CLEVELAND — The relief pitching duo dusted the Twins on Wednesday afternoon with ease, reminding once more why Royals manager Ned Yost has developed an in-game strategy based solely around grabbing a lead after seven innings.
Wade Davis, his set-up man, faced three batters. Two struck out. Greg Holland faced four batters. Two chopped weak grounders. The last struck out, rendered motionless by the downward snap of Holland’s slider. It was yet another example of why the pair have become perhaps the game’s most reliable relievers in the final two innings.
Which begs the question: Will they return to Target Field in two weeks for the All-Star Game? The rosters will be announced on Sunday, and there is little the Royals (44-40) can accomplish this weekend against the Indians to alter the results.
On Wednesday morning, Yost stumped for Holland’s inclusion in the Midsummer Classic. A reporter asked if Davis should join his bullpen mate.
“I do,” Yost said. “And I think our shortstop, our left fielder and our catcher should come, too. That’s just my opinion.”
Yost is unlikely to receive a full fulfillment of his wishes. Even in the midst of the best offensive season of his career, Alcides Escobar resides only on the periphery of the discussions. Better bets are Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez.
Barring a sudden, miraculous surge, no Royals will come close to induction via the fan portion of voting. They will rely on the vote of their peers, which should aid Gordon and Perez. Both were All-Stars in 2013, and as Yost explained, “the player’s vote, they try to go on reputation.” Due to an injury to Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters, the likely winner of the fan voting, Perez may even start behind the plate.
Holland can be considered close to a lock. He made last year’s team. He trails only Mariners closer Fernando Rodney in saves in the American League. And his other statistics remain fantastic: A 1.93 ERA, 13.8 strikeouts per nine, a 5.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 38.8 strikeout percentage.
Yet for as impressive as Holland has been, Davis may have performed better thus far. Leading into Thursday’s games, Davis ranked second among qualified American League relievers with a 1.23 ERA, fourth with 14.24 strikeouts per nine and fourth with a strikeout percentage of 40.0.
“It’s fun to get to watch somebody be that dominant, especially when they put in the work that’s he done,” Holland said.
Davis ranks fourth among American League relievers in FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, an advanced metric that compares players to their Triple-A equivalents. His primary challenger as the game’s premiere set-up man is hulking Yankees rookie Dellin Betances, who possesses nearly identical strikeout numbers and has been utilized more often in multi-inning situations.
Davis has been reluctant to discuss at length his candidacy. His teammates share no similar misgivings.
“He’s been huge for us, man,” Holland said. “I don’t think there’s many guys in the league, National or American League, that are doing what he’s been able to do. Especially as dominantly as he’s done it.”
Which is why Holland hopes the duo can attend the game together. Last year represented his first selection. He enjoyed his experience. Of course, he reminded, he wouldn’t mind the alternative.
“It’d be great to go,” Holland said. “But at the end of the day, a four-day break with your family is not bad, either.”