The Kansas City Royals have fought their way back into the playoff race with an unlikely leader at the front of their starting pitching rotation.
The Kansas City Royals were contenders in the AL Central Division each season from 2013-15. In 2015, the Royals not only captured that division crown, they also won the World Series.
Last year, Kansas City slipped to a third place .500 finish. The club struggled through the first couple months of this season, and as late as June 9 the Royals were still buried at 26-34.
Article continues below ...
Since that time, the Royals have gotten hot, winning nine of their last 11 games. The winning stretch has pulled the team back within a game of the .500 mark. They are now 3.5 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians, and just two games out in the AL Wildcard race.
One of the key factors in the Royals ability to stay in the race this season has been the strong performance of pitcher Jason Vargas. The 34-year old lefty is 10-3 with a 2.27 ERA and 1.134 WHIP, and has allowed just 79 hits over 87.1 innings.
In short, Vargas has been one of the best pitchers in the AL this season. During this recent hot stretch the Royals have won both of his starts. In fact, Vargas has registered a victory in each of his last five outings. Vargas has allowed just six total runs over his last four starting assignments.
SECOND-HALF SUCCESS KEY FOR PLAYER AND TEAM
In his most recent start, Vargas battled through six innings for a 7-3 win over the Angels. After that game, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com quoted Royals skipper Ned Yost on his pitcher. “He did what he does best — limit the damage,” Yost said.
Vargas is scheduled to next take the mound on Saturday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. There he will face the Toronto Blue Jays, who got off to a similarly poor start to their season but have also fought back into the race.
Vargas is now in his 12th big league season. He has a career 77-73 record with a 4.05 ERA and 1.297 WHIP mark. Vargas has made 210 starts over 230 total appearances in which he has pitched 1,309 innings.
He will be a free agent following this season, so Vargas is absolutely pitching for a contract. Vargas will turn 35 years old just before 2018 spring training gets underway. His ability to earn a big contract is likely limited.
However, if he continues to pitch at this level for the rest of the season, Vargas will certainly get a nice offer for next season somewhere. He could even get a multi-year deal. That continued strong pitching is vital to both his future, and the Royals ability to stay in the 2017 race.