What's behind the Royals' run? One can't overlook the team's completely reinvigorated starting rotation, which has allowed no more than one earned run in six of the team's last eight games and posted a sterling 1.88 ERA over the streak. But credit should also be given to the most well-known piece of the Royals' rise to back-to-back AL pennants: Their bullpen.
Kansas City relievers did not allow an earned run last week, and their dominance of late is even more remarkable considering they're missing two key pieces, closer Wade Davis and long reliever Luke Hochevar, to injury.
"It's picked us up in a lot of crucial situations," Royals manager Ned Yost recently said of his bullpen. "When we lost Wade and Hoch, I thought, 'Man, we're in trouble.' But we weren't. Our guys stepped up."
With the Royals' backs against the wall, the relievers have refused to let the team fall out of contention. That makes them the easy choice to receive the team's first Bullpen of the Week Award presented by The Hartford.
As part of the MLB Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2016 season, MLB.com is honoring the "Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford." An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.
Here's how the Bullpen Rating System is compiled for each week. For reference, a weekly score of 100 is considered outstanding:
• Add 1.5 points for each out recorded
• Add 1.5 points for each strikeout
• Add 5 points for a save
• Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
• Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
• Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
• Subtract 1 point for each walk
• Subtract 5 points for a blown save
Royals relievers scored a total of 114.5 points, making them 24.5 points clear of the field, while holding the opposition scoreless over 18 1/3 innings. The bullpen struck out 18 batters and walked just four, and Kelvin Herrera picked up three saves as he assumes the closer role from Davis. Kansas City relievers have not allowed an earned run since August 10.
Kansas City's bullpen displayed an ability to withstand adversity and succeed despite unexpected circumstances. Here's a look at their biggest obstacle:
The unexpected: The Royals' win streak was perhaps in greatest jeopardy Friday at home against Minnesota. With his team leading 4-1 in the fifth, Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez allowed the Twins to tie the game on three doubles, a single and a stolen base. Volquez exited with just one out and a man on second -- the only time during Kansas City's win streak in which a starter was unable to record an out in the sixth inning. His replacement, rookie Matt Strahm, walked Joe Mauer to put two Twins aboard in a tie game.
How they prevailed: Strahm beared down, getting Trevor Plouffe to pop up to second base before striking out Max Kepler looking to strand both runners. Pitching in just his sixth Major League game, Strahm came back out and tossed a perfect sixth inning, including two strikeouts. The rookie left-hander allowed just one earned run and four hits in his first 8 1/3 innings in the big leagues.
"Strahm has been a huge addition to our bullpen," Yost said.
Following the rookie's lead, a combination of five relievers held Minnesota scoreless deep into the night and into the following morning. At 2:15 a.m. local time, first baseman Eric Hosmer launched a single to the right-field fence to give the Royals a 5-4, 11-inning win in a game that ended more than seven hours after it began because of delays due to rain and an issue with the stadium lights. Journeyman Chien-Ming Wang improved to 6-0 out of the bullpen after tossing two shutout innings.
"He doesn't pitch much," Yost said of Wang, "but when we do use him, he's really picked us up. We've used him in a lot of those situations where he's the last man down there [in the bullpen] and he's got to hold down the fort until we score -- and he's done it."
The Angels' bullpen placed second in the BRS standings this past week with 90 points. Los Angeles closer Fernando Salas held the opposition scoreless in 14 of his last 17 outings and has retired 17 of 20 inherited baserunners this season.