The Suddenly Scary Kansas City Royals Are Making a Playoff Push
At some point in sports, the ride ends.
All good teams eventually become bad teams. It's part of the cycle of the sporting life. Even the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, who won 11 straight division titles from 1995-2005, eventually saw their incredible run come to a close. You're good, then you're bad, then, hopefully after not too much time has passed, you're good again.
The Kansas City Royals have been one of baseball's best teams over the last five years, with two American League pennants and the 2015 World Championship to their name. But here in 2017, that window is closing. They are set to lose a number of key free agents this off-season, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Jason Vargas.
Soon, the music will stop and the Royals will have to begin their rebuild. But their trade with the San Diego Padres this week shows they are all-in for one more postseason push.
Kansas City acquired three pitchers, Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter, in an effort to shore up their starting rotation and their bullpen. At 52-47, the Royals are the hottest team in baseball, winners of seven in a row following their 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. They're currently 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central and hold the second wild card spot by one game.
In Cahill, K.C. gets a solid pitcher who will slot in towards the back of the Royals' starting rotation. He went 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA and a 3.39 fielding independent pitching (FIP) for the Padres, with a 1.34 WHIP and 72 strikeouts in 61 innings this season. He's only made 11 starts in '17, but has struck out more than one oppponent per inning, whiffing 27% of batters faced this year.
The addition of Cahill gives the Royals a nice little starting rotation, slotted behind Danny Duffy, Vargas, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. None of those guys blows your doors off, but all are solid pitchers. The Royals' 6.1 WAR among starting rotations is in the middle of the pack in the American League, 8th out of 15 teams, with an ERA of 4.48 that also ranks 8th.
Maurer and Buchter will help strengthen a bullpen that ranks 8th in WAR. Maurer acted as the Padres' closer, converting 20 of 23 save opportunities for the rebuilding Friars. His ERA of 5.72 suggests he's been struggling, but his other numbers -- an FIP of 3.22 and an fWAR of 0.7 -- tell a different tale. He has struck out 23.5% of hitters faced and has walked just 4.9%. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a robust .315, quite a bit higher than league average of .296 for relievers. Maurer has also only allowed four homers this year in 39.1 innings, and will not act as Kansas City's closer.
Buchter is a lefty who has piled up the strikeouts, but also has a tendency to get a bit wild. He has struck out 29.2% of all hitters faced, but has also walked 11.2%, leading to a much lower ERA (3.05) than his FIP (4.55). (In other words, he's the Bizarro Maurer.) He has been particularly effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .175/.277/.386 slash line this season, but he's also done well against righties, with a slash line-against of .212/.302/.417.
These additions should bolster a Royals team that is already chugging toward October. Since June 1, only the Los Angeles Dodgers (.783) have a better winning percentage than Kansas City (.630).
This is their last hurrah, and with a talented, playoff-tested roster that is teeming with motivated stars, the Cleveland Indians should be worried about what they see in their rearview mirror.