When the season started, the Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim appeared to have the best rotations in the American League. These star-studded rotations were expected to lead their respective teams to competing for division titles.
The Tigers are off to a good start, the Rays are hovering near .500, and the Angels have again struggled out of the gate.
The Kansas City Royals, however, entered Tuesday with the fourth best ERA after leading recently. They have a 3.87 ERA, .02 behind the Rangers, .07 behind the Red Sox and .16 behind the Tigers.
The team is three games under .500 and in third place in the AL Central. Still, it's a marked improvement to the product that this team has fielded the past few seasons.
Looking at the team's starters, it's been a combination of middling performances and just tough luck. Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza all have ERAs over 4.00. All three have records near .500 however, and Guthrie leads the staff with seven wins.
As for tough luck, that's come in the form of newcomers Ervin Santana and "Big Game" James Shields. Santana has just a 2.84 ERA, yet his record is at .500. His 1.04 WHIP is the sixth best mark in the league behind only Hisashi Iwakuma, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish and Clay Buchholz.
The Royals took a gamble trading their top hitting prospect Wil Myers to the Rays this offseason to make Shields their ace. His 3-6 record may not look ace-worthy, but he has pitched much better than this record suggests.
He has a 2.99 ERA and has struck out 104 batters in 117 1/3 innings. He's given up more than three runs in a start just three times in his 17 starts this season.
In May, he had a string of four starts in which he lost four straight games. He gave up six runs in the fourth start so the loss was warranted, but in the other three, he threw at least six innings of two-run ball.
It could just be a streak of bad luck for Santana and Shields, but if they keep pitching like they are, eventually their records will show for it.
The Royals bullpen, meanwhile, has been terrific, aside from 10 blown saves. Interestingly, those 10 games could be the difference in where the team sits in the standings.
Each reliever has one or two blown saves, so it's not like one guy is the culprit. In fact, closer Greg Holland has been dominant late in games with 16 saves, a 1.89 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 29 innings.
Surprisingly, a few starters turned relievers have thrived out of the pen, specifically Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar. Tim Collins and J.C. Gutierrez have also been productive late-game arms.
While the Royals pitching has been great, the team is 23rd in the big leagues in runs scored, contributing to the team position in the standings. If only both hitting and pitching could click at the same time, Kansas City would be in business.
There are still a few months left for the Royals to make a serious run. But even so, the young talent is finally playing dividends in the form of fielding a competitive team.
It may not feel like the late 1970s again in Kansas City, but the team has the makings, especially with its pitching, to eventually experience October baseball in the near future.
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