Judging the Royals

Royals fall out of AL Central race, and why rotations might matter less in playoffs

Former boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini yuks it up with Cleveland Indians mascot Slider after throwing out the first pitch Tuesday.
Former boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini yuks it up with Cleveland Indians mascot Slider after throwing out the first pitch Tuesday. AP

On Wednesday night the Indians beat the Royals 4-3, and we now know whichever team wins the American League Central, it won’t be Kansas City. Detroit still has an outside shot, but if I were a betting man (and I’m not; I have enough personal problems without adding that to the list), I’d bet on Cleveland.

Of course, betting on a team that has a seven-and-a-half game lead at this point in the season isn’t really going out on a limb; I’ve put on far too much press-box food weight for those kinds of shenanigans. (Apparently, the origins of that word are unknown, but I’m guessing there’s a Shenanigan family in Ireland that’s the life of the party — and I’m probably related.)

Other writers are less cautious and pronouncements have been made that the Indians will not go deep in the playoffs because they lost two of their starting pitchers to injury. Paul Hoynes, a Cleveland beat writer, wrote that the Indians would not get past the first round of the playoffs because:

“The postseason is about starting pitching. It always has been and always will be.”

I’m not going to make any pronouncements about the postseason in general, but in 2014 the Royals made it to Game 7 of the World Series with a starting rotation ranked 11th in the big leagues and in 2015 won the whole thing with a starting rotation ranked 22nd.

Apparently you can win a World Series with mediocre starting pitching.

How things change in the postseason

Two things immediately come to mind: There are more days off and teams are no longer pacing themselves or their pitchers. With the finish line in sight, teams can put the pedal to the metal.

The days off mean the best pitchers get more rest and can be used more often. The ability to empty out the tank means managers will let a starter who is pitching well go deeper in a game and pull a starter who’s scuffling earlier in the game.

In the 2015 World Series, Royals fans saw a little of both:

▪ Game 1: Edinson Volquez threw six innings and 78 pitches, KC relievers threw eight innings of shutout ball and the Royals won the game in 14 innings.

▪ Game 2: Johnny Cueto threw a complete game — 122 pitches.

▪ Game 3: Yordano Ventura didn’t have it and was pulled after 3  1/3 innings and 53 pitches.

▪ Game 4: Chris Young threw four innings and 58 pitches; the Royals’ bullpen threw five innings of one-run baseball.

▪ Game 5: Edinson Volquez threw six innings and 90 pitches; the Royals’ bullpen supplied six innings of shutout baseball.

In the 2015 postseason, Royals starters went 3-5 and had an ERA of 4.97; the bullpen went 8-0 and had an ERA of 2.51.

Predictions

I do not make predictions and I predict I never will, even though people seem to love them. I don’t get it, because when you look back, predictions are rarely right. I guess it gives people something to argue about, but I don’t need predictions to get a good argument going; I have a family.

I’m not predicting how the Indians will do in the playoffs; if I knew that, I’d mortgage my house and fly to Vegas.

But if I had to bet — and once again I don’t, so I won’t — something surprising will happen in the playoffs. An underdog will beat a favorite or a so-so player will get on a hot streak. That seems to happen a lot of the time, so it’s not really much of a prediction.

But I will say that the playoffs aren’t always about starting pitching.

And the 2015 Kansas City Royals proved it.

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