The Kansas City Royals are merely playing out the last month-and-a-half. They’ve all but locked up the AL Central crown and are getting ready to make another deep run into the postseason. However, they have one looming problem that may be their biggest weakness in the playoffs. That is their bullpen. Yes the same bullpen that was so key last postseason in closing out games and keeping them in several highly contested games which enabled them to come through with the victories. The Royals’ greatest weakness in the postseason may be what was once their greatest strength last year.
The Royals entered the year with primarily the same bullpen they had last year with a few minor tweaks. They still had their three best relievers to fill out the backend of the pen. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland were all returning and looking to once again lead one of the best bullpens in the majors. The first half couldn’t have gone much better for the three as they combined to pitch 102.2 innings while compiling 53 saves and holds while only blowing five leads.
The second half has been a completely different story. The big three have combined to pitch only 35 innings and have already blown five leads while only holding onto 14 saves and holds. So far into the second half the formerly dominant trio have looked average at best. Holland has already blown two of nine save opportunities so far in the second half and has allowed base runners at an alarming rate by allowing 22 base runners in only ten innings of work. Davis had a streak of facing 477 batters without allowing a home run dating all the way back to 2013. That streak ended on August 1 when Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista blasted one off him up in the Rogers Centre. His new streak of facing batters without giving up a home run lasted just 14 batters when Los Angeles Angel Kole Calhoun took him deep last night in the eighth inning. Herrera has blown three out of six leads so far in the second half and has seen his SO/9 rate drop to a mere 6.0 SO/9. The big three of the Royals’ pen have not looked fearsome at all during the second half.
There could be a number of reasons why this is happening. Perhaps the biggest reason is the mere fact that they are showing signs of fatigue in the late season from being overworked early in the year. The Royals’ starting unit struggled to get deep into games early in the season forcing them to try and shorten the games up by turning to the big three. This was clearly an effective strategy as the results show in the numbers for the first half above. However the need to lean on the big three early may be starting to catch up with them. Davis is dealing with back issues, Herrera’s not striking out as many batters lately and Holland’s struggling with his command. This could be just a false alarm and prove to be nothing at all as the season goes on but once the playoffs start the Royals will must undoubtedly turn to their big three in the postseason again to help close out games. If they continue to struggle then there could be a real possibility of them faltering when it matters most in October. Going forward the Royals will have to keep an eye on their big three and ensure they are as close to 100% as possible before they are prepared to turn to them in the postseason to hold and save games.