Heading into the 2012 season, the Kansas City Royals were a popular underdog pick—along with the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians—to challenge the favorites for one of two of the American League’s wild card slots. Along with a strong lineup, their relief corp was supposed to balance, in part, the effects of a shocking starting staff. But they are quickly learning an unfortunate truth; a bullpen is, invariably, affected negatively when starters rarely last past the fifth inning.
A Danny Duffy outing—set for tonight—from being a full two turns through their rotation, Royals pitchers have lasted a scanty five frames per start, an inning below the league average. While the Indians swept Kansas City this weekend in Kauffman Stadium’s opening series, none of Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, or Luis Mendoza were able to record a single out in the fifth inning of their respective games. That left Royals relievers, including outfielder Mitch Maier and emergency call-up Louis Coleman, to cover 17.1 innings. You know your bullpen is strained when an outfielder—or a Don Kelly—makes an appearance on the mound. Even with Maier’s scoreless ninth, a clean 4.50 relief ERA provides a fair illustration of Kansas City’s pitching woes. This trouble comes to a group that is missing Joakim Soria and Felipe Paulino due to injuries.
The Royals welcome the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander tonight, and will predictably be hoping to get by with some combination of Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, and Jonathan Broxton after Duffy departs. Facing Verlander, though, there’s a good chance those three designated late-inning men will have to enter with their team trailing, a situation which, for Kansas City, would not be ideal. Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera are two more pitchers who could be called upon, though manager Ned Yost will probably be somewhat hesitant to do so. Jose Mijares, Everett Teaford, and Louis Coleman will almost certainly be unavailable.
More so than usual, the Tigers would benefit from knocking out the starter, Duffy—who threw six good innings his first time out—early. If they can do so, the tone of this entire three-game series could be set well in their favor.