Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders

Series Preview: Royals vs. Toronto Blue Jays, August 5-7

After another losing road trip, the Royals return home to take on a 2015 playoff foe, the Toronto Blue Jays. This year has treated the Blue Jays much better than the Royals, but the last time they were on the field in Kansas City, they watched as the Royals celebrated their second straight American League pennant, so things aren’t all bad. This may surprise you, but the three games the two teams played in Toronto earlier this year were all Blue Jays victories.

Blue Jays Offense

While the offense doesn’t seem like the juggernaut it was last season, it’s still quite good and probably actually still a juggernaut. They hit for power, they walk and they score runs. They’re basically everything the Royals aren’t offensively. Now they’ve got Jose Bautista back and healthy, it looks like they’re ready to make a push offensively.

Let’s take a look at their last month or so:

G PA AVG OBP SLG HR RBI R SB
Darwin Barney 17 57 .176 .214 .275 0 4 6 0
Jose Bautista 10 47 .154 .298 .410 3 4 5 0
Josh Donaldson 24 105 .297 .390 .593 7 19 16 0
Edwin Encarnacion 23 100 .267 .340 .577 8 15 13 0
Russell Martin 17 73 .300 .425 .450 1 6 9 0
Kevin Pillar 24 97 .272 .299 .337 0 12 9 2
Michael Saunders 21 90 .213 .333 .427 4 8 14 1
Justin Smoak 17 53 .208 .283 .438 3 4 5 0
Josh Thole 8 28 .250 .321 .333 0 5 2 0
Devon Travis 20 84 .321 .369 .474 2 7 12 0
Troy Tulowitzki 20 82 .260 .293 .455 4 15 10 0
Melvin Upton, Jr. 19 71 .188 .211 .338 3 6 7 1

Blue Jays Pitching

This, to me, has been the huge surprise. The Blue Jays rotation has been outstanding this year, but may need a little help soon. They brought in J.A. Happ and brought back Marco Estrada, who have both been fantastic for the most part this season. Aaron Sanchez has been so good as a starter as well, and now it looks like he won’t necessarily be heading to the bullpen. They picked up Francisco Liriano in a trade with the Pirates to help pick up those innings, but he’s having a rough year. With that addition, though, it looks like they’re going to a six-man rotation for the next little bit.

Here’s the Blue Jays rotation over the last month:

G W L ERA IP K BB
R.A. Dickey 6 3 3 5.30 35.2 30 14
Marco Estrada 3 2 1 2.84 19.0 16 3
J.A. Happ 5 4 0 1.48 30.1 37 10
Francisco Liriano 5 1 3 5.88 26.0 31 14
Aaron Sanchez 4 2 0 1.73 26.0 9 6
Marcus Stroman 5 2 0 3.67 34.1 37 4

Their bullpen has had its issues, but a lot of that is due to struggles from Drew Storen, who has been traded and Jesse Chavez, also traded. The addition of Sanchez to the unit should only help whenever it is he moves as they have a top flight closer in Roberto Osuna and a very good setup man in Joe Biagini already. Plus, Brett Cecil has some talent hidden in that bloated ERA of his.

And finally, here’s what their bullpen has done in the last month:

G W L S ERA IP K BB
Danny Barnes 1 0 0 0 0.00 1.0 2 0
Joaquin Benoit 11 0 0 0 2.79 9.2 10 6
Joe Biagini 10 0 0 0 0.66 13.2 13 1
Brett Cecil 11 0 1 0 5.87 7.2 6 2
Scott Feldman 6 0 1 0 4.15 13.0 8 6
Jason Grilli 10 2 1 1 1.80 10.0 11 3
Roberto Osuna 13 0 0 8 0.00 12.2 15 3

Forecasts provided by Sensible Weather. For daily MLB weather forecasts, visit sensibleweather.com and follow along on Twitter (@SensibleWeather).

