The Royals are the defending World Series champions and the two-time defending AL champions for many reasons, though I’m not sure any have received more attention than their bullpen. Kansas City’s shut down relief work was the difference in many games from 2014-15.
So far this season the Royals have again received excellent work from their bullpen. Their 3.12 ERA is the lowest in baseball and their 1.23 WHIP is sixth lowest. The FanGraphs version of WAR says Kansas City’s relief unit has been the fourth best in baseball at +4.8 WAR. Only the Yankees (+6.6), Astros (+6.6), and Dodgers (+5.2) have been better.
The baseball season is very long though, and, inevitably, at some point in the 162-game schedule every part of the team will struggle. The offense will slump, the rotation with falter, the defense will stop making plays … it’ll all happen at one point or another. That’s just baseball. Last week, the Royals vaunted bullpen took its turn being a liability.
The Royals went 2-4 in six games last week and the bullpen took all four losses. They also allowed runs in the two wins as well. Heck, in one of the wins the bullpen turned an 8-1 lead into an 8-5 lead and twice allowed the tying run to come to the plate. Here’s the Kansas City bullpen the last six games:
|Aug. 29 vs. NYY||8-5 win (box)||3||5||4||3||2||3||0|
|Aug. 30 vs. NYY||5-4 loss (box)||6||5||1||1||2||4||0|
|Aug. 31 vs. NYY||5-4 loss (box)||6 2/3||5||1||1||2||4||0|
|Sept. 2 vs. DET||7-6 loss (box)||3 1/3||4||3||3||0||1||1|
|Sept. 3 vs. DET||5-2 win (box)||3||3||1||1||1||5||1|
|Sept. 4 vs. DET||6-5 loss (box)||2 1/3||6||2||2||0||2||1|
That works out to a 4.07 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in 24 1/3 innings for the bullpen. Also, the bullpen allowed two runners that were inherited from the starting pitcher to score during those six games as well, including the game-tying run in that August 31 loss to the Yankees. The Royals had the lead in three of the four losses.
The September 2 loss to the Tigers was perhaps the worst of those four losses. The Royals fell behind 4-0 early before erasing the deficit and carrying a 6-5 lead into the ninth inning, Wade Davis, in his first appearance off the disabled list, blew the save on a hit-by-pitch, a double, and two-run single by Miguel Cabrera.
The September 4 loss wasn’t much better. The Royals again rallied from behind, this time turning a 4-1 deficit into a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning. That lead lasted 10 pitches. Joakim Soria gave it up on a single a two-run home run by Justin Upton.
Soria suffered two of the four losses last week and Davis took one as well. That’s rough. Along with Kelvin Herrera, Soria and Wade are manager Ned Yost’s late-inning horses, and they coughed up multiple games last week. Think about it. The Royals suffered four one-run losses at home last week because their bullpen gave it up. That kind of stuff never happened from 2014-15.
To make matters worse, the bullpen blew these games against the Yankees and Tigers, two teams the Royals are trying to beat out for the second wild card spot. Kansas City was three games back of a wild card spot with a 7.6 percent chance to make the postseason (per FanGraphs) prior to this six-game stretch. Now they’re four games out with 2.6 percent playoff odds.
I know the difference between three games back and four games seems small — and who really cares about postseason odds anyway? — but there’s less than a month to go in the season now. The Royals only have 26 games remaining. Losing a game in the standings in May is fine, whatever. Plenty of time to make it up. That isn’t the case in September. Going backwards at this time of the season is bad news.
Like I said earlier, every single team in baseball is going to go through a stretch where their bullpen just stinks for six or seven games. Even the best bullpens do that, and the Royals definitely have one of the best. This bad week has come at an inopportune time for the defending champs, however. Relievers took four losses in a six-game span against two direct wild card competitors.
Source: CBS Sports / Royals’ bullpen is blowing shot at the postseason for defending World Series champs