The Kansas City Royals have a pretty good thing going in the American League Central division. On the 30th anniversary of their lone World Series title, it appears they could be the team to beat not only for the AL pennant, but to add franchise title number two to their collection. This after suffering for decades with can’t miss prospects that never panned out, and watching the elite talent they did develop, either walk away or get traded because ownership wasn’t in the business of winning the baseball wars.
Last year, it was James Shields who led the Royals’ pitching staff to within a few outs of that elusive World Series crown, but Shields left K.C. for more money in San Diego. Not content to sit on their hands, the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto on July 26th for three minor leaguers. Cueto, in his home debut last night, did not disappoint, and fired up an already excited fan base by tossing a complete game shutout against the rival Detroit Tigers.
Baseball is a game of teams on the rise, and teams on the decline. Last night was a perfect microcosm of that theory in action. It wasn’t too long ago the Tigers were the class of the AL Central, led by Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera. They were led by an experienced and successful GM in Dave Dombrowski, who had rebuilt the franchise from 100-loss seasons, into a powerhouse on the verge of World Series titles and appearances every season.
Times have changed, and the Royals–who have the seventh best team ERA in all of baseball, are the perfect example of that. Rather than signing or retaining high-priced free agents, they have a solid minor league system to be able to go out and get that big piece that can push them over the top. Cueto is that example. However, Cueto is flawed. He’s been injury-prone off and on throughout his young career, topping the 200-innings threshold only twice in his career (2012 and 2014). Cueto has been excellent in two starts since coming over the Junior Circuit, but both starts have come against Detroit, where he is now 1-1.
He’s gone over the 100-pitch barrier in both starts, and K.C. has to be aware that with the lead they have in the division, it may not hurt to skip him a start here and there down the stretch to keep his arm fresh and prepared for the ultimate goal: success in October. This has to be another concern for Royals’ fans and team officials alike. Cueto has struggled in the postseason, tallying a career mark of 0-2 in three starts, with an ERA of 5.19. In 8 2/3 innings pitched of October baseball, Cueto has yielded three home runs, and failed to get past the fifth inning in any of those three starts, completing five innings only once. The Royals have an elite bullpen, one which can be relied upon to get extra outs, but when you give up prospects for an ace, the fans, the media, the team, expects Johnny Cueto to pitch like an ace.