Series Preview: Royals at Tampa Bay Rays, August 1-4

The Royals go from playing the first place team in the American League West to the last place team in the American League. Things haven’t gone according to plan this year for the Rays as they had hoped to be contenders in their division, but instead have had as bad a year as they’ve had in Tampa since before their successful run. They were 20-20 through 40 games and 31-32 after 63, but a 3-24 stretch (no, that’s not a typo) did them in for this season. The Royals swept them in Kansas City even before that 27-game stretch, so they currently hold the upper hand, but wins are hard to come by for the Royals of late and the Rays are playing a little bit better now after a three-game sweep of the Yankees over the weekend.

Rays Offense

Their offense has been awful this year, but I think it’s better than the numbers would indicate when everyone is healthy. They have Kevin Kiermaier and Steve Pearce back (unless he gets dealt) to match with a now healthy Logan Forsythe, Brad Miller and Evan Longoria. It’s not that they’re full of offensive juggernauts, but they have some quality hitters.

Update: Brandon Guyer has been traded. He will take his HBP skills to Cleveland.

Update 3: Steve Pearce has been traded to the Orioles. 

Here’s a look at what they’ve done recently:

Tim Beckham 10 32 .387 .406 .677 2 7 7 0
Curt Casali 13 32 .185 .290 .333 1 3 1 0
Corey Dickerson 24 92 .294 .337 .482 2 7 11 0
Logan Forsythe 25 113 .196 .239 .336 4 10 15 1
Nick Franklin 10 34 .333 .412 .400 0 4 2 3
Brandon Guyer 21 72 .153 .306 .186 0 1 3 1
Kevin Kiermaier 14 54 .143 .333 .214 0 2 6 3
Evan Longoria 25 105 .293 .324 .525 5 14 8 0
Luke Maile 11 37 .206 .250 .265 0 5 2 0
Brad Miller 24 96 .267 .302 .589 7 13 15 0
Steve Pearce 9 36 .233 .361 .400 1 4 3 0
Steven Souza 21 78 .203 .231 .270 0 8 9 2

Rays Pitching

This was supposed to be an unquestioned strength of this team, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. Chris Archer is having an up and down year. Matt Moore has been strong lately, but started the year poorly. Jake Odorizzi is a quality mid-rotation pitcher. Drew Smyly has looked good at times, but also too hittable at times.

Update 2: Matt Moore was traded to the Giants.

Here’s the rotation over the last month or so:

Chris Archer 5 1 3 3.38 32.0 38 8
Matt Moore 5 3 2 2.41 33.2 19 12
Jake Odorizzi 5 2 2 3.77 31.0 25 4
Blake Snell 5 2 2 2.76 29.1 33 14
Drew Smyly 5 1 3 5.20 27.2 18 11

The bullpen has been a bit of a revolving door, but Alex Colome looks like he might be a quality closer for the Rays, which is a nice development for them.

Here’s their bullpen’s numbers over the last few weeks:

Matt Andriese 6 0 1 1 2.51 14.1 15 2
Brad Boxberger 1 0 0 0 0.00 1.0 2 0
Xavier Cedeno 10 0 0 0 2.57 7.0 6 1
Alex Colome 9 0 1 6 3.52 7.2 12 1
Dylan Floro 7 0 1 0 4.82 9.1 7 4
Kevin Jepsen 7 0 0 0 2.25 4.0 2 0
Erasmo Ramirez 9 0 1 0 1.86 9.2 8 2
Enny Romero 7 0 0 0 16.20 3.1 3 4

Game 1, Monday: Danny Duffy vs. Chris Archer

It’s been a very weird year for the Rays ace as he’s lost 14 games and posted an ERA of 4.42. His strikeout rate is the same as it was last season, but he’s walked about 25 percent more batters and his home run rate has nearly doubled from last year. He’s also given up more hits than in the past, but still less than a hit per inning. He has been much better in his last two starts, but this is beginning to look like a lost season for the young righty. Of course, there’s every chance in the world he’s traded before this start begins. So you could have read this for no good reason. As good as Archer has been in his career, he’s 0-3 with a 6.20 ERA in four starts against the Royals. He gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings against the Royals earlier this year.

