Anatomy of a September Collapse: It Starts With the Pitching
Back on September 3rd, the AL-leading Kansas City Royals were sitting pretty with an 82–51 record, had a 13-game lead in the AL Central, and were up six games over Toronto for the best record in the league.
They’ve done a nose-dive since though.
Fast forward 10 games—of which the Royals have lost eight—and the Royals lead in the AL is suddenly down to just two games, while Minnesota is nine back in the division, with 19 games to play.
It’s not likely they’ll miss out on the postseason, but they have the symptoms of a memorable collapse, a few years back.
What’s been their problem? Pitching. Starting pitching to be more specific.
Currently the team’s five-man rotation features three pitchers with a September ERA above 6.50—supposed ace Johnny Cueto (9.39), Edinson Volquez (7.20), and Kris Medlen (6.94). Meanwhile, Danny Duffy (4.50) and Yordano Ventura (4.50) haven’t exactly been scorching the earth.
In addition, the losses have been ugly. Six of their last eight defeats have been by four runs or more.
Four years ago, the Red Sox went through a similar scenario.
On August 27th they were sitting pretty at 82–51—their high-water mark for the season. Sound familiar?
At the time, they had a two-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East and a nine-game cushion over Tampa Bay in the wild card race.
Then the starting pitching went bad and the losing started. No one that made a start that September had an ERA below 5.00: Andrew Miller (11.70), John Lackey (9.13 ERA), Kyle Weiland (7.36), Josh Becket (5.48), Jon Lester (5.40), Erik Bedard (5.25), and even the dependable Tim Wakefield (5.25).
The result was one of the most shocking collapses baseball has ever seen. Boston went just 8–21 the rest of the way, relinquished their division lead to the Yankees and found their nine-game cushion over Tampa Bay down to a tie heading into the final game of the season.
Still, they had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win or a Tampa Bay loss.
Unfortunately, Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a 3–2 lead in the bottom of the ninth in Baltimore, just hours before the Rays had made an historic comeback from a 7–0 eighth-inning deficit to defeat the Yankees and take the wild card spot.
Now with AL two wild cards to play with, the stakes are a little bit different this year—yet the symptoms aren’t.