Young KC ballclub has changed its culture in the offseason
By Andrew Curtis
A year ago at this point, the Kansas City Royals were in the middle of a 10-game homestand in which the team lost every single game, eventually adding up to a 12-game losing streak.
That torrid stretch pretty much buried the club for the rest of the season. They had their work cut out for them. After all, when your top three starters going into the season are Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, who is at the very least a respectable veteran, and Jonathan Sanchez, you’re in trouble.
This season, that starting rotation has been revamped. James Shields has joined the team via the monster trade that also sent fellow starting pitcher Wade Davis to Kansas City in exchange for highly touted hitting prospect Wil Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery as well as 3rd baseman Patrick Leonard.
Shields is a bona fide ace who has been a part of a winning culture. He’s also a guy who likes to laugh and have fun in the clubhouse. He’s a born leader, and that’s what the Royals had been missing the most.
The number two starter is Ervin Santana, who had a down year last season, but still is at an age where he could pitch at a level near in his prime. Santana threw a no-hitter in the past when he was with the Angels, and the spacious Kauffman Stadium should be a good fit for him, as it is for most pitchers.
The number three starter is Jeremy Guthrie, who shows no signs of slowing down, even at age 34. In fact, Guthrie seems to have gotten better with age. Guthrie won his final ten starts last season and has won his first two so far this season.
Guthrie was perhaps the best acquisition of the Dayton Moore era, given his production and who was given up to get him. Dayton Moore inexplicably, somehow, some way, flipped Jonathan Sanchez, a clubhouse cancer who didn’t seem to care and lost the velocity on his fastball, for Guthrie last August.
Wade Davis is a converted reliever who is slowly regaining his stamina after an effective 2012 season out of the bullpen for the Tampa Bay Rays. He, too, sometimes struggles giving up the long ball. Like Santana, Kauffman Stadium appears to be the right ballpark for a flyball pitcher such as Davis.
The fifth starter is Luis Mendoza, who was arguably the most consistent starter the Royals had last season. You could argue that it was Guthrie after being acquired or even Felipe Paulino or Danny Duffy before season-ending injuries, but those are too small of a sample size.
Mendoza relies on his control and offers a solid sinkerball that plays well in the Royals’ strong defensive alignment on the infield.
Reliable, consistent starting pitching is essential in Major League Baseball today. Bats can be cold, but eventually they will heat up as the season progresses. Pitching is a different story. You either have it or you don’t.
Royals manager Ned Yost has been adamant that he’s going to “ride his starting rotation”, meaning that he will stick with them in high-leverage situations later in the game instead of immediately going to his bullpen.
Showing confidence in your starters is a key. It keeps their minds right saves the bullpen, making them fresher. Pushing James Shields to pitch a complete game or Ervin Santana to finish the 8th inning is something the Royals will have to do repeatedly to remain in contention.
Catcher Salvador Perez has a great chemistry with the staff, and it’s shown thus far this season. The Royals will only go as far as their starting pitching will take them this season. The early results and the potential of the starting five look promising. It’s a long season, and the Royals have a chance to win every day because of their revamped rotation.