It’s safe to say the road trip hasn’t started off like the Royals were hoping. Now they need to do some salvage work as they head to Baltimore to take on the Orioles. This is a Baltimore team performing better than expected and is right in the thick of the American League East race. The two teams have played once this season in Kansas City, with the Royals taking two of three in April. As we all know, Camden Yards is a completely different animal. The Royals also went 4-3 last year against Baltimore and 8-3 in 2014, including postseason.
The Orioles can hit, but they’re not top-to-bottom scary like some teams. The best player in the lineup and one of the best in baseball is Manny Machado. He pretty much does it all with the one exception being that he could probably be a little more patient, but that’s like asking someone handing you $5 million in cash if they could throw in an extra $7 so you could stop by Chipotle for lunch on the way home. He’s one of the very best. In addition to Machado, Mark Trumbo is having just a massive year. He’s dependent on batting average for his OBP, but even if that part of his game would slump, he’d still have huge power.
Chris Davis was supposed to be one of the key players offensively for the Orioles, but he’s been just okay, and it’s because he struggles to make contact at times. He still has huge power and can work a walk, but the average is holding him down. It should be noted that Matt Wieters has been really, really good this season, but offensively has been about average, which there’s no shame in.
The supporting cast has a lot of potential, but hasn’t shown it consistently this season. Adam Jones has long been a very good player, but he’s struggled this season. Joey Rickard started the year playing every day and hitting leadoff, but as he’s predictably fallen off, he’s lost playing time to Hyun Soo Kim, who has been absolutely fantastic after being nearly written off in spring training. He’ll likely hit a rough patch, but his contact skills seem to be here to stay. Jonathan Schoop has been the same player he’s basically been to this point. He doesn’t walk and he doesn’t hit for a high enough average to have a good OBP, but he plays very good defense and has a ton of power. He’s quite useful. Ryan Flaherty has been filling in at third with Machado at short while J.J. Hardy is injured, and he’s been Ryan Flaherty. Paul Janish and former Royal Francisco Pena fill out the bench as Caleb Joseph is out for a bit with an injury that we don’t need to discuss.
The Orioles rotation has been spotty at best. Like the Royals, they are also on pace to work less than 900 innings as a staff this year. And like the Royals, they have a fantastic bullpen to help shoulder the load. In the rotation, Chris Tillman has been solid this year. He’s outperformed his peripherals a bit, but he’s much better than he was last year. Kevin Gausman has shown a fair amount as a starter this season, but he’s still a young pitcher, so there are ups and downs with him as you’d expect. Tyler Wilson has shown some really nice flashes this year, but he’s also shown at times that he’s been overmatched, so it’s tough to gauge him at this point. That strikeout rate is just so low. Mike Wright has been less than good, but he’s been saved by Ubaldo Jimenez who has been an absolute disaster this season. Of course, he couldn’t save his job as Wright was sent to Triple-A and only recalled because Darren O’Day is hurt, so he’ll be back in the bullpen with Vance Worley taking his rotation spot. Note: Nope. That was incorrect. It turns out that Worley will stay in the bullpen while Wright goes back to the rotation.
In the bullpen, though, it’s a different story entirely. Zach Britton is one of the game’s best and least known closers. He strikes hitters out and gets a ton of ground balls. Oh, and he doesn’t walk anyone either. Even with Darren O’Day on the disabled list, the setup guys for Britton have been so good that the Orioles bullpen looks like it won’t miss a beat. Brad Brach has been unreal this year. That’ll likely turn around at some point, but he’s a good pitcher even if he doesn’t keep his ERA at a historically low level. Mychal Givens has become a reliable option for the Orioles, but unlike Brach and Britton, he will walk batters. Where the Royals separate themselves from most teams is the depth. The Orioles depth is just okay. They have almost-Royal Brian Duensing in the bullpen. He’s joined on the left side by T.J. McFarland along with former top prospect Dylan Bundy and Worley on the right. Any one can shut you down, but they’re just not as good as the big three.
You may notice a new feature to the series preview as you read through the game information. We’ve added forecasts! Thank you so much to Brad Workman for providing them. His website, sensibleweather.com is a must visit every day to check on the forecasts for every game around the league. Follow along on Twitter @SensibleWeather.
Game 1, Monday: Danny Duffy vs. Mike Wright
Wright was a third round pick by the Orioles in 2011, and it just hasn’t worked out to date. He was really good in the minors last season, but that’s really about it for him even coming close to living up to his draft status. Since coming to the big leagues, he’s posted a 5.96 ERA with a cFIP of 111, which is not good. He doesn’t really miss bats and he doesn’t have elite control, although it has gotten better this season, so he struggles to get the job done. He’s 0-1 with a 7.15 ERA in two career starts against the Royals, one of which was a 6.1 inning outing earlier this year when he allowed five runs on eight hits and two home runs.
Three things to watch for against Wright:
- Wright throws pretty hard, averaging just a hair under 95 MPH on his fastball that he throws more than half the time. He also has a hard sinker, a slider and a changeup. He supplements with a very occasional curve. On paper, the idea of his repertoire looks really good, but in practice, he gets hit very hard with pretty much all his pitches. He’s allowed a .536 SLG this year on his fastball/sinker combination.
- There aren’t many stats that work out in Wright’s favor. He’s bad the first time through an order, but he’s also bad the second and third time. He’s a little better with the bases empty than with anyone on, but he’s bad with the bases empty too. Even when he’s ahead in the count, he’s allowed a .268/.291/.472 line in his career.
- In his career, lefties have done a number on him, hitting .345/.403/.569. I wonder if the Royals use Jarrod Dyson and Reymond Fuentes tonight. It would make some sense, especially with Paulo Orlando falling off the pace he was on. Righties hit him just fine too, but not like lefties. Lorenzo Cain has two career homers against him while Eric Hosmer has one. Drew Butera has a pair of doubles against him as well.
