The Kansas City Royals have taken to the field in their 2017 rendition far removed from the pitching powerhouse they were as 2015 World Series Champions.
After losing their ace Yardano Ventura to a tragic car accident in the off-season, and trading away their closer Wade Davis, this year’s team is trying to revamp their bullpen by using younger pitchers with maybe some magic from pitching Coach Dave Eiland. The first test for these young guns from Kansas City would not be a pretty one as they opened up the 2017 season in a chilly Minneapolis to take on the Twins.
Danny Duffy was the starter for Kansas City, completing six innings giving up one run on three walks and eight strikeouts. The game was tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the seventh inning when the famous Kansas City bullpen was called in to hold the Twins.
Matt Strahm stepped in to pitch at the onset of the seventh inning. Strahm was a promising Royals prospect last year, who pitched 22 innings in 2016 with a 1.09 WHIP and 1.23 ERA in relief. But today would not be a good day for Matt Strahm.
After giving up a single to Jorge Polanco, Twins right fielder Max Kepler reached base on a bunt to the pitcher where the replay showed Kepler beat the throw to the bag. After a sacrifice bunt and intentional walk to Royal killer Brian Dozier, the bases were loaded with one out for what had been arguably the best defense in the American League. The pressure was too much for Strahm, walking designated hitter Robbie Grossman to bring in the go-ahead run for the Twins on opening day.
Ned Yost brought in Peter Moylan to face Byron Buxton. The Australian junk-baller struck out Buxton swinging at a nasty breaking pitch.
With Joe Mauer walking up to the plate, Ned Yost wanted to bring in their newest reliever, Travis Wood. Acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the off-season, Wood is supposed to take the role of seasoned veteran for the young bullpen staff having seen a 100 loss season and World Series championship on Chicago’s north side.
For the next two batters Travis Wood could not find the strike zone.
Mauer walked on a 3-1 sinker that nearly bounced to score another run for the Twins who took a 3-1 lead. Miguel Sano’ stood in with the bases loaded and two outs, only to walk on a 3-1 count on a ball that swept wide of the strike zone. After Moylan had used movement to strike out Buxton for the second out, Wood was using too much movement on the patient Twin hitters, scoring two more runs on 10 pitches. The score was 4-1, and it would only get worse for the Royals.
Over the next four pitches thrown by Travis Wood, the Twins would single twice and plate three more runs to blow the game open 7-1. The 11th batter of the inning, Max Kepler, finally struck out swinging to end the inning. The score would remain unchanged as the Twins would close it out in the ninth inning on a Lorenzo Cain ground-out to shortstop.
The Royals won the 2015 World Series off timely offense, top tier defense, and arguably the greatest bullpen ever assembled in modern baseball. The 2017 rendition has made a notable pivot away from defense, bringing in younger pitchers and trading for guys who are known to hit the ball over the wall.
Trading for power hitters Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler, the Royals are attempting to string together their core players one more year before the contracts begin to expire at the end of the season. The defense is still priority for the Kansas City squad, Mike Moustakas coming off injury that ended his 2016 season early on takes the reigns at third base. Jorge Soler, who is sidelined with an oblique injury to start the season, is slated as the right field corner of a power hitting outfield that includes Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and “triples enthusiast” Paulo Orlando.
The question is will the offense materialize to give the Royals a chance at postseason greatness before the contracts for Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain expire at the end of the season? After changing batting coaches multiple times throughout the saga that was the 2013 and 2014 Royals, Dale Sveum has his work cut out for him as his Royals team finished dead last in home runs for 2016 with only 147.
Players like Soler and Moss have to reduce strikeout ratios and increase their slugging percentage if the Royals hope to make it to August without becoming major sellers. The gamble being taken by the Kansas City front office might see large contracts offloaded before the trade deadline if they cannot get offensive traction early.
The Royals took the 2015 crown on amazing defense and an un-hittable bullpen. Whether the offensive minded Royals of 2017 can compete with the rest of the American League remains to be seen. Yet one thing is for sure; there will be no help from the once mighty Kansas City bullpen.