The good pitching of three starters won’t be enough for the KC Royals.
Like Kris Bubic, Brady Singer was a rookie last season, perhaps thrust into a big league job before he was truly ready. He arrived in Kansas City with only a year’s professional experience, none of it above Double-A ball.
But Singer was better than Bubic with a 4-5, 4.06 record and near no-hitter against Cleveland in 12 starts. Despite his early success, Singer requires refinement; as we said in February, he must build on his rookie campaign.
Is he doing that? The final verdict is a far from in, but there are positive signs Singer is taking care of the business of improving. He’s winless in three starts, but his ERA is down to 3.77, his strikeout rate is up to 26.6 percent and, after giving up five runs in his first outing, he’s surrendered only one unearned run in two starts (11 innings) since, including six shutout frames Sunday against Toronto. So far, there’s little to worry about with Singer.
Fortunately for Kansas City, Danny Duffy and Jakob Junis are vastly improved. Duffy is the club’s best starter and Junis isn’t far behind.
Simply put, Duffy isn’t the Duffy whose career has been largely disappointing since he signed a five-year, $65 million contract before the 2017 season. Each of his three starts have gone six innings (a feat he accomplished just twice last season), he’s given up only one earned run in 18 innings (0.50 ERA and a league-leading 897 ERA+), and his early 9.5 SO9 is the best of his career. Duffy is 2-1 and, at least for now, the staff ace. Gone is the inconsistency we wrote about in February; for how long is now the question.
Junis won nine games in each of his first three seasons with the KC Royals, then lost his starter’s job late last September before finishing 0-2, 6.39. Projected to start 2021 in the bullpen, Junis broke back into the rotation conversation with a brand new cutter and 2-0, 1.29 spring record, and has replaced Bubic.
Junis’ first start came after two excellent relief appearances; he held Cleveland scoreless for five innings, giving up only a hit and striking out six, then beat Toronto with another six-strikeout, five-frame performance. And although Tampa Bay scored five times against him Wednesday night, four of those runs came in a shaky first inning—after that, Junis retired the Rays in order three straight times before giving them a run in the fifth.
Tampa’s five runs skewed Junis’ ERA, 1.50 entering the game, to 3.71, but he recovered well from his first inning. Like Duffy, Junis is a much different hurler this year.
Despite Duffy, Junis and Singer, this is not a contending starting rotation.
Their collective season is encouraging so far, but the Duffy-Singer-Junis trio won’t be enough to keep the KC Royals in first place, or even in contention. Three starters just aren’t enough to sustain what the club has going–Keller, and to a bit lesser extent Minor, must work their issues out and get better. Look for the Royals to make adjustments if they don’t.
The KC Royals don’t have the starting rotation everyone anticipated. And unless it improves, the one they have won’t keep them in contention.