Three things to watch for against Archer:

  1. He throws a 95 MPH fastball about half the time, and it can be a really, really good pitch. He also throws a ton of sliders and then mixes in a changeup for the rest of what he throws. The fastball has been hit hard with a .513 SLG and 13 homers allowed on it. His slider is nasty and gets him a ton of strikeouts, but it’s been hit a bit harder than last year. His changeup has actually been hit a little less hard this year with a slightly higher average against it, but a lower SLG than last season.
  2. The issue for Archer this year has mostly been early in games. In the first plate appearance against him, opponents have a .285/.387/.461 line against him. The second time through, he’s allowed a .653 OPS and the third time through he’s allowed a .686 OPS. It jumps back up the fourth time through, but given his struggles, he hasn’t seen the fourth time through very often.
  3. Archer has had basically no platoon split this year, allowing a .738 OPS to righties and a .742 OPS to lefties. He’s actually allowed identical OBPs to both with lefties slugging just four points higher. Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Jarrod Dyson have all homered against Archer. Alcides Escobar has also hit him well in addition to those three.

The Royals at least have Duffy to count on every fifth day as he continues his unlikely ascent to become the Royals best and most consistent starter. There’s not much more that can be said about Duffy at this point. He’s gone six or more innings in his last six starts and in nine of his last 11. He strikes guys out, he’s not issuing walks and he’s giving innings. It’s surprising, but it’s not sad that he’s the best the Royals have. It would just be nice if the rest of the rotation was a little closer to him. He’s 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA in three career starts against the Rays. He faced them earlier this year when he was still getting his pitch count up and gave up three runs in six innings. Casali and Guyer have homered against him.

Game 2, Tuesday: Yordano Ventura vs. Matt Moore TBD

Another Rays starter, another guy who may not actually be on the team by the time the game is played. We will, of course, update. Moore is a guy who was given a contract extension after very little time in the big leagues who then missed time after Tommy John surgery. He took awhile to come back and started slowly this year, but in his last 12 starts, he’s 6-4 with a 3.19 ERA. In his last nine starts, it’s even better. He’s 5-3 with a 2.39 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 18 walks in 60.1 innings. That’ll most definitely play. He’s 0-2 with a 5.91 ERA in four career starts against the Royals, which includes 4.1 very rough innings in a game last year.

Three things to watch for against Moore:

  1. Moore throws a lot of fastballs. It comes in at about 93-94 MPH and he throws it just under 60 percent of the time. It moves a lot when it’s on, so that’s a good thing, and it’s been on lately. He also throws a very effective curve and a changeup that needs to be better for him to keep up what he’s been doing.
  2. Moore has been the opposite of Archer this year in that he starts the game off pitching well before slowly fading as the game goes on. In the first plate appearance, he allows a .624 OPS. In the second, it rises to .728 and then .823 in the third plate appearances. That’s something that’s been better for him lately as he’s been able to hold velocity and stuff a little deeper into games.
  3. He has the platoon split you’d expect, holding lefties to a .649 OPS compared to .736 against righties. Alex Gordon, Escobar and Morales have all homered against Moore while Salvador Perez has also hit him in the past. The Royals haven’t seen much of him, though.

Ventura is coming off his first career complete game and the first of the season for the Royals. And fitting to what has happened lately, he lost the game. Still, it was great to see him go deep into the game, which he’s done far more often lately, going seven innings or more in three of his last four games. He’s looked better, but there’s still plenty of questions surrounding Ventura from the inconsistency from start to start to his low strikeout totals to his high walk totals at times. It’s been a frustrating season after such a great second half in 2015. He’s 1-0 with a 3.94 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay, and has not yet faced them this season. Kiermaier has homered against him, but he’s had a lot of success against the Rays he’s hitters he’s faced in the few plate appearances he’s faced them in.

Game 3, Wednesday: Edinson Volquez vs. Jake Odorizzi

The former Royals hurler has become a really dependable pitcher in the Rays rotation. He hasn’t been a guy you can count on for 200 innings yet, but he gets his strikeouts, he limits walks and he doesn’t give up that many hits. He will give up some home runs, but who are we to judge? It’s been interesting to see him become such a solid mid-rotation starter. This might surprise you, but there’s a chance he’s not on the Rays by the time this game is played. If he’s not, you know the drill. He’s 0-3 with a 7.11 ERA in four games (three starts) against his former team. He’s been lit up by KC as a starter the last two seasons.

