The KC Royals are reeling. They have lost five out of their last six games and now trail the Minnesota Twins by a 1/2 game in the American League Central. The Royals return home to play division rival Cleveland, who can get back in the race if they can manage a sweep.
If you can call any series at the beginning of June big, this is it.
Most pundits expected the Indians to be a strong contender in the American League Central before the season began. Cleveland finished with 85 wins in 2014, just two games behind Oakland for the second A.L Wild Card. In 2013, the Tribe won 92 games and made the playoffs.
Despite these strengths, the Indians buried themselves with a 7-14 record in the season’s first month. Kluber began the season with five straight losses, including a 7-4 loss against the Kansas City Royals on May 7 in which he surrendered five runs.
Since then, both the Indians and Corey Kluber have turned things around. Cleveland have won 17 of their last 29 games since May 1, while Kluber has won his last three decisions. Over his last four starts, Kluber has pitched 32.0 innings while allowing a mere five earned runs.
That’s a 1.46 ERA over his last four games.
Even more impressively, Corey Kluber struck out 50 batters in those 32 innings. He’s got his swing and miss stuff going over the last month, including an 18 strikeout performance on May 13. In his last start, Kluber gave up three runs to the Mariners in seven innings while whiffing 13 hitters.
Meanwhile, the KC Royals rotation needs to right the ship. Jeremy Guthrie was historically bad in his last start, giving up 11 runs in one inning against the Yankees. Jason Vargas has returned from the disabled list, but still continues to struggle with a 5.16 ERA. Danny Duffy is on the disabled list with a 5.87 ERA.
In short, the Kansas City Royals rotation needs to develop some consistency over the next month, or general manager Dayton Moore will be forced to deal for another starter come the trade deadline.
Along with the rotation struggles, the KC Royals offense has cooled off from a hot start. The Royals hitters scored 105 runs in May with a .253/.297/392 triple slash line. The vaunted KC Royals bullpen just lost an 11 inning game against the Cubs in Chicago, with Ryan Madson walking two hitters to open the 11th.
About the only part of the KC Royals game that has remained steady has been their defense.
While I can hardly say that a turnaround is “important” or “critical” at this early juncture, continuing to lose against the Indians will cause the Royals to fall back to the A.L. Central pack.
That’s not what you want after the KC Royals strong start to the season.