After a disappointing series against the Indians, the Royals went to the White House with the hope of regaining their mojo. They get to try to do so against the first place Texas Rangers, though that isn’t quite as daunting a task as it would have been a few weeks ago. After going 20-8 in June and getting as high as 24 games over .500, they’ve gone just 4-12 in July. They’ve lost seven of their last eight including getting swept in Anaheim, something the Royals are far too familiar with. Last year, the Rangers won the season series against the Royals four games to three, which included winning two of three in Kansas City.
The Rangers offense is good this year, but they recently lost both Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder to injury. Losing Fielder doesn’t hurt them very much as he’s had a dismal season, but Choo has probably been their second best hitter this year. The biggest surprise for them has been Ian Desmond, and he’s been great this year. Rookie sensation Nomar Mazara has really fallen off after a hot start, but with Choo’s injury, they’re going to have to hope he regains the form he had early in the year.
Here’s a look at how Rangers hitters have fared over the past month or so:
The Rangers have had to deal with plenty of pitching injuries. They’ve been without Yu Darvish for much of the year, though he’s back to start this series. They’ve lost both Colby Lewis and Derek Holland to the 60-day DL and they’ve had to rely on Kyle Lohse of late. That’s not a great recipe.
Here’s a look at their current starters over the last month or so:
The bullpen has had its issues. Shawn Tolleson lost his closer job awhile back, but Sam Dyson has taken over and done a great job. The biggest surprise in their bullpen is Matt Bush.
Here’s a look at how the current members of the bullpen have fared recently:
Game 1, Friday: Danny Duffy vs. Yu Darvish
Darvish returned earlier this year after Tommy John surgery wiped out his 2015 season, but went on the disabled list with some shoulder discomfort. He made his return against the Cubs and pitched well for his first few innings before he ran out of gas and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. He’s still a ridiculously tough draw for the Royals. He hasn’t been the picture of health, but when he’s taken the mound, he’s been a legitimately fantastic starting pitcher, racking up the strikeouts like crazy. If there’s one weakness he has, it’s that he struggles a bit with walks, but the stuff is so good and he’s so difficult to hit that it doesn’t really hurt him too much. He’s 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two career starts against the Royals, but his last start against them came in 2013.
Three things to watch for against Darvish:
- In limited action this year, it does seem that Darvish has simplified his approach. He throws his fastball and sinker together more than 58 percent of the time. The fastball averages around 95-96 MPH while the sinker is just a couple miles per hour slower. He throws a hard cutter, a really good slider and a slow curve. All have been outstanding in limited action this season.
- Throughout his career, one of the best things about Darvish is that he doesn’t seem to tire. One thing that stands out is how amazing he’s been when he gets ahead in the count, and that’s largely due to how much movement he gets on his pitches and how tough he is to make contact against. When he’s ahead in the count, he’s allowed just a .395 OPS in his career. When behind in the count, he’s allowed a .981 OPS, so that’s where his control could hurt him. It hasn’t very much, though.
- Darvish has been amazing against righties throughout his career, limiting them to an OPS below .600. Lefties haven’t had as tough of a go, but they’ve still struggled to an OPS of .682. The only Royals hitter to face Darvish more than six times is Kendrys Morales. He has a robust career line of .120/.179/.120 in 28 career plate appearances.
Luckily for the Royals, Darvish is going up against Duffy, the best pitcher on the staff. That’s a sentence I didn’t expect to type this season, but here we are. Now he’s added innings, which is exactly what the Royals have needed this year. One of the most encouraging things about Duffy’s resurgence is that he gets strikeouts now and limits walks. In his last four starts, he’s struck out 30 and walked two. That’s not a typo. Duffy is 0-1 with a 7.24 ERA in three career starts against the Rangers. He hasn’t really faced anybody on the current Rangers much, but Beltre does have a homer against him.
First Pitch Temperature: 94° F
Wind: SW becoming S at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Game 2, Saturday: Yordano Ventura vs. Cole Hamels
When the Rangers acquired Hamels last year, I’m not sure they were counting on him leading him to the playoffs, but they were counting on him leading a pitching staff for years to come. He has a 10-2 record and a 3.00 ERA, so he’s had a solid season, but there are some underlying numbers that aren’t great, namely his walk rate, which is higher than it’s been at any point in his career. He is still getting strikeouts and limiting hits, so it’s not like he’s been terrible or anything this year, but there is a reasonable thought that his ERA should rise unless his peripherals get better. Interestingly enough, Hamels is 0-1 with a 12.71 ERA in one start against the Royals that came in 2013.
