KANSAS CITY -- The nagging question Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his staff have asked since the season ended is simple: What happened over the season's final two months?
The Royals were sitting at 55-48 on July 30, on the day they traded for White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera to beef up the offense. Earlier in the week, Moore had acquired a trio of arms -- Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter -- to bolster the pitching staff.
It was all in place for the Royals to make the postseason. They were two games behind the Indians in the American League Central and 2 1/2 games ahead of Tampa Bay in the race for the final AL Wild Card spot
But the Royals played the final two months at nine games under .500. The question of what went wrong still puzzles Moore.
"I've asked myself that quite a bit over the last few weeks," Moore said. "We've talked about it with our leadership team. Baseball is unpredictable. When we started the season, the offense was really struggling and the pitching was good. We couldn't put it all together and I think we were [10-20] at one point.
"But then from the beginning of May until the end of July, we were one of the better teams in the American League, at least record-wise. Then we had some misfortunes with our starting pitching -- whether it was underperformance or injury. We just couldn't compensate for that."
Indeed, if there was one area that let the Royals down over the final two months, it was pitching. The starting pitching faded, and an overworked bullpen wore down.
The Royals' rotation posted a woeful 6.25 ERA in August and a 5.51 ERA in September. The bullpen, which was red hot in July and posted a league-best 2.00 ERA that month, collapsed down the stretch as well, putting up a 5.36 ERA in August and a 4.85 ERA in September.
"The lack of production out of our starting pitching showed," Moore said. "Our bullpen started to wear down. Ned [Yost], I thought, managed the bullpen as best he could. There really wasn't anyone hurt. There was some speculation about Kelvin [Herrera's health] for a while, but [trainer] Nick Kenney assured us he was OK."
Setup man Joakim Soria missed several weeks with an oblique strain. And an ineffective Herrera eventually lost his closer's role, but not before some devastating blown leads.
"I just think they all wore out a little bit," Moore said. "But I think it's a variety of things. As I have said before, to win a Major League game, you have to do a variety of things well. In the last four or five years, we won in multiple ways. But our bullpen has always been our calling card. It's what has carried us. It did at times this year, but I think we just had too many letdowns in major areas."
Starter Danny Duffy missed time in August and September because of a low-grade pronator strain. Right-hander Ian Kennedy never seemed to recover from an early-season hamstring injury. Left-hander Jason Vargas, who was so dominant prior the All-Star Game, posted a 6.66 ERA over the final two months.
And the offense didn't go without blame. It set a club record by going 45 straight innings without scoring during one stretch in the second half.