MLB Standings Watch: Red Sox fighting to avoid last place

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Sep 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) walks off the field after being relieved in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Falling
(AL team that is struggling)

Kansas City Royals: With a 10 game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the Central division, the Royals need not worry about losing their spot in the postseason. What should trouble them is losing their grip on the league’s best record, which would give them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Kansas City has dropped 6 of their last 10 games, leaving them with a mere 1.5 game edge over the Toronto Blue Jays for the league’s best record. If those two teams meet in the ALCS, the right to host a potential Game 7 at home could determine the series. Toronto has been average on the road this season, posting a 37-37 record away from the Rogers Centre.

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So, what’s up with Johnny Cueto? The Royals acquired him at the trade deadline expecting him to lead their rotation, but he’s been a flop so far with his new team. Through 10 starts with Kansas City he is 2-6 with a 5.12 ERA, which is nearly double what his ERA was at the time he was traded from Cincinnati. His strikeout rate has declined from 8.27 to 6.40 since the trade, while the .577 OPS he allowed to opposing hitters with the Reds has jumped to .837 with the Royals. He has already been roughed up for 5+ runs in a game 4 times since the trade, while only giving up 5 runs once in 19 starts with the Reds.

We know it’s more difficult to navigate the deeper lineups in the American League, but nobody could have anticipated switching leagues would make this much of a difference. Especially since he was moving from a hitters park in Cincinnati to a more pitcher-friendly environment in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.

Is he pitching through an injury? He did battle through some elbow soreness back in May, but he hasn’t missed a start since coming to Kansas City and his fastball hasn’t lost it’s velocity since the start of the season, even if it is down a tick from previous years. Is it bad luck? His .345 BABIP is significantly higher than his career average, so you would expect that to stabilize playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. Then again, defense can’t do much to prevent home runs and Cueto has given up 9 of them, nearly matching the 11 he surrendered with the Reds in less than half the number of innings.

The Royals will still be playing in October, but how long they last may depend on if Cueto can get back on track.

Next: Playoff Outlook