Can the KC Royals contend with this starting rotation?

(Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports) /
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KC Royals, Brad Keller
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Brad Keller and Mike Minor have to get better for the KC Royals to contend.

We described Brad Keller in February as a Royal needing to flourish and prove he can put together consecutive good years after being great in 2018, bad in 2019, then excellent again last season. A 9-6, 3.08 2018 and 2020’s 5-3, 2.47 earned him two team Pitcher of the Year awards, but Keller’s 7-14, 4.19 2019 demonstrated his susceptibility to inconsistency.

Will 2021 be the season Keller breaks through with a second straight good season? His start is so far unconvincing. Yes, it’s early, but Keller’s 5.2 innings April 14 effort, a one run, one walk, five strikeout performance, is his only good one among four starts. He gave up six runs on nine hits in 1.1 innings Opening Day, four runs on six hits a week later, and five runs in 1.2 innings Tuesday. He must improve soon; an afternoon start Monday in Detroit will be his next chance.

Ten-year veteran Mike Minor, we wrote, needs to “come through” in his second tour with Kansas City. Unlike his bullpen role with the Royals in 2017, Minor is a starter now, signed to a two-year deal to pitch well and help mentor the club’s young pitchers. Presuming he’s doing the latter, he isn’t quite doing the former.

The Rangers knocked Minor around in the season’s second game but, despite the four runs he gave them in the first three innings, he notched a win thanks to the Royals’ seven-run outburst in the sixth and the bullpen’s three scoreless frames to close the contest. Minor tossed four decent innings in a no-decision eight days later, but Toronto touched him up for four runs and two homers in 5.2 frames Saturday. He’s now 1-1 with an excessive 5.17 ERA (87 ERA+).