The Royals head to Boston for the first and only time of 2016 to take on the Red Sox, a team they’ve been chasing off and on in the Wild Card race. I say off and on because when they’re not in playoff position as a Wild Card team, they’ve been leading the American League East. Regardless of their position, this is a big series for the Royals, as they all are now, because the Royals need wins. The Royals haven’t fared especially well in Boston in recent seasons. They were swept in 2014, but did split a series last year and won two of three there in 2013. The Royals took two of three from the Red Sox when they came to Kansas City earlier.
Red Sox Offense
They can really hit. They can really, really hit. Unfortunately, their super rookie, Andrew Benintendi, is on the disabled list now and might be out the rest of the season, which is tough luck for him and the Red Sox, but a great break for the Royals. It’s not like they don’t have the impact bats to make up for it. You all know about David Ortiz and Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley and all that, but the surprise name is Sandy Leon, who has been out-of-this-world good offensively since coming up. Now, I can’t imagine that will continue, but until it stops, he’s a force. There’s really maybe one hole in the Red Sox lineup, and that’s Travis Shaw, who would be middle of the pack offensively on the Royals. When Aaron Hill plays, they get a little worse at third too.
Red Sox hitters the last month:
|Jackie Bradley, Jr.||29||119||.176||.252||.361||6||12||16||0|
Red Sox Pitching
The rotation has its issues, but should get a boost with the expected return of Steven Wright, who was having a fantastic season before hitting the disabled list. With him, David Price (who is having a down year, but is still good) and Rick Porcello, the Red Sox have a formidable top three. Drew Pomeranz has been okay for them as well since being acquired, which includes some really good starts lately. It’s not the best rotation, but it has a chance to be good enough if everyone is healthy and clicking.
Red Sox starters the last month:
In the bullpen, things aren’t quite as rosy. Craig Kimbrel still strikes out everyone and doesn’t give up many hits, but he does walk some guys, which has been his undoing at times. They traded for Brad Ziegler and Fernando Abad to fortify the unit. Ziegler has been fantastic. Abad has been…bad. There are some quality arms, so they can get it done, but it’s just not a sure thing for them.
Red Sox relievers the last month:
|Robbie Ross, Jr.||10||9.0||1||1||0||2.00||9||6|
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Game 1, Friday: Ian Kennedy vs. Steven Wright
Before Wright went on the DL, he was 13-5 with a 3.01 ERA in 22 starts. He was getting deep into games, which is no surprise for a guy who lives by the knuckleball. He was huge for their rotation. In his last start before hitting the disabled list, he threw a three-hit shutout against the Angels. Still, he hasn’t been as good as he was to start the year. Even with that shutout, he has a 5.03 ERA in his last eight starts, and that’s also not counting seven unearned runs he’s allowed. That’s not to say he’s a bad pitcher now or anything, but he wasn’t pitching at the elite level from early in the year before getting hurt. He faced the Royals in Kansas City and gave up three runs on five hits in eight innings, but took the loss, so he’s got a good game under his belt against KC this season.
Three things to watch for against Wright:
- He throws his knuckleball more than 82 percent of the time. It’s similar to RA Dickey’s in that it’s a little harder. When it’s on, it’s as hard to hit as any knuckleball I’ve seen. He seems to be on more often than most, too. He does throw a fastball and a sinker a little more often than I feel like most knuckleballers do, with those two pitches accounting for about 15 percent of what he throws. It’s good to be on the lookout for the hard stuff because the sinker has been hit hard when he throws it.
- It’s hard to say he gets tired, but with the knuckleball being such a feel pitch, it would make sense that he might struggle early in games. And he has a .734 OPS allowed on his first 25 pitches. The first isn’t his worst inning, though, so maybe there’s not much of a pattern. His worst innings are the fifth and sixth actually, with 24 runs allowed between the two. Maybe all the time off will make it so he struggles to get a feel early. You’ll hear this on the broadcast, so I’ll say it here. The strategy is if it’s high, let it fly. If it’s low, let it go.
- Wright has been amazing against lefties, holding them to a .544 OPS while righties have hit him a bit better with a .666 OPS. Eric Hosmer has a homer against him and Alcides Escobar is three for seven in his career against him, if you’re looking for anything noteworthy in a limited sample.
This will be a test for Kennedy, who has been so good lately. He has his season ERA down to 3.58 in 148.1 innings, which is really good. He’s striking hitters out, he’s walking few enough to make the ratio good and he’s not giving up many hits. He does give up the homers, though, as you know. In his last five starts, he’s allowed three runs in 34 innings. But he hasn’t pitched against this lineup in Boston in that stretch, and I’m a little worried about it. He did face the Red Sox earlier this year and was solid, giving up two runs on six hits over 5.2 innings with nine strikeouts. So there’s that. I’m just hopeful he can keep the ball in the yard, for the most part, in this one. He’s allowed homers to Ortiz and Young and been hit fairly hard by Aaron Hill, but has done a nice job in a limited sample. Ramirez is interestingly 4 for 24 against him in his career, so that’s good.
First Pitch Temperature: 82° F
Wind: NW at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 15% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 2, Saturday: Danny Duffy vs. David Price
The Royals get the ace in this one, and while the overall numbers don’t look especially great for Price, he’s still so hard to beat. He’s still getting deep into games and getting strikeouts and not walking batters. He’s been hittable this year, which is weird for him, but he’s still tough. Price started the year on a bad note and had an ERA over 5.00 at the end of May. He started turning things around before that, though, and is 8-7 with a 3.17 ERA in his last 20 starts. That may not be quite the level the Red Sox were hoping for with their huge contract to him, but it’s very good. He went 7.1 against the Royals earlier this year in a win and gave up just two runs on five hits while striking out five and walking one.
