The Kansas City Royals continue their home stand by welcoming in the Boston Red Sox. Boston is coming off back-to-back last place finishes, but has started 2016 off well, and they look like a team that can sustain their success. It seems a little weird to think about, but this is actually a matchup of the last two American League champions with Boston as the team to win it all in 2013. The Royals went 3-4 against the Red Sox last season after going 1-6 against them in 2014. They lost two of three to the Red Sox in Kansas City last year, including the series finale by a score of 13-2. That sounds familiar.
Red Sox Offense
They can hit. They can hit a lot. Up and down their lineup, they’re filled with game-changing bats. It’s actually kind of crazy how well they can hit. This season, they’re hitting .298/.359/.489. The Royals have one player with an average and on base percentage that high and two players with a slugging percentage that high. And that’s the Red Sox team line. Did I mention they’re also 30 for 32 in stolen bases?
They pretty much do everything. They steal bases, they hit homers, they double, they triple, they work walks. Really, they just score and they score a lot. And the guy leading the charge is the guy who has been leading the charge for years, David Ortiz. He may be 40, but he can still hit. It’s hard to imagine him retiring, but here we are.
What’s interesting about the Red Sox lineup is that you have Ortiz doing his thing, and he’s joined by Dustin Pedroia, so that’s the old Red Sox guard doing the work. Pedroia is having another solid year. But they’ve mixed in some other new stars. Travis Shaw won the third base job in spring training after Pablo Sandoval was, well, Pablo Sandoval. He’s been great. Jackie Bradley, Jr. was an offensive sinkhole until at some point last year, he just wasn’t. Now he’s looking like a superstar offensively. And oh yeah, he plays insanely good defense. Xander Bogaerts has followed up his breakout 2015 by being probably even better in 2016.
So I haven’t even mentioned Mookie Betts yet, and I think he’s the best of the bunch, even though his numbers don’t reflect that to this point. I love the way he plays the game. I wish the Royals had him, that’s for sure. Add in Brock Holt and his usual solid play along with Christian Vazquez behind the plate with his very good defense and that’s a heck of a group of position players. On the bench, they have the other Chris Young to play against lefties. They have Ryan Hanigan to back up the plate. And they also have Josh Rutledge at third, who has hit very well this season in extremely limited at bats.
This offense is scary good. They’re fun to watch from a distance, but I’d rather not see it up close.
Red Sox Pitching
The Red Sox rotation has been a bit of an issue. They were supposed to be led by David Price, but he’s gotten off to a very slow start this season. He did give up just one run in 6.2 innings in his last start against Houston, so maybe he’s gotten back on track. He’s also struck out 65 and walked just 13 in 48 innings, so that part of his game is good. But he also has a 6.00 ERA. That’s not ideal. Clay Buchholz is coming off a very good year, albeit in just 18 starts, but he’s struggled to start the year as well. Luckily for Boston, Rick Porcello and Steven Wright have been saviors. Wright is a knuckleballer who has been out of this world good for Boston so far this year. Porcello hasn’t been great necessarily, but he’s been really good this season, giving them quality innings. Most recently, Sean O’Sullivan filled the fifth spot in the rotation, so that gives you an idea that there are some issues.
I love the Red Sox bullpen, and they’ve pitched extremely well this season. They acquired Craig Kimbrel to take over as closer, and while he had some hiccups early, he’s really been outstanding since. That pushed Koji Uehara to a setup role, and he’s been solid in that. Matt Barnes has emerged as a good setup man who can give you a couple innings here and there as well. They still have Junichi Tazawa who is good. Add in Tommy Layne and Robbie Ross as two lefties and Heath Hembree and that’s a solid bullpen. Also, they recently got back Carson Smith, who they acquired from Seattle in the Wade Miley deal. He was so good for Seattle last season, but missed the early part of this season with an injury. I know Dave Dombrowski is running this team, but I think he got this bullpen right.
So yeah, this team is really good all around. It’ll be a tough task for the Royals.
Game 1, Tuesday: Yordano Ventura vs. Rick Porcello
There was a time that I was convinced the Tigers rushing of Porcello had taken away any chance for him to become a top of the rotation type starter. He’s definitely not one of baseball’s aces, but he finished last year on a very strong note and has opened the season this year very strong too. He’s finally added strikeouts to his game to go along with some excellent control. Porcello is 8-6 with a 4.58 ERA in 20 career starts against the Royals and was roughed up in his one start against KC last year, giving up six runs in five innings and taking the loss.
Three things to watch for against Porcello:
- Porcello isn’t quite as extreme a groundball pitcher as we remember from his time in Detroit, but he still throws the sinker about half the time, averaging exactly 90 MPH. He also throws his fastball that comes in around 91-92 MPH and can touch a little higher at times. A changeup, slider, curve and cutter round out his repertoire, but he really lives and dies with the hard stuff.
- Porcello has, as mentioned before, good control. He throws a lot of first pitch strikes and uses his sinker nearly 2/3 of the time on the first pitch. As a result, when hitters end their at bat on the first pitch, they’re hitting .350 against him with a .650 SLG, including two home runs. When they take the first pitch, they hit .181/.252/.339. Of course, you swing early and don’t find success and Porcello sticks around for a long time in this one.
- Porcello has been way better against lefties this year, holding them to a .561 OPS compared to a .746 OPS against righties. Eric Hosmer, Drew Butera, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales all have homers against Porcello, and even Omar Infante has hit Porcello well in his career. The Royals have had success in the past, but this is a different version of Porcello, so we’ll see.
