With their playoff hopes growing dimmer by the day, the Royals have an opportunity to get back into things over the next couple weeks. Beginning with this series, they play 14 consecutive games against three bad teams. The first of those bad teams is the Minnesota Twins. We all know the story after having seen them enough. They don’t really do too much well, and that’s led to them being the worst team in baseball. The Royals have taken care of business against them with a record of 11-2 heading into this series. But it’s not just a 2016 thing. The Royals are 49-21 against the Twins since the start of the 2013 season. By the way, the Royals are “just” 4-2 against the Twins in Minnesota this year.
I said that the Twins don’t do much well, but they can actually hit a little. They strike out a ton, but they have some pop throughout their lineup and can really work an at bat. I always feel like Royals pitchers grind every time they face the Twins. No matter how easy the Royals record against them makes it seem like it’s been, it really hasn’t been easy. A special note here to mention how scorching hot Brian Dozier has been. The Royals should, under no circumstance, pitch to him. I’m only partially joking. You’ll see his numbers below. It’s ridiculous.
Twins offense the last month:
|John Ryan Murphy||4||4||.750||.750||1.500||1||2||1||0|
Remember when I said that the Twins don’t do much well? When they’re on the mound, that’s pretty obvious. There have been 11 pitchers to make a start for the Twins this season. Just one of them has an ERA for them below 5.00. That’s pretty bad. And as things stand right now, it’s hard to tell who is pitching in the back of the Twins rotation. Injuries to Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone and just general ineffectiveness from so much of the staff has made that the case.
Twins starters over the last month:
The bullpen is better than the rotation, but it has its warts too. A few nice surprises have emerged this year with Ryan O’Rourke pitching very well and Brandon Kintzler looking like he might be a nice answer for the short term (even with yesterday’s blown save), but for the most part, there have been struggles.
Twins relievers over the last month:
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Game 1, Monday: Ian Kennedy vs. Jose Berrios
The stuff is there. The prospect ranking is there. The results are not. Berrios has been nothing short of horrible, but with the Twins plummeting to the bottom of the standings in baseball, there’s no reason not to get him a few more starts before the end of the season. He has a 9.24 ERA in nine starts this season. Still, he’s only 22 and he had one start in Triple-A since his last big league start where he struck out 14 and walked one. The stuff is undoubtedly there, so it’s only a matter of time before he figures it all out. He’s made just one start against the Royals and surrendered four runs in four innings. So if you compare the runs per inning to the rest of his season, he had an above average start against KC.
Three things to watch for against Berrios:
- Berrios relies on his four-seam fastball a little more than half the time. He throws it at 94-95 but can touch a couple miles per hour higher when he reaches back. He also throws a sinker occasionally at a similar velocity. He’s thrown his curve about a quarter of the time and a changeup a little more than 13 percent of the time. His sinker and curve have been the more effective pitches, but he’s gotten mauled on his other offerings.
- The numbers against Berrios are just all bad. He’s bad to start games (.984 OPS the first time through the order) and as the game goes on (1.112 OPS the third time through). He’s awful at home and on the road. He has even allowed a .786 OPS when he’s ahead in the count. At some point, he’s going to put it together. For the Royals’ playoff hope’s sake, it better not be in this one
- One interesting note is that he hasn’t been that bad against lefties, holding them to a .792 OPS compared to 1.136 against righties. Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, Raul Mondesi and Salvador Perez had hits against him in the outing earlier this season.
Kennedy is coming off his first rough start in some time, though I don’t think the numbers tell the whole story. He had a shutout early but sort of let the wheels come off as the game progressed, which is something we hadn’t seen from through his whole great run during August. He’s been a clear number two to Danny Duffy since Duffy entered the rotation. He’s 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in his career against the Twins. That includes a 2-0 record with a 1.00 ERA in three starts against them this year. Plouffe, Schafer and Mauer have all homered against him with Plouffe having some pretty big success against him in 15 plate appearances.