Three things to watch for against Price:
- It’s notable that his velocity on his fastball is down this year, to about 93-94 MPH, same as his sinker. It’s also notable that he’s throwing the sinker a fair amount more this year than he did last season. I’m not sure if that’s an effort to account for his new home park or what, but that’s interesting. He also throws a cutter and a very good changeup. Nothing has been hit especially hard, though he has allowed nine homers on his sinker and the curve he throws occasionally has been hit for power when it’s been hit.
- I wonder if Price throws too many strikes. As his stuff is maybe declining, being in the strike zone early may not be a great thing for him. He’s allowed a .422 average and .789 slugging percentage when the at bat ends on the first pitch this year. And even when it doesn’t, hitters have a .326/.348/.558 line when they do swing at the first pitch against him. It’s a risky tactic because if you make an out on that pitch, you keep him around the game longer, but if the pitch is there, it seems to be working for opponents to swing early and go get it.
- He has almost no platoon split this season with lefties hitting .263/.296/.415 compared to righties hitting .261/.309/.411. Current Royals haven’t had much success against him. Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain each have homers off him, but Escobar has a .529 OPS, Alex Gordon has a .500 OPS, Kendrys Morales has a .459 OPS and Hosmer has a .300 OPS. These are all in at least 17 plate appearances, which still isn’t enough to make a judgment, but the early returns are less than good.
Like Kennedy, this is a real test for Duffy, who hasn’t had his best stuff in his last couple starts. You sure wouldn’t know it by the numbers, though. The Royals ace has gone 14.1 innings in his last two starts and allowed two runs on 11 hits with nine strikeouts and four walks. As I do every time Duffy pitches, I go over the numbers. As a starter, he’s 11-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 19 starts spanning 120.2 innings. Since the pitch restrictions were lifted, he’s 11-1 with a 2.50 Era in 16 starts, spanning 108 innings. And since a couple rough starts in June, he’s 9-0 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts spanning 80 innings. Yes, he’s averaging better than seven innings per start. Oh, and the Royals won all 11 of those starts. Pretty good. He’s 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA in five career starts against Boston, which includes a 6.56 ERA in three starts in Fenway Park. This is not a kind park to lefties, so we’ll see how Duffy fares. A great start could really boost his Cy Young candidacy. He hasn’t faced anyone on the Red Sox more than 11 times, but Shaw, Bradley, Ortiz and Pedroia have all hit him well in very limited matchups.
First Pitch Temperature: 78° F
Wind: ESE at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Game 3, Sunday: Yordano Ventura vs. Eduardo Rodriguez
Rodriguez left his start on August 16 against the Orioles with hamstring tightness, so he may end up being replaced in this one by Clay Buchholz, but until that day comes, we’ll leave it with Rodriguez going. After a really solid rookie campaign for the Red Sox, Rodriguez took a step back early this season, and still has season numbers that aren’t very good with a 5.11 ERA and more hits than innings pitched along with as many homers as he gave up last year in more than 50 less innings. But he’s been much better since a demotion to AAA, going 1-2 with a 2.52 ERA in seven starts. He had thrown four hitless innings in his last start before having to leave, so he’s clicking right now, though we’ll see if he can maintain that coming off the injury. He faced the Royals twice last year, going 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA.
Three things to watch for against Rodriguez:
- He throws a 94 MPH fastball nearly 60 percent of the time, and supplements it with a slider, a changeup and the occasional cutter. He also throws a sinker at times to keep hitters guessing a little bit on what the hard stuff will be at that pitch, but he doesn’t throw it enough to make a big deal out of. This year, the changeup and slider have been hit very hard.
- As many young pitchers do, he gets tired as the game gets into the later stages. He’s at his best early, allowing a .640 OPS the first time through the order and a .661 OPS on his first 25 pitches. He gets hit hard the second time through with a .289/.357/.471 line allowed in his career, but does settle in for a third time, if he makes it there, though it’s not as good as his first time through. The point here is to be patient with him. There’s a decent chance he’ll tire and give something up a little later.
- He’s been much better against righties than lefties with an OPS of .804 allowed to lefties compared to .715 to righties. Escobar has a double against him, as does Drew Butera, but there really isn’t much else to write home about in the limited at bats Royals hitters have against him.
Ventura has salvaged his season in the second half once again, lowering his ERA now to 4.27 and beginning to look like a guy who can slot in the middle of a rotation and give quality innings every time out. He’s now made nine consecutive starts in which he’s allowed three runs or less and has a 2.79 ERA in that time over 58 innings. He’s not walking as many, he’s giving up fewer hits and he is striking out more than he had throughout the season prior to this stretch. He really has looked quite good. He faced Boston earlier this year and got the win, but gave up four runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings. He’s made two starts in Fenway and is 1-1 with a 6.10 ERA over 10.1 innings in those starts. Shaw is the only Red Sox hitter with a home run against him, and he’s actually done a pretty good job of holding down the men in the lineup he’s faced, so that’s potentially good news heading into this one.
First Pitch Temperature: 76° F
Wind: SSE at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 10% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Man, this team is pretty good and Fenway just seems like a bad park for Royals pitchers. They need a series win badly here, but I just don’t think they get it. I think they win just one in this series, but they are throwing their three best pitchers, so anything can happen.