Here's something I'll bet you didn't know about the Kansas City Royals: Through the first four games of the American League Championship Series, Kansas City starting pitchers have thrown a grand total of 18 innings.
That's right: Royals starters are averaging less than five innings per outing, yet Kansas City owns a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series after its 14-2 thumping of the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. That should tell you how much the Royals rely on their bullpen and how good those guys really are.
You're probably wondering why I'm declaring Kansas City pitcher Kris Medlen the unsung hero of Game 4, when he didn't even pitch in the game. But reflect back to Monday's Game 3 -- Kansas City's lone loss of the series -- when Medlen came on to replace the ineffective Johnny Cueto in the third inning. The Royals lost, 11-8, but Medlen ate up five innings and saved the rest of the Kansas City bullpen for critical Game 4. Other than Medlen, Franklin Morales was the only Royals reliever to appear in Game 3.
That kept Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis rested and fresh for Tuesday. You figured those guys would be needed, with journeyman Chris Young getting the start for the Royals.
As it turns out, Hochevar recorded the most critical out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Royals were up 5-2 at the time. Young had done a respectable job to that point, but it probably would not have been a good idea for him to face the middle of the Toronto batting order for a third time.
Ben Revere was on first base with two out. The potential league MVP, Josh Donaldson, was at the plate for Toronto. Here was the Blue Jays' chance to get back in the game. A fresh Hochevar came in from the bullpen and induced a weak foul out off the bat of Donaldson. Inning over.
Hochevar, Herrera, Madson and Morales went on to toss 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Toronto did not get a runner into scoring position against the Kansas City bullpen until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. And by then, the Royals had scored four runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and two in the ninth against a far weaker Toronto bullpen to put the game out of reach.
The Royals bullpen is the best in the game. They are always tough, but they are even tougher when they are all fresh. They had Medlen to thank for having the rest of the relief corps primed and ready for Game 4. Cueto's short outing could have had an impact on the rest of the series had it not been for Medlen, but after Tuesday's result, that is long forgotten by most people.
Just in general, I think many of us forgot how good the Royals are coming into the playoffs. We all were impressed by the Blue Jays and their big bats and their plus-231 run differential. We installed them as a clear favorite. We pointed to the Royals' 11-17 September and figured Kansas City was a tired team, much like the St. Louis Cardinals were in the National League.
Not really. The Royals were probably just bored in September. They were basically unchallenged in the AL Central this summer. They won their division by 12 games. Now that the lights are on, the Royals are turning up their game again, just as they did last October when they won the AL pennant.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Saturday, August 31, 2013
If you take a look at what the White Sox have done over the last 10 or 15 years, most of former GM Ken Williams' trades have involved dealing future prospects to acquire help for the here and now. When I look at all the young players Williams traded, the only one I wish the Sox still had is Gio Gonzalez.
Strangely enough, the Sox traded him twice. In 2005, they sent him and Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia for Jim Thome (good trade). They reacquired him, along with Gavin Floyd, for Freddy Garcia in 2006 (also a decent trade). Then, they sent him to Oakland in 2008 with Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos for Nick Swisher (terrible trade).
The rest of the players Williams traded, I can't say I miss.
Here are two guys the former GM of the Cubs (Jim Hendry) traded that I'll bet the current GM (Jed Hoyer) wishes he still had: Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer and Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Archer, a 24-year-old right-hander, is having a breakout season for the Rays. He's 8-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 17 starts. He's allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of those outings. Pretty impressive for a kid who just joined the rotation on June 1 and is pitching in the rugged AL East.
The Cubs acquired Archer from Cleveland in the Mark DeRosa deal in 2008, but in 2011, they flipped him to Tampa Bay in an eight-player deal that brought Matt Garza to the North Side of Chicago. Over 2 1/2 seasons, Garza went 21-18 in 60 starts for the Cubs. He, of course, is no longer on the team, having been traded to the Texas Rangers earlier this summer.
Meanwhile, the Rays have a potential ace on their roster. The Cubs are still looking for that guy. Some people in Chicago seem to believe Jeff Samardzija is an ace. I disagree. A 28-year-old with a 4.13 ERA who is blowing 5-0 leads against the woeful Philadelphia Phillies is not an ace. He's a mid-rotation starter on a contender. The Cubs should consider trading him this offseason. He's not going to get any better than he is right now.
Donaldson, a 27-year-old third baseman, is a bit of a forgotten man. Most people haven't noticed his .296 average, 19 home runs and 77 RBIs this season because he plays for Oakland. Most people have probably also forgotten the Cubs selected him 48th overall in the 2007 draft.
In July of 2008, Donaldson, Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton and Eric Patterson were traded to Oakland for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. At the time, Donaldson was the least talked about player of the four the Cubs gave up. Right now, he looks like the best player in that deal. He plays third base, too, and it seems like about half the teams in baseball are looking for someone to fill that position. It took five years, but that acquisition is paying dividends for the A's, who certainly do not miss Harden or Gaudin.
With both Chicago teams out of the pennant race this year, both clubs have traded some veterans for future considerations this summer. A couple years down the line, maybe they'll strike gold in some of these deals. Only time will tell. Most of the time, the team acquiring the veteran wins the trade. But every now and then, you seen a trade like the Archer deal or the Donaldson deal where the team acquiring the prospects prevails.