The Kansas City Royals find themselves clinging tenuously to a half game lead in the American League Central, barely holding off the suddenly resurgent Detroit Tigers. In order to protect that lead, the Royals will need to all the help they can get from their starting rotation. While veteran pitchers James Shields and Jason Vargas have gone through the rigors of a full major league season and a playoff push, young starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Yet, the Royals ability to make the playoffs may well come down to how these two pitchers perform down the stretch.
Duffy has been stellar this season, even if his win/loss record does not indicate as such. For the 2014 season, Duffy is third in the American League in ERA at 2.42 and sixth in WHiP, at 1.075. Over the past month, Duffy has been just as solid, posting a 2.41 ERA and a 0.964 WHiP in his last 37.1 innings of work, striking out 28 batters. Instead of tiring, Duffy appears to be getting stronger down the stretch.
Ventura, meanwhile, may be hitting a wall. Even though the numbers may looks solid over his past four starts, as Ventura has posted a 2.88 ERA and a 1.280 WHiP, there may be cause for concern. In those last four starts, totaling 25 innings, Ventura has walked 17 batters. He has managed to escape further damage as he has held the opposition to .175/.305/.230 batting line, as five of the fifteen hits he has allowed have gone for extra bases.
Even though Jeremy Guthrie may not be the best option down the stretch, he does have the amazing ability to take the ball and eat up six or seven innings each time out. With Yordano Ventura seemingly dancing on the razor’s edge over his past few starts, that ability to keep the bullpen fairly rested may come in handy, especially if Ned Yost finds himself in a situation where Ventura is unable to minimize the damage from those walks.
Another possibility may involve skipping Ventura for a start, giving him a bit of rest. Ventura has already pitched a career high 152 innings this season, and may just be wearing down. With rosters having expanded, this would seemingly be a good time to give Ventura a game off down the stretch. Once recalled, Liam Hendriks may be an option to fill in for a start, especially given his excellent debut for the Royals back on August 27th. Perhaps another start at Kauffman Stadium will work out as well as his first.
It may be that Yordano Ventura is just in the midst of a slump with his control. Or, it could be that he is hitting a bit of a wall and needs a rest. Regardless of the reason, how Ventura performs may be the biggest key to the Royals making the postseason.