Game 1, Friday: Dillon Gee vs. Francisco Liriano

It’s been a weird career for the very talented lefty. He came up with the Twins and was outstanding in his rookie year in 2006, posting a 2.16 ERA and looking like a future ace. Then he was up and down for a few years with the Twins and White Sox before going to Pittsburgh and having his career revitalized, as so many pitchers do. For three seasons in Pittsburgh, he was fantastic, going 35-25 with a 3.26 ERA in 86 starts. The wheels fell off this year and the Pirates decided to deal him to the Blue Jays, and here he is. He’s 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA in 21 starts. He still has the strikeout stuff, but the control has been a problem, which has typically been the case in his bad years. He’s 6-5 with a 4.55 ERA in 17 games (14 starts) against the Royals in his career, but hasn’t faced them since 2012.

Three things to watch for against Liriano:

  1. He relies heavily on a sinker, throwing it nearly 50 percent of the time. It’s a hard one, averaging a bit more than 93 MPH. He throws a slider a lot, and it can be really good, even this year. He also has a changeup that he’s given up a lot of hits with, but not much in the way of power. The sinker is the pitch batters are keying on, as they have a .320 average and .562 SLG against it with 13 home runs.
  2. The Royals tactic of swinging early might not be a bad idea against him. I wonder if he’s so conscious of all the walks he’s allowed that he just tries to get ahead early and gets hit hard. On the first pitch, opponents have hit .421 with a slugging percentage of .825 against him. And even when they swing at the first pitch and don’t necessarily end the at bat there, they have an .866 OPS against him compared with .789 when they take it.
  3. Everyone has been a problem for Liriano this year, but righties have hit him harder than lefties with a .267/.374/.450 line compared to .255/.358/.425 for lefties. He’s given up 15 of his 19 homers to right-handed bats. Alex Gordon has the most at bats against Liriano and is a career .296/.387/.444 hitter against him. Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain each have homers against him.

Gee continues his quest to stabilize the fifth starter spot, and he’s actually done okay enough in his last two chances. With so few other options, he’s the choice for now, so that’s what we get. He’s gone 11 innings in his last two starts and allowed nine runs, but I actually think he was better than that in his first start. He was just left in too long to try to save the bullpen. I find it hard to like this matchup, though, as the Blue Jays can really hit and Gee isn’t especially good. He’s 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA in one start against them in his career, back in 2012. He hasn’t faced many Blue Jays hitters, but he has allowed a homer to Bautista and a double to Upton.

The Forecast

First Pitch Temperature: 83° F
Wind: NE at 4-8 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Cloudy
Precipitation: 30% chance of showers/thunderstorms

Game 2, Saturday: Danny Duffy vs. Aaron Sanchez

It’s been quite a year for Sanchez. He was a deserving All-Star and is currently 11-1 with a 2.71 ERA. It’s tough to move someone like that out of the rotation, but he’s already thrown 139.1 innings, which exceeds his previous career high, so the move is probably the right one to make.  This figures to be one of his last starts of the season. He’s just done everything well, but one thing that stands out is that you’d expect a few more strikeouts with the kind of stuff he has. That’s a very small issue to take with a young pitcher doing so well, but it’s worth watching in the future. He’s 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in four games (one start) against the Royals. The one start came earlier this year when he allowed just one run on three hits in eight innings. He did only strike out three, though, so there’s that.

Three things to watch for against Sanchez:

  1. Sanchez, like Liriano, relies heavily on a sinker. He throws his more than half the time, and it comes in between 95 and 96 MPH. The difference is that he stays with the hard stuff as he throws a four-seam fastball about 20 percent of the time as well at a similar velocity to the sinker. He also throws a curve and a changeup. I wonder if he’ll start incorporating his off speed stuff more as it’s been fantastic this season.
  2. There’s not much to look at with Sanchez that makes you think the Royals have a chance, but he does see his results get worse as games go on. In his first plate appearance of the game, he allows a .229/.299/.259 line, but that “jumps” to .220/.286/.409 by the third time through the lineup. He has allowed 70 percent of his homers the third time through the order, so that’s something to watch for I guess.
  3. He’s been death to righties with a .570 OPS allowed. Lefties have been better, but better isn’t good. He’s allowed a .665 OPS to them and eight of the 10 homers he’s allowed have been to lefties. Kendrys Morales has a homer against Sanchez, but that’s really it for what Royals hitters have done against him.

