Last year to much amazement the Kansas City Royals won the ALCS and finished just shy of winning the World Series. Since then their veteran ace departed via free agency and a lot of people thought it was a huge mistake for them to let James Shields walk. Credit where it's due: The Royals have the best record in the American League. I'm sure the front office feels pretty vindicated in the early season results.
Once again, outside of 9 poor innings from Luke Hochevar, their bullpen has been stupid. Not a single reliever has an ERA above 3.00. In fact, only 2 relievers have had an ERA above 2.00 and one of them (Ryan Madson) has a 2.08 ERA! Their best is Wade Davis with a 0.33 ERA over 27 innings.
Their bullpen is once again a huge reason why they've been so successful. They've been mediocre to bad in the other two main areas of their team. They only have a 99 wRC+ as a team which ranks 10th in baseball and 8th in the AL. They have 2 starters with an ERA under 4.00.
Pretend I didn't already tell you how excellent their bullpen is. Now, where would you assume the Royals are if I told you they have the 14th ranked rotation in the AL and the 8th offense? I'm willing to beat you wouldn't have guess they were at the top of the heap.
I think it's fair to question if they can keep themselves in the top position and maybe even in the playoff conversation. But I'm not as ready to dismiss them as I might have been a year ago. I really do think they've stumbled onto something with their super duper uber elite stupid good bullpen.
The Brewers and Royals are playing a split series. The first two games will be in Milwaukee and the last two will kick off a road trip for the Brewers.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas looked like they might be on their way out of baseball as post-hype failed prospects. Hosmer has slashed 298/370/472 (.363 wOBA, 135 wRC+). Moustakas has slashed 318/369/452 (.360 wOBA, 133 wRC+). They're two of the best offensive players for the Royals. What a difference a couple years can make.
Monday June 14, 7:10 pm CST: Kyle Lohse vs Edinson Volquez
Remember when Volquez was doing really well last year and we were all like, "That can't last." Well not only did it last, it's still happening. He's actually better this year. He has his third best K%-BB% (10.9%) and an excellent .208 BAA and 1.15 WHIP. His 3.07 ERA is almost exactly where he ended last year but his 3.40 FIP is way better. His 4.01 xFIP is better too. That dings him for his super low 0.49 HR/9 which would be a career low, though last year's mark (0.79 HR/9) isn't far off.
He throws a fastball (92-95), curve ball, and change-up.
Tuesday June 15, 7:10 pm CST: Matt Garza vs Chris Young
Young has split time between the bullpen and the rotation. He's been pretty decent too. In 7 starts (40 IP) he has a 2.48 ERA, 3.68 FIP, and 4.97 xFIP. The xFIP really sticks out to me because he usually does give up a lot of home runs. But so far (between the bullpen and rotation) he has a 0.69 HR/9. This game will be in Miller Park so maybe the Brewers can return it to a career norm for him.
He mostly throws fastball (85-87) and slider. Though he does very rarely toss in a change-up.
Wednesday June 16, 7:10 pm CST: Mike Fiers vs Joe Blanton
Joe Blanton as a starter has a home run problem. Coming into this year he had 6 straight seasons where his HR/9 was above 1.00 and last year it was his worst mark (1.97 HR/9). So it's not at all surprising that the Royals had him pitching out of their bullpen where he was actually pretty decent (in 15 innings).
He throws a fastball (89-92), slider, change-up, and occasional cutter and change-up.
Thursday June 17, 7:10 pm CST: Jimmy Nelson vs Yordano Ventura
Ventura right now has a 4.68 ERA. He's been better than that though as his 3.96 FIP and 3.75 xFIP illustrate. His peripherals look pretty similar to last year's when he a 3.20 ERA, 3.60 FIP, and 3.74 xFIP.
He throws fastball (95-97), cutter, curve ball, change-up.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs