The Royals hit the road, but stay in the division, as they take on the Minnesota Twins in a three-game set. The Twins, of course, are having a rough year and are currently in last place in the Central and in a battle with the Rays for the worst team in the American League. With the Braves playing better of late, they might be in a battle for the number one draft pick. This is the first of 13 games between the two teams in the final few weeks of the season, so get used to seeing the Twins. The Royals are 5-1 against the Twins, including 2-1 in Minnesota this year.
This is actually a decent offense. After a huge slump earlier this year, Brian Dozier is back to doing what he does, which is big for them. Max Kepler has emerged as a real weapon with some big-time power. Joe Mauer is a high OBP guy, who doesn’t do a ton else, but there’s value in that. Miguel Sano is a power force, even if he hasn’t been quite as good as he was last year. And then there’s Robbie Grossman and his ridiculous OBP. That has to be a surprise for everyone.
Here’s a glance at how they’ve performed lately offensively:
This is why they’re bad. Their best starter is Ervin Santana. While I’m a fan of Santana, if he’s your best starter at this stage of his career, you’re probably not a very good team. The rotation is filled out by some combination of Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone Jose Berrios and now Hector Santiago, after a sort of odd trade with the Angels. It’s just not an especially quality unit, which is too bad for them because they have an offense that can win some games if they could just keep opponents off the board.
Here’s the Twins rotation over the last month or so:
The bullpen is better, but not much, and it wasn’t always better with a lot of struggles this year. Brandon Kintzler has taken over as the closer after Glen Perkins was lost for the year to injury and they just straight let Kevin Jepsen go because he was so bad for them. Kintzler is a nice pitcher, but doesn’t get the swings and misses you’d like as a closer. There’s some younger guys doing some intriguing things, but overall this is not a good unit. On the whole, they have the worst team ERA in the American League for a reason.
And finally, here’s how Twins relievers have performed over the last month or so:
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Game 1, Friday: Yordano Ventura vs. Kyle Gibson
Gibson went on the disabled list in late April with a shoulder strain and didn’t come off the DL until a couple months ago because he had a setback with a back issue. After a breakout season last year, the Twins had high hopes that Gibson would take another step or two this season, but he really hasn’t. He’s been better at times since coming off the DL, but for the most part, he’s been sort of mediocre. He has posted a 4.48 ERA and averaged better than six innings per start since getting healthy, which qualifies as great news for the Twins, given the state of their rotation. Heck, the Royals would take that, too. He’s been a thorn in the Royals side throughout his career, going 5-3 with a 2.55 ERA in eight career starts. The Royals did finally get to him last year, as he went 2-3 with a 3.21 ERA against KC, but as we know, we’re not in 2015 anymore.
Three things to watch for against Gibson:
- He relies heavily on a sinker that he throws more than 40 percent of the time. Velocity is down a bit this year, but he’s still averaging 91-92 on it. He also throws a slider a lot and a change a fair amount, which is probably why the Royals can’t figure him out. He uses his four-seamer about 12 percent of the time and mixes in the occasional curve. The fastball has been demolished this year with a .522 average and 1.044 SLG against it. Other than that, most of his pitches seem to work.
- Gibson gets crushed early and then settles into a bit of a groove. The first time he sees a lineup, he allows .320/.381/.541 with seven of the 12 homers he’s surrendered. The second time, the line drops to .262/.318/.410 and the third time, he allows .289/.340/.392. There’s never a point where you feel like you can’t get to Gibson, but he does get better after he gets through the typical early game woes. Truthfully, it’s the first inning that does him in; he has a 9.60 ERA in his 15 first innings. He has a 7.24 ERA in the fifth, but his third worst inning ERA is 4.50 in the seventh, and he doesn’t even pitch in that inning too often.
- He’s been okay against righties, allowing .248/.317/.394, but lefties have been much better against him, hitting .324/.373/.497. Alex Gordon is a career .421/.542/.684 hitter against Gibson, but other than a 2 for 3 from Drew Butera, no other Royals really have had much success off him. Some have been downright dominated.
The control issues seem to have crept back into Ventura’s game his last two starts as he’s walked eight in 11.2 innings, but he’s been somewhat effective. Since leaving the game in Philadelphia early with an ankle injury, Ventura has a 3.26 ERA in 38.2 innings over six starts. His 15 walks are probably a few too many and his 28 strikeouts are a few too, well, few, but you like to see him battle. If he can get the curve working in this one, I think he can have a really nice game. The Twins always seem to work the count well against him, though, so we’ll see. He’s 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA in six career starts against the Twins with the lone no decision coming earlier this year when he gave up two runs in five innings. In that game, he walked six batters. Escobar has hit him well, as has Dozier and Suzuki, but the rest of the Twins hitters have had limited production.
First Pitch Temperature: 80° F
Wind: N at 3-6 mph
Cloud Cover: Partly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 20% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 2, Saturday: Dillon Gee or Someone Else vs. Tyler Duffey
The “e” isn’t the only thing differentiating Tyler from Danny. The young righty had a pretty good run with the Twins in his rookie season, going 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 10 starts, but this year hasn’t been so good for him with a 7-8 record and a 5.93 ERA in 19 starts. He has limited walks better, but like so many pitchers this year, the home run ball has bit him a little harder than in the past. He strikes out enough hitters too, but he’s just been incredibly hittable this season with 127 hits allowed in his 101.2 innings pitched. He’s made one career start against the Royals, and it was earlier this year. He got the win, but he allowed five runs in 6.2 innings.
Three things to watch for against Duffey:
- He doesn’t throw hard, averaging about 91 MPH on his four-seam fastball and sinker that he combines to throw a little less than 60 percent of the time. His big pitch is his curve that he throws just under 40% of the time, and it’s a good one. It’s been responsible for the vast majority of his strikeouts, and opponents have only hit .265 with a .324 SLG on it overall.
- Duffey is around the strike zone and doesn’t have great stuff, which means swinging early isn’t the worst plan of attack. The numbers support it. Opponents have hit .438 on the first pitch with an SLG of .854. And it’s not just when the at bat ends there. Opponents who swing at the first pitch at all hit .361/.369/.672. Swinging early makes sense against Duffey, which might be how the Royals hit him well earlier this season.
- He has a reverse platoon split this year, and it’s drastic. He’s allowed .319/.368/.587 against righties and .285/.320/.444 to lefties. Alcides Escobar went 3 for 4 against him while Perez and Hosmer each doubled in their first meeting. Newcomer Billy Burns has two hits in two at bats against him as well.
I’m not so sure Gee is going to start this one after pitching two innings in relief on Wednesday, but if he does, he’s pitched well of late, adding some stability to the fifth spot in the rotation. He was plagued a few starts ago by being left in too long and giving up some runs, but in his last three appearances, he’s posted a reasonable – for a back of the rotation starter – 4.50 ERA. In his career, he’s 1-1 with a 3.29 ERA in three games (two starts) against the Twins, but he got roughed up in his only start against them this season. Nobody has a ton of experience against him, but Sano and Dozier both have homers against him. Actually, so does Milone, if you want to get crazy.
First Pitch Temperature: 78° F
Wind: NW at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 15% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 3, Sunday: Edinson Volquez vs. Hector Santiago
I’m a little confused about the deal that brought Santiago to the Twins in exchange for Ricky Nolasco, but I also really like it from the Twins perspective. He is both cheaper and better than Nolasco, so that’s a good combination. He’s had a bit of a rough year, but I think he’s still got the talent to be a solid guy in the back end of a rotation. He gets a fair amount of strikeouts and walks too many, but he’s usually fairly stingy with the hits. He does give up some home runs, which Royals fans can commiserate with, but he’s a decent pitcher. He’s been a thorn in the Royals’ collective sides for years. He’s 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 13 games (seven starts) against the Royals over 47.2 innings. He got the win earlier this year with the Angels against the Royals, giving up two runs in 5.1 innings. Not his best effort against KC, but, as usual, enough.
Three things to watch for against Santiago:
- He relies heavily on a four-seam fastball that he throws a bit more than 60 percent of the time. It’s that and his changeup that make up most of his pitches. He also throws a slider, curve and cutter, but all sparingly. This year, the fastball has been the cause of his home run issues, though it hasn’t been hit all that well in general. His slider has been hit fairly hard, but, again, he doesn’t throw it much.
- He really bears down once the pressure is on. With nobody on base, Santiago allows .252/.328/.466 (including 17 of the 23 homers he’s allowed). With men on, that drops to .215/.316/.361 and then with runners in scoring position, it drops even more to .196/.289/.333. He’s tough to score on because he does so well when there are runners on base.
- He has a pretty typical platoon split with a .760 OPS allowed to righties and a .706 OPS allowed to lefties. Hosmer has two homers in 21 at bats against him and Burns has had a nice run against him as well. Morales and Perez have the other two Royals homers against Santiago in their careers.
There once was a time when a Volquez start was reason to get excited. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s not that he can’t be good because he’s had his share of solid starts. It’s that we have no earthly idea. Since his fantastic first four starts, he’s gone 5-10 with a 5.86 ERA in 116.2 innings over 20 starts. He’s given up two or less runs six times and five or more runs seven times. It’s just too much inconsistency that’s led to a rough season for Volquez at a bad time for him. Maybe facing the Twins will do the trick for him as he’s 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in eight games (seven starts) against them in his career. This year, he’s 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in 12.1 innings over two starts. Mauer has destroyed him, but pretty much every other Twins hitter has struggled against Ed in their careers.
First Pitch Temperature: 79° F
Wind: Nw at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny
The Twins aren’t playing that poorly right now, and I’m not convinced just how much better the Royals are than them, but I do think they’re better. I don’t love the pitching in this series for the Royals, but I think it’s enough to get them two wins.