How Legitimate Are the Kansas City Royals?
The Royals haven’t seriously been in the playoff hunt this far into a season since 1995. Last year, they were much improved and gave their fans new reason for hope with their small push for the wild card, even though they came up short and finished third in the AL Central.
Now they are in an arms race with the Tigers, with the Indians' hopes almost completely erased. Kansas City also finds themselves as the second place team in the wild card race, with the Mariners only one game behind them, too.
How will the final stretch of their season shape up?
A team that has been a middle-of-the-road in terms of run production this year finds themselves struggling to score even more, when it matters most. Through 15 days in September, the Royals rank 19th in runs and runs per game.
In looking more at their offensive numbers, the team’s weighted on-base average ranks 21st in the league at .306. That's due to their lack of home run power, above everything else, given that they are last with 91 dingers; they are only one of two teams who don’t have 100 or more home runs at this point in the season.
Alex Gordon leads the starters in wOBA by a wide margin at .350, which is no shocker with his team-leading 19 home runs. Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas are the only others with double digit homers, at 16 and 15 respectively.
While Perez’s .260 average is average among MLB catcher this year, Moustakas is just barely hitting about the Mendoza line at .212. With both having subpar wOBA’s, Lorenzo Cain's is the closest to Gordon’s among starters at .324.
It’s no secret that the Royals have relied on their pitching more than anything this year, led by none other than “Big Game” James Shields. The righty continues to show that he's one of the best pitchers in the AL with every opportunity, and that the Royals might be out of the hunt without him. Shields has had his down days, like everyone does, but in 14 of his 32 starts, the KC ace has let up one or no earned runs, keeping their scuffling offense in striking distance every time out.
Jason Vargas and Yordano Ventura have been great assets this season, too. Vargas has had two rough starts this month, and will need to find his form again, sooner rather than later. Ventura got a shot at the start of the season and has run with it all the way to the end of the year. He took a tough loss to the Red Sox this past series, giving up four runs (three earned) and taking the loss after seven innings of work.
Their bread and butter, however, has been the trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. All three average a four-seamer around 96 mph, while Davis and Holland both have K/9 averages over 13 (Herrera’s is 7.8).
Holland missed a few games with an injury, but got back on the bump last series and did well. He struck out three in his lone inning of work and the only base runner reached on a walk.
While their closer was an All-Star once again this year, Davis might be the most reliable reliever on staff. With his most recent earned run coming on June 25, Davis has converted 29 holds and logging an amazing 1.29 FIP to go with his stellar 0.69 ERA.
Herrera started his scoreless streak on the same day as Davis, and making just as trustworthy. Now that Holland is back, Herrera creates an even safer bridge from the starters to Holland, which will hopefully help take the load off the scuffling offense.
If the Royals’ offense can figure it out, they could definitely take over the lead in the AL Central. Realistically though, they will continue to rely on their pitching and hope that will carry them into October and beyond. Our numbers give them a 19% chance of taking the Central, but over a 78% chance of making the playoffs this year.