Royals’ bullpen is a reason for handwringing…
Ned Yost has unveiled most of his Opening Day roster.
At first glance, the Royals’ lineup offers optimism and the starting rotation is promising, but the bullpen could cause some handwringing.
None of the three facets is spectacular.
First, let’s start with the batting order: Alex Gordon (LF), Mike Moustakas (3B), Lorenzo Cain (CF), Eric Hosmer (1B), Salvador Perez (C), Brandon Moss (DH), Paulo Orlando (RF), Alcides Escobar (SS) and Raul Mondesi (2B).
The top five slots feature mainstays from the Royals’ pennant-winning teams in 2014 and ’15, with Moss adding a little power potential (28 home runs last year) in the middle and a speedy but inconsistent trio at the bottom.
It’s hard to imagine the Royals being as anemic offensively as they were last season (4.2 runs per game, which ranked 13th in the American League), but improvement will hinge on key players staying healthy as well as Orlando, Escobar and Mondesi getting on base often enough to extend rallies.
The sudden shift to becoming more of a power team is reason for pause. Flipping the switch after all these years of small ball – affectionately known in Kansas City as “keep the line moving” – is bound to lead to some glitches, even if the Royals do boast six guys who could knock 20-plus homers this summer.
Yordano Ventura’s tragic death forced general manager Dayton Moore to acquire more starting pitching. And unlike last year, there is no glaring gap in the rotation.
Asking Danny Duffy to duplicate his numbers from 2016 (highlighted by a 3.51 earned-run average, 1.141 WHIP and a 12-3 record) might be a stretch.
But over time, putting a solid performer on the mound each day will pay dividends, especially as the season hits full stride in June and July.
That leaves the bullpen, which was the bedrock of the Royals’ revival.
Over the past four seasons, prognosticators repeatedly whiffed when it came to gauging Yost and company. They undersold the Royals, who have averaged 87.8 wins since 2013.
The difference was the Royals’ bullpen, especially Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar.
While the pundits dwelled on analytics when trying to explain Kansas City’s success, they overlooked a simple fact: If the other team can’t score after the fifth or sixth inning, the Royals own a HUGE advantage.
Unfortunately, Herrera is the only holdover from that corps of relievers. And although he should do fine as the closer, there are questions about the seventh and eighth innings.
The ingredients for a shutdown bullpen are available. It’s just a matter of Yost finding the right mix.
Matt Strahm made his Major League debut last summer and was impressive (1.23 ERA in 22 innings), but Yost has indicated Joakim Soria will be the eighth-inning guy.
Soria, once an All-Star closer, came to symbolize the Royals shortcomings in 2016 (with a career-high 4.05 ERA, 27 walks and 10 home runs allowed in 70 innings).
So, in a year when the Royals want a fast start in order to quell talk of a possible trade deadline fire sale, Soria is a cause for consternation.
If he rebounds, and proves it in the first few weeks, Kansas City might be a playoff contender. If he doesn’t, Yost needs to have a short leash, and a Plan B he’s ready to implement.
The bullpen once masked whatever warts the Royals were trying to hide. Now, the rest of the roster may have to return the favor.