The suddenly contending Royals take their show on the road to Miami where they’ll take on the Marlins. It’s the first time the two teams have played since 2013 and just the second time the Royals have played in Miami. In fact, the last time the Royals played a road game against the Marlins, they were the Florida Marlins. The two teams are fighting for a playoff spot, with both currently on the outside looking in. The Marlins are a game better than the Royals and are on a three-game winning streak of their own right now after losing seven of 10 to fall out of Wild Card position.
This is a weird, weird offense. Every one of their regulars but one (Adeiny Hechavarria) has an above average OPS. Okay, that’s not entirely true since Dee Gordon is back and playing regularly, but it’s close to true. Even with that, they’re somehow in the bottom third of the NL in runs scored. Justin Bour and Giancarlo Stanton are both hurt and on the disabled list, which explains why Miami might struggle now, but it doesn’t explain the season totals. Like the Royals, they don’t have all that much power, an issue that’s exacerbated without Bour and Stanton. They still have Marcell Ozuna having a breakout year, but he’s hit just .205/.261/.379 since the break. At least they still have Christian Yelich, who is one of my favorite players to watch.
Marlins hitters the last month:
When the Marlins added Wei-Yin Chen, it seemed like he’d be the perfect number two to Jose Fernandez. Fernandez has had a fantastic season, but Chen hasn’t and now is in danger of missing the rest of the year with an elbow injury. Adam Conley has been effective for them, but he’s now also on the disabled list, so the rotation is sort of in shambles. They did acquire Andrew Cashner at the deadline, but he’s been rough for them since coming over. At least they still have Tom Koehler. Who’d have guessed that sentence would ever be written?
Marlins starters the last month:
The Marlins bullpen has some good pieces. It’s not Royals good, not many are, but it’s not that far off. A.J. Ramos was good as a closer, though he walks too many for my tastes; he’s now setting up Fernando Rodney for some reason. David Phelps has been excellent in whatever role he’s been needed. Kyle Barraclough has some of the best strikeout stuff you’ll see, but again, he walks too many. And then there’s a slew of others who have just been solid for them this season. There are holes in the bullpen too, but there’s some quality arms.
Marlins bullpen the last month:
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Game 1, Tuesday: Yordano Ventura vs. Andrew Cashner
When the Padres picked up Cashner from the Cubs and moved him from the bullpen to the rotation, it looked like a great move. He had an ERA just over 3.00 in his first season of mostly starting and followed that up with a 2.55 ERA in 19 starts the next year. But then a funny thing happened. The guy with the stuff to be an ace was pedestrian. He posted a 4.34 ERA last year and has a composite 4.92 ERA with the Padres and Marlins this year. It’s been a strange career for Cashner, though he’ll likely cash in as a free agent in a weak field this season, but I imagine whoever signs him will be scratching their heads over what he is just like the Padres and Marlins have likely both done. Cashner has made one start against the Royals, and it came two years ago. He gave up four runs (two earned) on seven hits over four innings and took the loss.
Three things to watch for against Cashner:
- The reason people always think Cashner can do it is he throws hard and the fastball/sinker combination that he pumps in around 2/3 of the time looks like it should be very effective. He averages 95 on the fastball and about 94 on the sinker. He also throws a slider, changeup and curve. The fastball has been a good pitch, with opponents hitting .250 on it with just a .397 SLG, but the sinker has been batted around hard. So has the changeup. And so has the slider. The curve has been demolished with a .375 average against it and a slugging percentage of .875. Yikes.
- What’s scary about Cashner’s numbers is they could be much worse. Opponents hit .278/.359/.546 with the bases empty, but he really bears down and allows a .772 OPS with runners on and a .712 OPS with runners in scoring position. One other interesting thing to note is that if you don’t get to Cashner, he will stick around and pitch well. He’s allowed an .845 OPS the first time through the order and a .930 OPS the second time through, but if and when he gets to the third time, that drops all the way to .665.
- Cashner has been bad against everyone, but worse against lefties with a .281/.364/.500 line allowed to them compared with .272/.339/.482 to righties. Alcides Escobar has the most experience against Cashner with four plate appearances, but doesn’t have a hit against him. Kendrys Morales does have a homer and Alex Gordon has a double against him. Oh, and Billy Burns has a triple against him, but it’s hard to bat holding a rally mantis.
Speaking of guys with great stuff but without the results to match, Cashner’s mound opponent has been on a quite a run lately. Very quietly, Ventura has lowered his ERA from 5.26 to 4.46 and has thrown eight straight starts allowing three runs or less. He’s just 2-3 in that stretch, but has a 3.12 ERA and the strikeouts seem to have kicked in over the last couple starts. Maybe he’s just going on a similar late-season run to the one he had last year or maybe he’s finally turning a corner; averaging better than six innings per start and allowing a run or two every time out will certainly play. Ventura has never faced the Marlins in his career, but the two hitters he’s faced (Prado and Ichiro) are a combined 0 for 5.
Game 2, Wednesday: Dillon Gee vs. Jose Fernandez
This is a very tough test for the Royals as Fernandez is one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball. He burst onto the scene as a rookie with a 2.19 ERA and very good peripherals. He looked like he was going to build on that in his second season before having to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery, but came back last year and was very good in his 11 starts. Now he’s in his first full season after the surgery and has been excellent. He’s struck out an incredible 204 batters in 141.2 innings, and that’s with solid control and being very tough to hit. It’s a difficult combination. As you can see above, though, he’s struggled of late, and maybe there’s a chance he’s hit a bit of a wall after throwing just 141 innings total over the last two seasons. Still, he’s just so good and so talented that it’s always a difficult task to hit him, even if that is the case. He started against the Royals in his rookie year and gave up no runs on three hits over seven innings in a no-decision.
