Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Royal October

Kelvin Herrera is part of a powerful Kansas City bullpen
that arguably makes the Royals a better postseason team
than regular season team.
Eight games in the postseason for the Kansas City Royals. Eight wins, no losses and a trip to the World Series.

Not bad at all for an 89-win wild card team.

Nobody who enjoyed the Twins World Series title in 1987 as much as I did has any right to sneer at a sub 90-win team going to the Series. But I knew then that the Twins weren't really the best team in baseball, much less in the American League. They happened to get into the postseason and get the wins they needed to get.

Similarly, these Royals are not the best team in the Central Division, much less the best team in the American League, Their record says so. But they are unbeaten in the three rounds -- wild card game, divisional series, league championship series -- they've played.

This run is likely to be overthought and overanalyzed in coming days, and in truth this post might be a good example of that. But in my view, this Royals rampage emphasizes the difference between regular season baseball and post season baseball.

The regular season is, broadly speaking, a game a day. Six or seven games a week, more or less, for six months. This ain't football. We do this every day, Earl Weaver said years ago, and it remains true -- during the regular season.

The postseason is another case altogether. October baseball is not an everyday affair. The Royals have yet to play on three consecutive days this month. The regulars don't need, or get, the days off they do in August, so a pinch-running specialist can be carried. The pitching depth -- the fourth and fifth starters -- is less important. A six-man staff can carry you through October, but that approach won't work in the regular season.

The Royals have an eight-game winning streak going -- and they have done that without getting six innings from any starting pitcher.It been five innings or so, and here come the relief pitchers.

Here, the Royals are without peer. They have Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland -- three robust right-handed power arms with ERAs this year of 1.41, 1.00 and 1.41 respectively, with a combined 258 strikeouts in 204.1 innings.

If you're not ahead of this team after six innings with this bullpen rested, you're sunk -- and with all the days off built into the October schedule, this bullpen is always rested.

There's more to this surge than just the bullpen, of course. They are the best defensive team in the league, if not the game. And they are finding ways to score enough runs to get to the bullpen, including the long ball, something that eluded them most of the season.

Gardenhire's Twins had two seasons with similarly deep and powerful bullpens -- 2004, with Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, the briefly healthy Grant Balfour and the rookie Jesse Crain; and 2006, with Nathan, Rincon, Crain, Pat Neshek and Dennys Reyes.

But in 2004 Gardenhire didn't trust Crain enough to use him in game situations in the playoffs, and Rincon gave up a crucial homer to Ruben Sierra. And in 2006 the starters and lineup never got the lead to the bullpen.

That hasn't been an issue for the Royals.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree with you more on the fact that the Royals aren't the best team in the American League but boy oh boy, do I love watching this team play. A team built on defense and pitching is exactly the way the Twins should be going, especially playing at Target Field. And the homers have obviously been a huge plus, but the way they've scored runs lately (with a little help from the O's, of course) is small ball personified.