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie. While they’re a combined 5-5, their ERAs are bloated and they’re not going very deep into games.

Teams have figured out the best way to beat Ventura is by getting under his skin as he’s been good for nearly a skirmish a start. He’s barely giving the Royals five innings and he’s the alleged ace of the staff, maybe a distinction that’s simply too overwhelming for him at this point in his infant career.

Vargas is what he is. He’s pretty good the first time through the order, but his lack of a fastball allows hitters to sit on his change-up. He’s not even averaging five innings a start, which puts an incredible amount of pressure on the bullpen.

Guthrie should be the gravest of all concerns. He’s throwing nothing more than batting practice and while five starts is just a small sample size, there are many who believe he’s at the end of what’s been a decent career. He can’t put hitters away and his command has not been there all year. He struggles early in games as he can’t seem to get past the first or second inning without allowing a run or two.

Edinson Volquez has been everything the Royals have wanted. Take away one bad inning at Chicago and he’s been terrific. Danny Duffy, the final member of the rotation, maybe turned the corner in his last outing. You always worry about his mental aspect, as he seems to fight himself emotionally as much as he does opposing hitters. There’s no question about his stuff, it’s electric, but he’s right there with Ventura, Vargas and Guthrie in that he doesn’t average six innings.

Maybe Royals GM Dayton Moore had an inkling this was going to happen. Chris Young may turn out to be the pickup of the year and if Guthrie’s woes continue, he can slide right in. And don’t forget in the Royals’ back pocket, they might have Kris Medlen sometime around June or July. When healthy, he’s one of baseball’s best pitchers, but his former team Atlanta grew weary of his breakdowns. The Royals took a flyer that he might be put back together and if close to 100 percent, he’ll be better than anybody Kansas City has.

The bullpen has been beyond great, even with Greg Holland having been out for two weeks. Seven of the relievers sport ERAs under 2.00 and while we know that can’t last, nobody wants to be “the guy” who comes in and gets rocked.

Now that Brandon Finnegan has been added — and don’t forget Luke Hochevar is getting close to being ready to rejoin the team — maybe it is possible the Royals can continue to survive with starters only going five innings because there is such a reservoir of talent in the pen unless the workload causes the relievers to break down physically.

The Royals’ exceeding-expectations offense, of course, can’t continue its torrid pace. Mike Moustakas is going to tumble back to earth at some point and Kendrys Morales can’t continue to drive in nearly a run a game. It will help to get Alex Rios back — probably in two to three more weeks — as Jarod Dyson and Paulo Orlando are bench players and nothing more. 

Then you worry about Salvador Perez’s workload. He’s played in all 25 games, though he hasn’t started all of them. The Royals apparently don’t believe in Eric Kratz, who has all of four at-bats so far.

It’s been a wonderful start for the Royals, one of their best. I still don’t see them winning the division because of Detroit’s superior starting pitching, but they’re a better candidate for the wild-card than I thought they’d be. I really believed because of their question marks in the starting pitching they’d fall back to fourth this year.