The Royals return home for their first series since the break and get a chance to put a dent in the Cleveland Indians division lead. After getting swept by the Royals in Kansas City in June, the Royals and Indians were tied for first in the American League Central. The Indians promptly won their next 14 games to give them the sizable division lead they hold today. This is a good baseball team. So far this season, the Royals are just 4-6 against the Indians, but that sweep was the only time they’ve played them in Kansas City. A series win is nearly a must for the Royals in this one.
Let’s take a look at how Indians hitters have fared over the last month:
Note: Gomes, as bad as he’s been, is on the disabled list now with a separated shoulder. While he’s been horrible offensively, he does a good job of controlling the running game, so with him out, maybe the Royals can run a little bit against the Indians. Roberto Perez, who has the strange line of .000/.400/.000 this year in 15 plate appearances appears to be the guy they’re calling up. He was pretty good last year when filling in for Gomes and has a very good arm of his own.
Here’s a glance at the Indians starters over the past month:
And here’s the relievers:
Game 1, Monday: Edinson Volquez vs. Corey Kluber
I know this isn’t a popular thing to say, but I think this is who Kluber is. He’s a guy with an ERA in the mid-3s who always looks like he should be performing better than he is. His season ERAs from 2013 through this year are 3.85, 2.44, 3.49 and 3.61. In that time, his FIP is 3.30, 2.35, 2.97 and 2.95. He’s a very good pitcher, but the Cy Young year as the year he actually performed up to his peripherals is looking like the outlier. That isn’t to take anything away from him. He’s fantastic and I would love him on the Royals. I just think it’s probably time to start looking for him to regress to the mean. Still, he’s had another solid year. He limits hits, he strikes guys out, he avoids walks, he does pretty much everything well. Oh, and he gives tons of innings. He’s worth every penny he’s paid and a lot more. He’s 6-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 16 career starts against the Royals. This year, he’s 1-1 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts, and he’s 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA the last two years. Interestingly enough, he’s allowed six unearned runs against the Royals the last two years.
Three things to watch for against Kluber:
- Kluber lives by the hard stuff. He throws a four-seam fastball, a cutter and, most often, a sinker. Those three pitches account for about 80 percent of what he throws. The fastball and sinker come in at about 93 MPH, while the cutter is a bit slower at 89-90 MPH. He also has a very good slider and a changeup he uses at times. This year, the fastball has been rough for him, and he’s allowed a .349 average with a .494 SLG. That isn’t a ton of power on it, but it’s been hit.
- So Kluber has great peripherals. How exactly does he have an ERA over 3.50? His strand rate is just a touch over 64 percent, which is very low. With nobody on, he allows a .501 OPS. With runners on, that jumps to .785 and with men in scoring position, it’s even higher at .828. It might be an issue with getting as much movement on his pitches from the stretch. Basically get on base and then Kluber becomes human.
- Kluber has had a typical platoon split, allowing a .622 OPS to lefties and a .573 OPS to right-handed bats. Not many Royals have hit very well against him, but the guy with the most plate appearances, Eric Hosmer, really has. He’s hit .267/.313/.600, so it’s all about the power for him against Kluber. He has six doubles and three homers among his 12 hits in 48 plate appearances. Alex Gordon also has two homers against it and Salvador Perez has one.
Volquez will make his first post-break start. Since the blowup against the Astros, Volquez has gone 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 18.2 innings; he’s recovered nicely. He hasn’t pitched since July 9, so he should be well rested for this start. In a much bigger stretch, he has a 5.92 ERA in his last 15 starts after starting the year so strong. The hope is that the rest he received over the break will allow him to get back to what he was doing at the start of the season when he looked like he was poised to have the best year of his career. He’s 3-6 with a 6.94 ERA in 10 career starts against the Indians, which includes a 1-2 record with a 5.09 ERA in three starts this year and a 2-4 record with a 5.50 ERA in his Royals career. Kipnis and Chisenhall have hit him very well. So has Naquin in limited plate appearances. Almonte, Napoli, Ramirez and Gomes also have homers against him.
Game 2, Tuesday: TBD vs. Danny Salazar
Salazar has had a great season. He’s 10-3 with a 2.75 ERA and has a very real chance to give the Indians their second Cy Young Award winner in the last three seasons. He has struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings. He’s allowed 6.6 hits per nine. He’s limiting homers better than he ever has in his career. The guy has absolutely filthy stuff. I’m guessing you know there’s a “but” coming? He walks a lot of batters, averaging more than four per nine innings. He also doesn’t get that deep into games, averaging just over six innings per start. Pitch efficiency isn’t his strong point. He’s so good that you don’t worry too much, but if you’re looking for something to ding him for, that would be it. Salazar has made 11 career starts against the Royals and has a decision in all of them, going 6-5 with a 3.71 ERA. He’s been outstanding this year, going 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA in 15.2 innings.
