After winning four straight games in their last at-bat, one had to figure the Royals might be due for a rather gut wrenching loss. The predictable randomness of baseball almost demands that if you spend the better part of a week beating up on other teams’ relievers then some team is sure to beat the crap out of your own.
The Royals’ bullpen, after allowing just four runs over twenty-three innings was tagged for eight runs in just over five innings by the White Sox on what originally appeared to be the makings of an exceptional Wednesday afternoon.
While that may have been coming, that it happened after a second straight masterful performance out of Jeff Francis and a solid offensive game handed a three run lead to Joakim Soria was the true shock. Even more-so, Soria recorded the first two outs of the ninth inning before allowing three singles, a walk and a double to not only blow the save, but put his team behind.
Bullpen meltdowns happen, even to very good bullpens, but if you want to register some concern it might be in the rather unimpressive 19 strikeouts in 28 innings of relief work thus far in 2011. Here is a number for you: THREE. That is the number of bullpen strikeouts registered by non-rookies this season. Given that the two best relievers on the Royals roster, Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda, traditionally average a strikeout per inning one has to hope that is simply a statistical anomaly of small sample sizes.
On the subject of small sample sizes, it has felt like the Royals have filled the bases with runners in their first six games and done a somewhat sketchy job of scoring said runners. In fact, including Wednesday’s loss, Kansas City has put 94 runners on base and scored 35 of them. That 37.2% of runners scored is well ahead of the club’s 2010 pace of 33.1% and the major league average from last season of 35.6%.
Those numbers could certainly be dramatically effected by even skewed date from just one game, but if the Royals could hold this four percentage advantage over last year that would translate into upwards of 80 more runs scored over 2010. That number assumes no increase in the number of baserunners or decrease in the number of outs made on the bases. Bump up the gross number and drive them in at a higher percentage and well, obviously, the Royals could venture into a truly impactful run producing territory. Enough runs to take some pressure off a shaky starting rotation and to, on occasion, overcome a bullpen implosion.
Truthfully, the last five games did put an incredible strain on the bullpen. Twenty-five innings over five games (even with a day off) is asking a lot even from an eight man pen. Heck, being perfect through five straight outings is actually quite a lot to ask even from Joakim Soria. Of course, given that he went 24 straight appearances without allowing a run at one point last season, it is still unexpected when Soria is tagged. In this case, he was blasted for more runs than in any other outing in his entire career.
Do not get too discouraged, however. Mariano Rivera was tagged for four runs in on July 16th, 1999 and gave up ONE more run the entire rest of the 1999 season. He gave up three runs on June 6, 2009 and then just FOUR more the rest of that season. In fact, the number of three and four run innings allowed by Rivera throughout his illustrious career surprised me and pointed out just how absolutely consistent Soria has been and, even though he has just one strikeout thus far in 2011, likely will continue to be.
The Royals have lived in the realm of comebacks and extra innings thus far in 2011 and the truth is, we don’t have any idea what this team is or will be, other than extremely interesting. That alone, makes 2011 a season worth watching.