Kansas City Royals: Starting Pitching Key to First Place Standing in AL Central

Jeremy SickelContributor IIIApril 22, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 08:  Pitcher James Shields #33 of the Kansas City Royals is introduced prior to the Kansas City Royals home opener against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on April 8, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

What a difference one aggressive offseason has made for the Kansas City Royals—as they have built a starting rotation that is now seen as one of the team’s strengths, as opposed to being its perennial Achilles heel.

We all know by now how the Royals went about piecing together the likes of James Shields, Wade Davis, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie into the same rotation. The question, however, was whether or not Kansas City’s plan would actually work.

The Royals are currently 10-7 and sit atop the American League Central with a modest 1.5 games lead over the Detroit Tigers—the team widely considered the division’s best.

Kansas City’s bullpen has been shaky at times and the offense has yet to find its groove, but improved performance from its starting pitching has many supposing the team’s solid start to the season is no stroke of luck.

In 2012, the Royals pitching staff ranked 23rd in all of baseball with a 4.30 ERA and 27th with a 1.41 WHIP. They also tied for 18th in strikeouts with 1,177, but finished with the fifth-most walks allowed at 542.

So far in 2013, the numbers could not be more divergent—anchored by a starting rotation that is going much deeper into ball games, averaging close to 6.5 innings per start. Starters last year tallied an inning less per outing, something that caused the bullpen to tire out as the season progressed.

The Royals have baseball’s fifth-best ERA (3.31) and WHIP (1.17), while yielding the third-fewest walks (45) and recording the eighth-most strikeouts (147) in just 17 games. While it may not be expected that these trends continue, the hope is that the relievers start to settle into their roles and the bats start to come alive once the summer hits full stride.

It would be ideal for all three of these phases to eventually line up—and hopefully soon—but you will find no one in Kansas City grumbling about being in first place right now, in large part due to the efforts of the team's starting rotation.


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