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Joe Nelson - Blogs

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PRETENDER OR CONTENDER: KANSAS CITY ROYALS

By Joe Nelson
Posted 08/06/2013 at 05:46 PM

With wins in 12 of the last 13 games the Kansas City Royals have entered the AL wild card race and the AL Central race. Kansas City is just four games away from the second wild card spot currently held by Texas. The Royals are five games above .500 with 53 games to go and while the Pirates are the team that deserves the most attention for emerging from years of futility the Royals could also claim their first winning season since 2003 and just the second winning season since 1993. With a blowout win on Monday the Royals are +26 in run differential on the season and for one of the first times all season the actual record for the Royals is lower than their Pythagorean Win-Loss record.
 
Kansas City is incredibly 8-2 in extra-innings games this season with a strong bullpen getting the job done and the Royals have done their part against lesser teams, going 29-19 against below .500 squads. Despite great play in the last month the Royals still lack great offensive numbers. In the last 30 days Kansas City owns a .298 team wOBA, good enough for 21st in MLB in that span and for the season they are a middle-of-the-pack team in many offense categories, expect for home runs as only the Giants and Marlins have hit fewer homers. Only five teams in baseball walk less often than the Royals but the Kansas City offense does have the lowest strikeout rate in all of baseball.
 
The Royals have the 6th best team ERA in baseball but they are only 18th best in FIP and xFIP, suggesting the pitching staff has overachieved a bit at this point in the season. Kansas City pitchers have the 11th lowest BABIP in baseball, somehow surviving with good overall numbers despite one of the lowest groundball rates of any pitching staff. The Royals have the second highest left-on-base rate for a MLB pitching staff, a big tip of the hat to the bullpen that features the AL’s best bullpen ERA. The Royals have also had great health from its starting pitching staff as four starters have made 21 or more starts and Kansas City has only used seven starters all season. The recent swap of Luis Mendoza to the bullpen in favor of Bruce Chen in a starting role has paid incredible early dividends as well.
 
Looking forward the rotation is certainly not a trustworthy one as Wade Davis continues to struggle and Jeremy Guthrie has been very inconsistent. That the Royals are where they are with James Shields only winning six games is certainly a testament to the strength of the bullpen. With Shields and Ervin Santana and perhaps Chen, the Royals may have a rotation that can compete but compared with the other teams in the race they look to be at big disadvantage. In the next two weeks the Royals have nine games with Boston and Detroit so by the end of the month it should be clear where this team stands. Kansas City also has very taxing schedule with only three remaining off days (plus a doubleheader) as early season rainouts need to be worked in. 25 of the remaining 53 games of the season are against winning teams including 17 games against Cleveland and Detroit. In early September the Royals play 12 consecutive games against those two teams and that stretch should determine the season outcome for this team.

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