Everyone is pumped to see the follow-up to Duffy’s amazing start against the Rays on Monday night. If you live under a rock, he went eight innings, gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out 16. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. He was amazing. It was probably the best start in Royals history, and that’s not hyperbole. As you know, it goes deeper than that. Since moving into the rotation, he’s gone 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts spanning 90.2 innings. Since he lost all pitch restrictions, he’s gone 6-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 11 starts spanning 72 innings. He’s striking an incredible number of hitters out, limiting walks and just looking like a legitimate ace. It’s great to see. He’s just 1-3 with a 6.97 ERA in five games (four starts) against the Blue Jays in his career, but went 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts last year.  He’s allowed homers to Donaldson, Martin and Tulowitzki in his career and has given up a lot of hits in not that many plate appearances against him. This is a different Duffy, though.

The Forecast

First Pitch Temperature: 80° F
Wind: NE at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Cloudy
Precipitation: 40% chance of showers/thunderstorms

Game 3, Sunday: Yordano Ventura vs. Marcus Stroman

Stroman looked like he was going to have a huge year when he came back at the end of last season and pitched so well, but it’s been a struggle for him. He gives a lot of innings, so even if they aren’t the most effective, he has value, but he has more talent than the numbers he’s put up would indicate. He’s been good in four of his last six starts, and carries a 3.29 ERA in that stretch, which is some cause for optimism from the Blue Jays. He’s 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two career starts against the Royals after going eight innings and giving up just two runs earlier this season in a victory.

Three things to watch for against Stroman:

  1. More sinkers. Stroman throws his more than half the time as well and he throws it around 92-93 MPH. It’s a great pitch when it’s working and can really kill some worms. He has a fantastic slider, a curve that can be outstanding when it’s on, a cutter, a changeup that needs some work and the occasional four-seam fastball. All of his pitches have the chance to be plus, so once he figures it out, he could be an absolute monster.
  2. Stroman’s problems come with runners on base. With nobody on, he’s allowed a .241/.279/.384 line. With runners on, he’s allowed a .308/.369/.483 line. And with runners in scoring position, he’s allowed a bit less power, but more base runners with a .319/.398/.466 line. So if you can get on base, you can beat him. The Royals aren’t great at that, though.
  3. Stroman has been much better against righties than lefties this year with an OPS split of more than 100. Alcides Escobar has two triples against Stroman in his career while Morales is a robust 4 for 5 against him.

Ventura is coming off a strange start against the Rays. He fought command and, to a certain extent, composure. He still ended up giving up just two runs in five innings and kept the team in the game to get a win in the later innings. Since leaving a start early against the Phillies with an injury, Ventura has made five starts. He’s 0-3, but has a 3.66 ERA and has a better than 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio. You’d like to see better, but that’s at least somewhat encouraging. He’s 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in two career regular season starts against the Blue Jays. He got his win last year in a game where he gave up five runs in seven innings. He’s given up two homers to Bautista and one each to Donaldson and Smoak. Current Blue Jays hitters have done their fair share against him, so that’s a bit of a concern.

The Forecast

First Pitch Temperature: 81° F
Wind: E at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Partly Sunny
Precipitation: 40% chance of showers/thunderstorms

The Prediction

I think the Royals win one game this weekend, and you’d be right if you guessed that it’d be the Duffy start because that’s what they tend to do. Of course, that’s a really tough matchup with Sanchez, but I do think they come away with one win this weekend.

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