Three things to watch for against Fernandez:
- You like heat? Fernandez throws his fastball more than half the time and averages a bit more than 96 MPH with it. If velocity is an indicator of him wearing down, then he’s definitely not as he’s actually averaged his fastest fastball of the season in August. He also throws a filthy curve and a good changeup, but he saves the change for lefties. Nothing has really been hit hard, but his fastball has been the culprit for most of the troubles he has when he has them.
- One thing about Fernandez that belies his legitimate ace status is he isn’t really a workhorse yet. I would imagine a fair amount of that is by design, as he is coming off that surgery still, but it’s worth noting. He averages between 18 and 19 outs per game, which is quite solid. With that, he does seem to get a little easier to get to later in games as he’s allowed a .713 OPS the third time through compared with .610 and .571 the first two times through respectively. He’s also only had six plate appearances against hitters a fourth time, so if the Royals can turn the lineup over, even if they don’t score, they could be just fine against him. That’s not an easy task or anything, but it’s the roadmap in all likelihood.
- Fernandez is death to righties, allowing a .201/.247/.303 line against them. Against lefties, he’s still very good, but .246/.322/.375 isn’t nearly as daunting. Among Royals hitters who have faced him, only Escobar has a hit, a single. Drew Butera, Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson have a combined seven strikeouts in 11 at bats against him.
Gee is coming off his best start since April of 2015. In that April start, he went 7.2 innings and gave up just a run on six hits. He was facing the Marlins in Miami. Maybe that’ll bode well. In his previous start, Gee went seven and gave up just one run on five hits against the Twins. Gee’s been decent for the Royals in the rotation, really stabilizing that fifth spot. He has a 5.52 ERA in five starts, but I still maintain it’s not entirely his fault he was put back out for the sixth in two starts where he shouldn’t have been. That resulted in him getting one out and giving up six more earned runs. Delete those from the equation and he’s at a 3.72 ERA in 29 innings. I don’t blame Ned Yost much, but I think those two games were big mistakes by him. Gee’s had success against the Marlins in the past, going 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA in eight career starts against them. He’s also had a lot of success against current Marlins with Gordon’s .800 OPS in 10 plate appearances the best mark against him. Others with more plate appearances have fared worse.
Game 3, Thursday: Edinson Volquez vs. Tom Koehler
Koehler has turned into a solid back of the rotation type of starter. He honestly reminds me a little of prime Jeremy Guthrie in his numbers and effectiveness in holding down one of five rotation spots. Guys like him are extremely useful. He’s not going to wow you with strikeouts or with keeping runners off base or anything, but he’s posted a 3.91 ERA over 517.2 innings over the last three seasons, which is quality work. The Royals surely wouldn’t mind something like that in the fifth spot of their rotation for next year. He faced the Royals in 2013 and gave up five runs on nine hits over 5.1 innings in taking the loss.
Three things to watch for against Koehler:
- He throws a fastball about 45 percent of the time, and it’s decent, averaging 92-93 MPH with some movement. He relies very heavily on breaking pitches, though, throwing a slider a bit under 23 percent of the time and a curve a bit more than 21 percent of the time. He also has a changeup and a sinker he mixes in from time to time. Even though the fastball moves a bit and is a decent velocity, it’s not very effective. He’s allowed a .311 average on it with a .537 slugging percentage. He uses it a lot to lefties when he falls behind in the count, so that’s something to watch for.
- The slider and curve are both very good pitches when they’re on, and that’s evidenced by the fact that he allows just a .207 average with a .268 SLG when he’s ahead in the count. He goes to those pitches with two strikes often, and they account for 84 of his 109 strikeouts this season, so batters beware. He can be hit early in the count, so it might be a good night for the Royals offense to do what they do best – swing.
- Koehler has a fairly traditional split with a .743 OPS allowed to lefties compared to .691 to righties. Dyson has a hit and an RBI against him and Escobar has a triple against him, which pretty much sums up what the Royals have done against him historically unless you want to mention Gee’s 1 for 2 line with a walk against him. Sadly, he’s not pitching against Koehler.
And then there’s Volquez, who has been quite awful for awhile now. I say awful, but even with that, he’s mostly given the Royals innings. He’s gone six or more in eight of 10 starts since the debacle against the Astros, so that’s good, but he also has a 7.24 ERA in his last five starts since showcasing very nicely against the Rangers in Kansas City. For the Royals to really have a shot to get back into the playoffs, they’re going to need some help from Volquez to turn his season around. He’s had all sorts of success against the Marlins in his career, going 6-0 with a 1.64 ERA in seven career starts against them. He last faced them in 2014 when he went seven shutout innings and allowed just one hit. He’s really held down the Marlins hitters he’s faced with only Dietrick posting an OPS against him above .665 and that’s in just three plate appearances.
I think the winning streak ends during this series, but given the way the Royals are playing, I think they ultimately take two of three in this series. I am a bit worried about them on the road, but their 5-1 trip the last time they left Kansas City helps me to feel a bit better about that.