1:10 PM CDT
First Pitch Temperature: 80 F
Wind: SSW at 8-12 mph
Cloud Cover: Partly Sunny
Precipitation: 15% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 2, Tuesday: Dillon Gee vs. Ervin Santana
The only Twins starter worth anything will go in this one as Santana will look to continue his strong second half and maybe continue to build some trade value for the offseason. He has a 3.54 ERA this year, largely due to getting his walks back down to near where they were when he was with the Royals in 2013. In his last 13 starts, he’s 6-3 with a 2.38 ERA with only six home runs allowed. Personally, I’d have been all over the possibility of adding him after he cleared waivers, but clearly nothing materialized. He’s 5-9 with a 4.66 ERA in 19 career starts, with a record of 0-2 and an ERA of 4.86 in three starts against his former team this season.
Three things to watch for against Santana:
- He throws his fastball more than 40 percent of the time at 93-94 MPH, so the velocity is still there for him after all these years. He throws his sinker a lot less than he used to, but still throws a lot of sliders. He also has a changeup that he uses here and there. That’s the pitch to look for if you’re an opponent. It’s been hit the hardest this season.
- I think I mentioned this last time Santana matched up with the Royals, but it’s really interesting to me how good Santana has been this season when he’s behind in the count. He’s allowed a .220/.362/.357 line when he’s behind. The overall OPS in that situation compared with being even or ahead in the count is actually pretty similar. So I guess that means the plan against Santana is to not worry about where you are in the count because it hasn’t mattered to him either.
- He’s had a reverse split this season with a .653 OPS allowed to lefties and a .744 OPS to righties. Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer have two homers each against Santana in their careers while Perez has one. Hosmer in particular has hit him very well.
Gee got pushed back a few days as the number five starter often does (though you could argue he’s not the one who should be getting pushed back). Still, he’s been good of late with a 2.45 ERA in his last three starts with an average of more than six innings per outing in that time. He’s kind of helped save the season, and he might be called upon in this one to really save it. He’s 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in five games (four starts) against the Twins in his career. This year has been a problem as he has a 5.40 ERA in four games against them. Dozier has three home runs against him while Sano, Grossman and Rosario each have one. This seems to be a tough matchup for him.
Game 3, Wednesday: Danny Duffy vs. Kyle Gibson
It looked like Gibson might be settling into a solid back of the rotation starter last season, but things have fallen apart this year with injuries to take some of the blame. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, his hits allowed are up and his home runs are up. That’s a terrible combination and has led to a 5.31 ERA. He’s also not getting as deep into games as he did last season, which was going to be some of the draw of Gibson. It just hasn’t been a good year for him. He’s 5-4 with a 3.10 ERA in nine career starts against the Royals, but gave up six runs (five earned) on 10 hits in five innings in his only outing against them this season.
Three things to watch for against Gibson:
- He relies on a sinker that he throws about 42 percent of the time at about 91-92 MPH. He also throws a fastball at a similar velocity, but doesn’t use it nearly as much. His number two pitch is a slider, and he throws a changeup and a curve as well. His fastball has been crushed to the tune of a .500 average and .972 slugging percentage. Yikes.
- Of the 17 home runs he’s allowed this season, a whopping seven have come on the first pitch when he’s allowed a .474 average and .965 slugging percentage when the at bat ends there. When he’s behind in the count, he’s allowed a 1.000 OPS and when he’s even in the count, the OPS allowed is .934. Of course, when he gets ahead in the count, he allows a .481 OPS, so I guess it’s not a bad idea to swing early.
- He’s allowed a .754 OPS to right-handed bats, but lefties have made their money against him with a .338/.393/.523 line this season. Gordon has scorched Gibson with a .409/.519/.636 line in 27 career PA. Other than that, among players with more than just three or four plate appearances against him, only Escobar has done anything of note.
Duffy is now coming off two sub-par starts. Has he hit a wall? Was this inevitable? We can’t know for sure just yet, but now the key is how he responds. If the Royals are going to make the playoffs, they need Duffy to get back to his ace form because other than Yordano Ventura, they don’t really have anyone who could even possibly do what Duffy had done for this team. He’s 5-1 with a 2.23 ERA in 14 games (10 starts) against the Twins in his career and is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in two games (one start) this season. Plouffe has homered against him, but Dozier’s .805 OPS is the highest among Twins with double digit plate appearances against Duffy. This is a good time for Duffy to get back on track, given his history.
The Twins are brutally bad. The Royals desperately need wins. If they can’t get it done against the Twins, they don’t deserve to make the playoffs. I think their chances are slim and they need a sweep here to get back to having some better odds. Unfortunately, I don’t think they get that and just win two of three.