KC Royals Pitching Woes

It can be fairly said that perhaps the most important four men for baseball bettors to be evaluating right now are the four individuals who comprise the core of the Kansas City Royals starting pitching. The Royals are attractively priced right now at 8-1 to win the American League pennant. That's a good number for a team with plethora of talent that's not only young, but established as winners on the postseason stage. And the American League is filled with flawed teams at the top. But do the Royals have the pitching to make it?

Let's begin by acknowledging that while Kansas City's starting pitching has been problematic, it's not the main reason they trail the Cleveland Indians by four games in the AL Central. The offense has been surprisingly anemic, ranking just 13th in the 15-team American League in runs scored. But it seems reasonable to think that a lineup with Lorenzo Cain will hit much better than he has to date and that Alex Gordon will provide a big lift when he returns from the disabled list soon.

So for the sake of this discussion, let's assume the Royals can be counted on to at least produce a league-average offense by the time all is said and done and the bullpen remains the lights-out unit that has dominated the American League playoffs for two straight Octobers. Can their starting pitchers keep leads until the seventh inning? Let's look at the current arms for the Royals, both their current performance and their historical track record...

*Edinson Volquez (16 starts, 5.15 ERA): Volquez has been a big disappointment so far this season after posting ERAs in the 3s each of the last two years. Even allowing that those years were on the high end of his career arc, the Royals could surely expect at least something akin to his career ERA of 4.35, couldn't they?
Well, maybe not. Since Volquez blazed on the scene in 2008 with the Cincinnati Reds by winning 17 games with a 3.21 ERA, he's had some wild ups and downs. In 2011 and 2013 for example, he finished with ERA on the wrong side of 5.70. So he's certainly got the talent to pitch better, but he's been worse and is very unpredictable.

*Ian Kennedy (14 starts, 4.19 ERA): Kennedy was KC's big offseason pickup for the rotation and they had analytics data that suggested a big year for him. Maybe that will happen, but the odds are that this is as good as it gets. Kennedy's terrific 2011 season where he won 21 games with 3.21 ERA is...well, it was in 2011. This season is much more typical of what he's been since.

*Yordano Ventura (14 starts, 4.54 ERA): This is the worst ERA of his short three-year major league career. Based on that it's easy to say he'll get better. But this continues a path of Ventura getting progressively worse, going from 3.21 to 4.08 and now 4.54. The fact his own clubhouse didn't really back him up after a highly publicized brawl with Manny Machado in Baltimore suggests the Royals are losing patience.

*Chris Young (10 starts, 5.61 ERA): There's the most hope for improvement here, since Young's ERA the last three seasons (after he came back from a couple injury-riddled years) is almost two runs lower. But Young is also 37-years-old. What if this is the bottoming out point?

Perhaps the biggest problem Kansas City has is that the market for starting pitching at the trade deadline is filled with mostly mediocre names, at least so far. The Royals, being a small-market team with a lot of goodwill built up among the fan base, are not likely to overpay for some average help.

That leaves futures players in a conundrum. The quality of the Royals' bullpen and their clutch mojo is beyond dispute. Their offense is likely to come around. The price is reasonable if the expectation is simply getting to the World Series rather than winning it again. But do they have enough starting pitching? Your assessment of the four names above will determine how you view this team, and given their prominence, the entire American League landscape.