It’s no secret: the KC Royals have struggled in a 3-6 start to the 2017 season. Jason Vargas has been the exception with two wins in as many starts.
There were questions about Kansas City’s starting rotation heading into the 2017. Those questions took on a new urgency after the death of Yordano Ventura in January. Any statistician knows two is not a very big sample size, but through his first two starts, Jason Vargas is doing his part to quell any misgivings about the KC Royals staff.
Vargas, while reliable, has not been exceptional throughout his career. He entered Thursday’s game against Oakland with a 68-70 career record that includes a 4.16 ERA and more than 1,200 innings pitched. He has inched closer to great while in Kansas City with ERAs of 3.71 and 3.98 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. His ERA plummeted to 2.25 last year in just three starts.
If Vargas built momentum in those starts last September, he’s carried it into 2017. With a 3-1 win against Oakland Thursday, Kansas City moves to 3-6 on the young season. Vargas has won two of those games with stellar performances on the mound. Last Friday, Vargas threw six innings in the hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Astros managed just six hits and one run against the 34-year-old lefty.
He was even better in Thursday’s win against Oakland, holding the Athletics to just four hits in 7.2 innings of work. Not bad for a guy whose fastball is lucky to average 90 miles an hour.
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Vargas has excelled while some of his teammates have struggled. As of Wednesday night, the Royals staff had an ERA of 5.02 – 27th in the big leagues. Matt Strahm chewed up batters in his first major league innings last season. This season, hitters are batting .667 against him. Worse yet, he’s walked six in just 1.1 innings of work. The result is an astronomical 47.25 ERA. Even Kelvin Herrera, a reliable setup man in years past, has looked questionable early on. He gave up a big home run in
Even Kelvin Herrera, a reliable setup man in years past, has looked questionable early on. He gave up a big home run in Houston, and gave up another in Thursday’s appearance against Oakland.
Danny Duffy remains solid as the No. 1 starter. He won the other game for the KC Royals and leads the team with 11 strikeouts in 13 innings of work. Peter Moylan has looked good out of the bullpen. The 38-year-old righty has yet to allow a hit in nearly five innings of work.
The importance of pitching weighs heavy with some early struggles from the Kansas City offense. The Royals entered Thursday’s game batting .205. Only Toronto is worse at .190. Kansas City’s 24 runs scores are tied with the Blue Jays for worst in the league.
Moving forward, can Lorenzo Cain continue to reach base like he has in the first 10 games? His nine walks were tied for second-most in the majors, and his on-base percentage of .486 was fifth in the big among batters with at least 20 at-bats. That was before reaching base three times with a pair of hits and a walk Thursday.
Finally, how long is the leash on Brandon Moss? With a .239 career average, his success is largely based on his ability to hit the long ball. So far in 2017, that has amounted to a 1-for-23 start to the season. Sure, the lone hit was a big home run in Houston, but where is the value of a guy batting .043?
Even with a 3-6 start to the season, there’s little reason to be too pessimistic. Most of the experts picked Cleveland to win the division if not the league pennant, and the Indians are only one game ahead of the KC Royals. One hundred and sixty-two games makes for a long season. We call these guys the boys of summer for a reason. Let’s see what happens when warm weather decides to stick around for good.