Three things to watch for against Hamels:
- Hamels has been steadily throwing his fastball less and his cutter more over the last few seasons. Now, he throws the fastball about one-quarter of the time and it comes in at around 93 MPH. His cutter that he throws about the same amount of time comes in a few miles per hour slower at just under 90. He also throws a sinker at the same velocity a his fastball, a really good changeup and a curve. The change has been the surprise this year. It hasn’t been hit that much, but he’s given up way more extra base hits than you’d expect on it.
- Unlike Darvish, Hamels has had an issue getting deep into games. The first two times through the batting order, he really gets it done, but the third time through, he’s allowed a .264/.367/.419 line. I wonder if that has something to do with his changeup not being as good, which means hitters haven’t had to worry as much about it. I’m not sure if that’s the real reason, but it makes some sense.
- Hamels has destroyed lefties, allowing a .563 OPS to them, but righties have hit him decently with a .731 OPS, including 13 of the 16 homers he’s allowed. Morales has homered against him while Alcides Escobar has three hits in eight at bats. Alex Gordon actually also has a double against him, but I’m wondering if he doesn’t end up sitting in this one in favor of Brett Eibner.
Ventura has had an up and down year, as you all know, but one thing that’s been encouraging is how his control has really improved over the last few starts. In his last 12 starts, he’s walked 16, which is just over two per nine innings. In his last 10 starts, he’s walked just 12 batters, which is an average of 1.8 per nine. That’s a fantastic improvement. If he could just consistently work with his off speed stuff, he and the Royals would really be cooking. He’s 2-2 with a 4.84 ERA in four career starts against the Rangers. He was great against them in 2014, but terrible last year, losing twice with an ERA over 8.00. He hasn’t faced many Rangers, but DeShields has lit him up in five plate appearances, which is something that means nothing.
First Pitch Temperature: 99° F
Wind: SSW at 10-15 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Game 3, Sunday: Edinson Volquez vs. A.J. Griffin
Griffin was a very promising young pitcher with the A’s before missing all of 2014 and 2015. He somehow made it back this year and started the season well for the Rangers before a shoulder injury put him on the disabled list for longer than originally expected. He pitched well in his first three starts back, but then has given up 11 runs in his last 10 innings with just five strikeouts and four walks, so it’s fair to say things aren’t going great for him right now. He’s 1-0 with a 4.09 ERA in two career starts against the Royals with both coming in 2013. So that’s a bit of a quirk. All three starters in this series last faced the Royals in 2013.
Three things to watch for against Griffin:
- He throws his four-seam fastball more than half the time and it isn’t one that lights up the radar gun. It comes in at just under 89 MPH. He also throws a cutter about 20 percent of the time at 84-85 MPH. He has a very slow curve and a changeup. The cutter and the change have been absolutely lit up this season, so hitters should look to those if they want to have success against him.
- The sample is small, but Griffin is very vulnerable on the first pitch. He’s allowed a .526 average with an .895 SLG on the first pitch of an at bat. Without a big out pitch, he’s struggled a little bit when ahead in the count, allowing a .714 OPS in those situations. The moral of this story is that you can get Griffin early, but if you don’t, him being ahead in the count isn’t really a deterrent either.
- He’s done a really nice job against right-handed batters, allowing a .198/.296/.277 line, but against lefties, he’s allowed a .268/.336/.527 line. Gordon is 5 for 5 against him with a home run, which is a pretty good batting line. Eric Hosmer also has a double against him. There’s not much data for anyone, but those two stand out.
Volquez pitched well in his first start after the break, going seven innings against the Indians on Monday. In fact, since his blowup against the Astros, he’s made four starts and gone 25.2 innings with a 3.16 ERA. The Royals need him to keep that going in the most winnable pitching matchup they have during this series. The interesting story with this matchup is that Volquez was one of the Rangers top prospects a decade ago before finding success with the Reds. He’s 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA in three starts against his former team. He was 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in two starts last year. Moreland and Desmond have each homered against him, but very few Rangers have much experience against him, if any.
First Pitch Temperature: 91° F
Wind: SW at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Partly Sunny
Precipitation: 20% chance of showers/thunderstorms
The Royals offense seems likely to be overmatched against Darvish and Hamels, but there is hope that both Duffy and Ventura can come close to matching them. In the finale, I think the Royals have the clear edge. All that said, I don’t have a ton of confidence they can steal a win against the two better pitchers they face, so I’m predicting them losing two of three and falling below .500.