After two straight outings struggling with control and struggling to make it through the fifth inning, Ventura came back with a solid start against the Yankees. Of course, he still walked three and struck out just one. Personally, I’m not convinced Ventura is healthy, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the verdict is on that. He’s 1-2 with a 5.19 ERA in three career starts against Boston, but was really good against them last year in one start. Betts has the only extra base hit against Ventura among Red Sox hitters, a double. Nobody has a ton of experience against him in the Red Sox lineup, but they have gotten some good swings against him.
Game 2, Wednesday Afternoon: Ian Kennedy vs. Steven Wright
The Royals get a crack at a knuckleballer for the first time since facing R.A. Dickey in the ALCS. Wright has had a ridiculously good start to the season, but he had his first a start of the year his last time out against the Astros. A knuckleball can be really good and terribly difficult to hit at times, but other times, it can be completely flat. If it’s flat, it’s a great elixir for a struggling offense. Wright has made three career relief appearances against the Royals and has a 3.86 ERA in 4.2 innings.
Three things to watch for against Wright:
- He throws that knuckleball most of the time. It’s probably a little bit harder than some of the traditional ones you think of like Tim Wakefield, coming in at about 75 MPH, but that’s sort of what the Royals have faced against Dickey in the past. He also mixes in a sinker. That’s gotten hit hard, but the sample is small enough that I’m not sure it means anything.
- It must take Wright a little bit of time to find the pitch because he’s been awful in the first inning this season and then basically dominant the rest of the way. In the first, he’s allowed a .371/.389/.514 line. And on his first 25 pitches, he’s allowed a .381/.422/.524 line. So get him early. Also, be prepared to hear, “If it’s high, let it fly. If it’s low, let it go” an awful lot.
- Wright has been tough on everybody, but has been slightly better against left-handed bats. No Royals have much experience against Wright, but Christian Colon does have a double off him.
Kennedy has been the Royals best starter, but even he’s been bit by the struggle bug, giving up home runs against the Yankees his last time out to bring his season ERA over 3.00. Small parks aren’t a great fit for him, but the Red Sox have a way of making every park small, so hopefully he can get back on track here. Kennedy has one career start against the Red Sox and it came in 2010. He gave up six runs in six innings. I’m not sure that tells us anything about what could happen this start. Kennedy has really controlled Ramirez in his career, but strangely enough, Rutledge has been a problem for him. Those are the only two he’s faced more than a couple times.
Game 3, Wednesday Night: Edinson Volquez vs. David Price
The Royals get a chance to face Price in a new uniform after seeing him – and beating him and his team – twice in last year’s ALCS. You may recall Rusty Kuntz and the Royals advanced scouts found a tell when he was going to throw a changeup, so it’s safe to say they have a pretty good idea about a plan against Price, at least as an organization. He’s really struggled at times to open his Red Sox career. A few times this year, he’s had a start that made it look like he was getting back on track, only to get lit up the next time out. It would be good if that continued because he was excellent in his last start. He’s 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in six games (five starts) against the Royals in the regular season and had a 2.93 ERA in two starts against the Royals last season.
Three things to watch for against Price:
- Price mixes pitches really well, throwing a lot of hard stuff that comes in with some different movement. He throws his four-seam fastball at about 93-94 MPH about a quarter of the time. He throws his sinker at about the same velocity about a quarter of the time. He has a fantastic changeup at about 84 MPH about a quarter of the time. And he throws a cutter at about 89 MPH about 21 percent of the time. He also mixes in the occasional curve. The fastball and the changeup have been the problem pitches this year, both getting hit pretty hard at times.
- There must be something going on with Price in the stretch because he’s quite solid with nobody on, but he really struggles with runners on. With the bases empty, he’s allowed a .257/.306/.327 line. With runners on, he’s allowed a .287/.354/.506 line and that even jumps to .314/.339/.588. It looks like the stuff is just fine, but maybe there’s something to the idea that he actually throws too many strikes. Whatever it is, he’s struggled once runners get on.
- He has a traditional platoon split, allowing a .576 OPS to lefties compared to .770 against right-handed bats. Infante and Lorenzo Cain have hit Price really well, but nobody else has done very much. Perez does have a homer against him, so that’s at least something he can remember.
Volquez is coming off a very good start against the Braves, but has been alternating good and bad over his last four. Hopefully that trend does not continue in this start. With an off day following this game, Volquez doesn’t have to give the Royals a ton of innings, but it would definitely be nice to get some of the key bullpen arms consecutive days off. Of course, against this offense, I’m not going to be too picky about the innings Volquez gives as long as they’re quality. He’s 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in four career starts against the Red Sox. He had a 6.75 ERA in two starts against them last year. A few guys haven’t seen much of Volquez, but have enjoyed hitting off him, like Betts, Bradley and Shaw. For the most part, the guys who have faced Volquez a lot like Young and Ramirez have struggled against him.
I know the Royals just won a series and they did so with a walkoff homer in the series finale against the Braves, but I just don’t like the baseball they’re playing. I think the Red Sox are vulnerable, and it does help that the Royals have their top three starters going, but I’m not a fan of this matchup. I think the Red Sox take two of three in this one. It’s just a rough time for the Royals to catch a team hitting like the Red Sox are at the moment.