The Royals won back-to-back American League pennants — and the 2015 World Series — largely on the strength of their relief pitching, strong defense and timely hitting. And those are the very things that suddenly have thrust them back into playoff contention.
Kansas City has won nine consecutive games and 14 of its past 16 to move within four games of an AL wild-card berth. That’s still a rather sizeable climb with just over a month to go in the regular season, but the Royals have shaved 5.5 games off that wild-card deficit since they sat at 51-58 on Aug. 5.
So, what’s behind the turnaround? Look no further than the bullpen.
With three more flawless innings in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Marlins, Royals relievers extended their scoreless streak to a franchise-record 32 innings – with just seven hits allowed in that span. And since Aug. 6, KC’s relief corps leads the majors with a microscopic 0.79 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and .126 batting average against. And that’s without All-Star closer Wade Davis, who hasn’t pitched since July 27 because of a forearm injury.
Catcher Salvador Perez and closer Kelvin Herrera (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Meanwhile, the Royals’ rotation also has stepped up, going 11-1 and posting a 2.38 ERAthat ranks second in the majors since Aug. 6.
“This is the team that we are,” right-hander Yordano Ventura told The Kansas City Star after tossing six scoreless innings Tuesday. “The team you’re seeing is the team that we are."
The offense hasn’t been quite as effective, but it hasn’t had to be when Kansas City has outscored its opponents 50-13 during its nine-game winning streak and 81-34 during its 14-2 run.
Writing off the Royals in August? It was a foolish mistake after witnessing their stunning comebacks (see: 2014 AL Wild Card Game, 2015 ALDS, among others) during the past two postseasons. The sleeping giant has awakened just in time to make another October run – and to torment the other AL contenders that mistakenly believed they would avoid the Royals’ relievers and late-season magic.