KC Royals September Funk Led By Bullpen Collapse


The KC Royals have suffered through a 4-9 start to September, led by a bullpen collapse fueled by a 6.40 ERA (28th in major-league baseball).

The Kansas City Royals once-vaunted pen has blown multiple September leads, highlighted by a 10-run implosion on September 11 against the Orioles, which turned a 6-4 eighth inning lead into a 14-6 deficit and included two grand slams.

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While the starting pitching has been even worse than the bullpen with a 6.50 ERA in September, it is the bullpen’s collapse that has to be the greatest concern to KC Royals manager Ned Yost with a little more than two weeks before the playoffs begin. A shutdown bullpen and defense carried the Kansas City Royals through the 2014 playoffs. Right now, that formula looks to be in big trouble.

It’s not just one guy. Nor is it just players that are unlikely to find their way onto the playoff roster. The famed HDH trio of relievers are all struggling in September.

The KC Royals bullpen problems begin with closer Greg Holland, whose velocity has collapsed in September as we can see in this Tweet from ESPN’s Mike Petriello:

This trend comes immediately after a few August performances where Greg Holland’s fastball touched 96 mph (and I proclaimed myself less worried about him than at any point this season).  Manager Ned Yost admitted to reporters that Holland was suffering from a “cranky arm” on August 24. The decline includes a 10-day rest after appearing August 27 and 28.

Well, Holland’s cranky arm hasn’t gotten any better. His fastball is now reduced to 90 to 91 mph, which isn’t going to miss many bats if the decline continues into October.

Meanwhile, cyborg-like Wade Davis has even flashed a modicum of mortality by struggling with back issues. The final member of the HDH trio, Kelvin Herrera, has also missed time this month due to chicken pox. He’s been slow to round back into form with a 16.20 ERA in 3.1 September innings.

Could the bullpen be finally showing signs of wear after pitching a large number of innings all season? The KC Royals rank seventh in all of baseball in bullpen innings with 468.2. While that pales in comparison to the 512.0 innings the Diamondbacks have asked of their pen, the only other winning team with more bullpen innings than Kansas City is the Yankees with 469.2.

Maybe, just maybe the KC Royals winning model of outstanding defense, shutdown bullpen, and a quick hook for unreliable starters has run out of gas.

Let’s hope the Kansas City Royals bullpen can catch a second wind, or else their 2015 playoff run could disappoint after dealing for rentals Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist.

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