Three things to watch for against Odorizzi:

  1. Odorizzi throws his four-seam fastball a lot (56 percent of the time) with some rise at about 92-93 MPH. It’s a tough pitch to make barrel, but because of the nature of the pitch, he’ll give up the occasional homer. He also throws a lot of splitters at about 86 MPH, a slider, cutter, curve and the occasional sinker. The cutter has been rocked this year, so that’s the one to look for.
  2. Right-handed bats are getting a heavy dose of Odorizzi’s slider this season while lefties never see it, which makes some sense. The movement typically puts the pitch directly into a lefty’s happy zone. Instead, lefties see a healthy diet of his very good splitter. Right-handed hitters also have a chance to see a lot more cutters than lefties. I would consider putting out a lineup like the Royals typically do against lefties against him.
  3. And the numbers show it too. Right-handed bats have an .802 OPS against him this year while lefties have just a .601 OPS. Gordon and Eric Hosmer both have homers against him while other Royals have done their fair share against him.

Remember what I’ve said about all three of the Rays starters to this point? The same is true for Volquez. He might not be in Kansas City by the time this start comes around. We’ll update if so. Volquez had a rough outing against Texas his last time out, which may or may not have really done anything to his trade value. Aside from one massive blowup and one other bad start this year, Volquez has been a consistent mid-rotation guy. He gets the game into the middle innings and the Royals are usually in the game when he does it. The overall numbers don’t look great, but Volquez has been okay this year. He’s 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in five career starts against the Rays, which includes a 2-0 mark with a 1.37 ERA in three starts against them the last two seasons. Only Dickerson has really done much of anything against Volquez, but even that is in just a handful of plate appearances, so this appears to be a good matchup for Edinson.

Game 4, Thursday: Ian Kennedy vs. Drew Smyly

When you look at Smyly’s stat line, there’s a lot to like. He strikes out a ton of hitters and he doesn’t walk many. He gives decent innings (though not great). He’s always been a little prone to the home run ball, though, and this year, he’s started giving up more hits than ever before. That’s led to a 5.29 ERA in 117 innings through 20 starts. It hasn’t been pretty, but I still like the potential of Smyly. He’s 4-2 with a 4.09 ERA in 14 games (six starts) against the Royals in his career. The overall numbers against KC were much better until he gave up eight runs on 12 hits in four innings against the Royals earlier this year.

Three things to watch for against Smyly:

  1. Smyly, like so many of the Rays pitchers, uses his fastball a lot, throwing it more than 55 percent of the time. It’s not overpowering at just 91 MPH or so, but it has a lot of movement when it’s on. He also has a curve, a cutter and a changeup. The cutter has been whacked around, but he’s allowed a slugging percentage of .807 on the changeup. It’s been responsible for just under a quarter of the homers he’s allowed and he only throws it about seven percent of the time.
  2. It’s clear based on the numbers what Smyly’s main issue has been this year. With nobody on, he’s been good. He’s allowed a .227/.283/.381 line. Once runners get on, he’s a complete disaster, allowing a .347/.371/.631 line. With runners in scoring position, the numbers are pretty similar – .343/.357/.636. So this will be a battle between the movable force and the stoppable object.
  3. Smyly hasn’t been good against anyone, but he has been better against lefties than righties with an OPS split of about 50 points. Hosmer, Cain and Perez all have homers against him, but Escobar, Morales and Gordon have all had their struggles against him, so the outlook isn’t all rosy for the Royals to get to him.

In Kennedy’s last start against the Rangers, he looked like the guy who pitched for the Royals in April. His fastball was excellent, he was getting strikeouts and he wasn’t bit by the home run ball. The Royals obviously lost the game, but it was nice to see him pitch so well. Of course, he pitched a similar game against the Astros in late June that we thought might propel him to better times and that didn’t happen then, so I guess we’ll wait and see. The Rays have plenty of swing and miss in their games, so this could be another good game for Kennedy. He’s 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA in seven career starts against the Rays, but gave up just an unearned run on three hits against them over six innings earlier this year. Miller is 3 for 4 with two doubles and a homer against Kennedy, but the other Rays who have faced him have struggled mightily.

The Prediction

These are two of the feel-good smaller market stories in the AL over the last eight years. Both are down in the dumps right now, so this won’t exactly lead the highlights on SportsCenter, I’d think. It’s hard to predict between two bad teams, but I’ll say the Royals find a way to split this series as we embark on the final two months of a lost season.

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