Duffy is coming off a bit of a weird start. He was super efficient with his pitches, throwing just 75 in six innings, but he did give up three runs to the Rays. I would call the outing a great success, and looking at what he’s done since returning to the rotation, I’d say the Royals have found an answer for at least the short-term. He’s gone 18.2 innings in four starts (building his pitch count has contributed to short starts, of course) and given up 17 hits while striking out 19 and walking just two. He’s also thrown just 14 pitches per inning. It’s been very impressive. He’s 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in six games (four starts) against the Orioles in his career, including taking a perfect game into the 7th inning against them in 2014. He’s thrown a scoreless inning in relief against them this year. Davis, Machado and Jones are a combined 2 for 29 in their careers against Duffy with one walk. It would be good if that would continue.
First Pitch Temperature: 82° F
Wind: SW at 4-8 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Game 2, Tuesday: Yordano Ventura vs. Ubaldo Jimenez
How frustrating must it be for the Orioles and their fans to watch Jimenez every fifth day? He really wasn’t horrendously horrible in his first two seasons with the Orioles, but this year has just been a disaster. He has a 6.59 ERA in 11 starts. He’s given up four or more runs in six of those starts. He’s pitched more than six innings just twice. It’s been a bad year, and there’s not much you can really say about say to sugarcoat it. He’s 4-5 with a 4.79 ERA in 12 career starts against the Royals. He has an 8.64 ERA in three starts against the Royals over the last two seasons.
Three things to watch for against Jimenez:
- Jimenez is another guy who throws a ton of sinkers, more than 43 percent this season. The stuff and velocity just isn’t there anymore, which is a problem because he hasn’t ever really had anything resembling great command. The sinker comes in at around 91 MPH as does his fastball. He’s not throwing his sliders nearly as often as he used to, but they’re still kind of, sort of effective. His splitter has actually been good, though, so hitters should watch out for that.
- Jimenez doesn’t throw strikes, so hitters swinging at the first pitch find themselves getting in a little trouble. But when he gets behind in the count, he gets absolutely crushed. That happens fairly often. Hitters are hitting .233/.233/.300 on the first pitch and .322/.416/.481 on the rest. Take the first pitch. It’ll benefit you.
- Jimenez has been mauled by lefties this season. It’s not that he’s been good against righties, but he’s been especially bad against lefties. That doesn’t bode that well for the Royals without Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, but that still might be beneficial to Hosmer and maybe Dyson and Fuentes (another chance to play them both) at the very least. Hosmer and Cain have crushed Jimenez in their careers. Kendrys Morales has two home runs too, so maybe he can take advantage of that and the small dimensions and get going in this series.
Ventura is almost as frustrating as Jimenez, but the results have been better. While he has a 4.99 ERA in his last five starts, there are some good signs for Ventura. He’s walked just 2.9 per nine innings in that time. Of course, it looks like he’s trading some of those walks for guiding the ball and making it fairly easy to hit, but maybe he’ll find the happy medium at some point soon enough. He’s at least provided innings lately, going 19 over his last three starts. Innings have value too. Ventura is 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA in five career starts against Baltimore. He made what’s probably the best start of the season for him against the Orioles in April, and I still remember what’s maybe the best start of his career in 2014 against them in Baltimore. Jones has crushed him while Machado has been pretty good against him, but everyone else has struggled.
First Pitch Temperature: 78° F
Wind: NW at 10-15 mph
Cloud Cover: Partly Cloudy
Precipitation: 20% chance of showers/thunderstorms.
Game 3, Wednesday: Edinson Volquez vs. Chris Tillman
Tillman has gotten back to the form he showed from 2012 to 2014 this season after a bad season for him in 2015. He’s struck out hitters at a better rate than ever and been more difficult to hit than any year but 2012. A lot of critics will talk to his low BABIP, but the number is somewhat in line with his successful seasons. I’m not especially impressed with Tillman, but he’s gotten it done more often than not over the last few seasons. He’s 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA in seven regular season starts against the Royals.
Three things to watch for against Tillman:
- Tillman throws his fastball a bit more than 40 percent of the time at around 93-94 MPH. He throws some sinkers as well along with a changeup, curve and cutter. He’s been really good with his fastball this year, which has been the key to his success. His sinker has been demolished, though, so hitters should maybe be on the lookout for that, I guess.
- Tillman has been really good once runners get on base, which is good because he’s given up a fair amount of hits with the bases empty. The key is obviously to capitalize on those opportunities. I also think it’s fair to assume that there will be some regression in those numbers. It would be good if that happened in his series.
- Tillman has been much better against righties than lefties this season, but again, the Royals aren’t equipped as they usually are to take advantage of that. Morales, Alcides Escobar and Cain have all posted an OPS above .800 against Tillman in their careers, and Salvador Perez also has a home run against him.
Edinson Volquez hasn’t exactly been good lately, and he’s also been a little rough on the road. Since he posted a 1.09 ERA through his first four starts, Volquez is 2-5 with a 5.51 ERA, but he is averaging more than six innings per start, which is a good thing. I was worried last year’s postseason run might be a strain on him this year, and now I’m wondering if it actually was. He’s 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts against the Orioles in his career, but he hasn’t faced them since 2013, before his career transformation. He hasn’t faced many Orioles hitters too much, but Jones has two home runs against him.
First Pitch Temperature: 69° F
Wind: NW at 8-12 mph, gusting to 20 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
It’s hard to find good in the way the Royals are suddenly playing, and with the Orioles offense, you have to fear the Royals pitching staff against them. I can see scenarios where the Royals win the series and even sweep, but I just don’t see them nearly as likely as them salvaging just one game out of the three.