Three things to watch for against Salazar:
- Like Kluber, Salazar uses hard stuff quite a bit. He throws a four-seam fastball more than half the time, and it averages about 96 MPH. He also throws a sinker about 17 percent of the time that averages just a touch less. He has a slider and a curve, but uses a lot of changeups to help him get his outs. He has 65 strikeouts on that changeup this year. It’s been really, really good. The sinker is the pitch that’s been hit the hardest this season, but even that hasn’t been knocked around in the way you’d think of when the phrase “knocked around” is used.
- Salazar has been so good, in part, because he’s sort of been the anti-Kluber this year. He has stranded many of the limited number of runners he’s allowed on base this season. He’s allowed a .448 OPS with runners in scoring position and a .564 OPS with men on. Where Salazar struggles is where so many pitchers struggle. When he gets deep into games, his performance lags. The first time through the order, he allows a .507 OPS. That rises, but only to .606 the second time through. Then the third time through, it skyrockets to .792. I mentioned he doesn’t get that deep into games, and this is why.
- Salazar’s platoon split has been reversed, and it’s probably due largely to his excellent change-up. Lefties have hit just .189/.264/.309 against him while righties have hit .217/.312/.335 against him. Neither is good, but the righties have hit a little better. Drew Butera actually has a homer against Salazar from earlier this year. Other than him, Hosmer has hit him really well with a .333/.407/.750 line with two homers and four doubles. After Hosmer’s 1.157 OPS against Salazar, the best the Royals can offer is Alcides Escobar’s .570, so that’s something.
The Royals have left this spot in the rotation open and still haven’t announced their starter at the time of publishing. I really see two options for this – Dillon Gee and Alec Mills. I think if Mills had pitched better in Omaha on Thursday that he’d almost assuredly be the guy. We will update here once the starter is named.
Game 3, Wednesday: Ian Kennedy vs. Carlos Carrasco
I’m of the belief that with all the talent in the Indians rotation, their best starter is Carrasco, which is kind of scary because they have the 2014 AL Cy Young winner and Salazar on this staff. One thing worth noting is that other than a 14 strikeout game against the Blue Jays, he hasn’t been striking batters out at the same rate this season, so maybe he’s been a little easier to make contact against, which plays into the Royals strengths. Since coming off the DL, he’s posted a 2.50 ERA with a little more than 6.1 innings per start. Overall, he’s 6-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 18 career games (13 starts) against the Royals. He has a 4.09 ERA in two starts against them this year, so that’s a good thing.
Three things to watch for against Carrasco:
- Carrasco mixes up pitch speed better than the previous two starters in the series. He leads with a good fastball that averages a bit under 95 MPH, but he also throws a sinker, changeup, slider and curve. All his pitches have great movement and can be dominant at any time. That said, his fastball has been rocked this year when an at bat ends on it with a .375 average and .591 SLG.
- You want to talk strand rates? Carrasco’s is just under 87 percent, so that’s pretty darn good. There’s probably some regression there, but you never know. He does throw a lot of first pitch strikes, and often it’s on the pitch with the least movement. It might be why he’s allowed a .300 average on the first pitch with a .633 SLG. Either way, swing early and often against Carrasco is a decent strategy that can also end up really hurting.
- Carrasco amazingly has next to no platoon split, but what he gives up against different side hitters is varied. Lefties have worked walks against him, but haven’t hit for nearly as much power. Meanwhile, righties have 65 percent of the extra base hits he’s allowed in just 54 percent of the plate appearances. You may notice a trend, but Hosmer has hit Carrasco very will with a .964 OPS in 25 plate appearances. Butera has a home run against him too, which is weird. Gordon and Kendrys Morales have also homered against him, but not many other Royals have been so good against him.
Kennedy was solid in his first start after the break, giving up a run in 5.1 innings against the Tigers. You’d like to see more innings, but still, it’s hard to argue with the results. In his three starts prior to Friday, he was racking up the strikeouts, which maybe he’ll get back to in this one. He’s just been so good at Kauffman Stadium this year that you like his chances at home against anyone. He has a 2.11 ERA in six starts at The K with 10.8 strikeouts per nine and a nearly 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s 2-1 with a 4.41 ERA in five career starts against the Indians. He’s 2-1 with a 4.12 ERA this year against them in three starts. Naquin, Davis, Gimenez and Napoli have all homered against him. Lindor and Chisenhall have also hit him well.
The Royals play great at home and their backs are kind of against the wall after losing two of three to Detroit. I think they keep hope alive in this series and win two of three against a really tough team to beat to keep them within shouting distance of the division title.