KANSAS CITY -- When Royals left-hander Travis Wood was pulled in the fifth inning of Sunday's 5-4 walk-off win over the White Sox, Adam Engel had just hit a tying bases-clearing double. Though Wood wasn't happy to leave his team in that situation, the bullpen gave Wood confidence.
Though Kevin McCarthy gave up an RBI double to Jose Abreu later in the inning, the run was charged to Wood, as four Royals relievers combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
"As starters, we wish we could go deeper into games, give them some relief, some breaks," Wood said. "But when they're called upon, they're coming in lights out."
The Royals' bullpen sports a 2.19 ERA this month, and over the last four games, the unit has tossed 18 1/3 scoreless innings.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the Royals' bullpen was the best in the Major Leagues. As manager Ned Yost said before Sunday's game, if his club had a lead in 2014 or '15 after the fifth inning ...
"The game was over after the fifth inning," Yost said.
Kelvin Herrera, the only reliever left from those bullpens, said he feels the group the Royals have assembled this season is in the early stages of becoming that kind of shutdown bullpen. Lately, it has pitched like it.
"It reminds me of the bullpen we had for years in 2013, 2014, 2015," Herrera said. "We got it kind of assembled, but we got other names."
When the Royals began the season, there were two set roles. Herrera as closer and Joakim Soria the setup man. Over the course of the season, the other relievers have established their roles, and the team has reaped the benefits.
The performance of left-hander Scott Alexander, who escaped a two on, none out jam in Saturday night's 7-2 win, has been a vital part of that.
"What [Alexander] has done is, he's been a huge part of that back end in getting us to the eighth and ninth inning," Yost said. "He has been fantastic. I mean, he has really emerged as a very, very important piece in our bullpen."
At this point in the season, Alexander said relievers typically know when they'll be called upon, which gives them time to prepare mentally before the bullpen phone lights up with a call from the dugout.
"If you create consistency in the role, you create consistency in the performance," Yost said. "Those guys have done a phenomenal job. I think our numbers bear that out."