After a wildly disappointing series with the A’s, the Royals look to get back on track against a familiar foe, the Chicago White Sox. If you look at your pocket schedule, you’ll note that this was supposed to be a three-game series, but some crazy rain in late May has turned this into a four-game set with the conclusion on Monday afternoon. Also, use the internet. It’s dynamic. Your pocket schedule doesn’t change, which leads to not realizing this is a four-game set. If the Royals are going to get going, it’ll be now. They’re 39-21 against the American League Central and 35-51 against everyone else. The rest of the schedule is against the Central. And that includes their 11-4 mark against the White Sox. They’re 5-1 against the White Sox at home too.
White Sox Offense
You know all about them. Jose Abreu has found his swing again, which makes him a dangerous hitter after it seemed like his career was on a downward tilt. They’re getting good power from him, a lot of power from Todd Frazier and not much power from anywhere else. That’s not to say a couple players aren’t having good years. Adam Eaton has turned into even more than a pest, though he is still a pest. And our old friend Melky Cabrera is having yet another solid season in what’s turned into a pretty solid career. I also think Tim Anderson is pretty dangerous as he seems to be starting to figure it out later in his rookie year.
White Sox Hitters the Last Month:
White Sox Pitching
You know the story here, too. It’s the two big-time lefties, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, and then everyone else. Everyone else, though, is mostly pretty decent. Carlos Rodon has come on lately while Miguel Gonzalez has been a nice addition in the back of their rotation this season. Unfortunately for the White Sox, it’s not all roses as James Shields has been a trainwreck for the most part. Unfortunately for the Royals, they won’t get to face him again in this series.
White Sox Starters the Last Month:
In the bullpen, I like some of their arms. I think David Robertson is a good closer having a tough year. Nate Jones is one of the better setup men in baseball and would close for more than a couple teams. And Dan Jennings as a lefty out there has been very effective. They’re really missing Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka, but there are still talented arms in that bullpen. They do walk a lot, though, so maybe patience should be a virtue in the late innings. The Royals have handled the White Sox bullpen pretty well this season.
White Sox Relievers the Last Month:
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Game 1, Friday: Ian Kennedy vs. Chris Sale
The Royals will get another crack at the tall lefty who has turned in a very, very good season. He’s finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the Cy Young voting over the last four seasons (not in that order, though that would be cool) and is angling to finish higher than any of those this season. My guess is he does. I mentioned this last week when the Royals faced him, but one of the things he set out to do this season was pitch more innings, which he’s accomplished. He’s averaging nearly 7.1 innings per start, which is just a bit more than he averaged in his excellent 2013 campaign. After dropping below seven innings per start the last two seasons, he felt a few more outs per game would be beneficial, and he’s right. The Royals haven’t exactly hit him well for the most part, but he is just 8-10 with a 3.03 ERA in 30 games (19 starts) against KC. He’s just 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA against them this year, which includes his loss on Sunday.
Three things to watch for against Sale:
- I’ve mentioned this every time the Royals face him, but his velocity is down a bit, and the claim is that it’s by design to help him get deeper into games. It’s still a very good fastball that he throws more than 46 percent of the time at 93-94 MPH. He also has a sinker, changeup and slider. All are absolutely filthy. His slider is responsible for 103 of his 205 strikeouts this season. I don’t have to tell you or the Royals how good a pitch it is.
- One of the things that makes Sale great is his ability to control the running game. In his career, opponents have attempted 75 steals and been successful on 49 of them, but since allowing 19 of 21 base stealers to get to their next base safely, he’s really buckled down and since 2014, just 13 out of 23 have been successful. He has a good move to first that hasn’t resulted in a pickoff this year, but he had three last year and has 14 in his career. The Royals may try to manufacture a run or two against him, so they need to be careful.
- Sale is good against everyone, but especially dominant against lefties with a .589 OPS allowed compared to .635 to righties. Of course, you all know by now that his splits don’t apply to Eric Hosmer for some reason. Hosmer is a .400/.426/.622 career hitter against Sale with three home runs. It’s too bad Lorenzo Cain is likely out because he’s a .346 hitter with five doubles and three homers against Sale in 52 plate appearances. Alcides Escobar, Kendrys Morales, Salvador Perez and Paulo Orlando all also have homers against him, but nobody has hit him quite like Cain and Hosmer.
Kennedy bested Sale in their last meeting on Sunday, and he did so with some laboring in the early innings before fighting to get through six. That’s been about the only thing that’s disappointed me with Kennedy. I was expecting 210-215 innings this season, and it looks like he won’t even reach 200 (he needs 28.2 in his final four starts, so it’s not impossible but his four-start high this year is 27). Still, he’s been very good with fewer hits than innings pitched and getting strikeouts like we all expected. He had a 13 start stretch where he gave up 23 homers, but on either side of that has been much stingier with the long ball, including allowing five in his last 10 starts. He’s now 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA against the White Sox and is 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA this year with five homers allowed in 18 innings. Avila, Cabrera and Shuck have all homered off him and also all hit well. He’s also given up some hits to Morneau and Anderson, but has limited the rest, so that’s good.
Game 2, Saturday: Jason Vargas vs. Miguel Gonzalez
What an underwhelming matchup this is. The White Sox picked Gonzalez up off the scrap heap and he’s been probably better than they ever could have hoped. He was a guy who always seemed to outperform his peripherals with the Orioles, but that magic ran out in 2015. In 2016, he’s been okay. He strikes out enough batters. He walks just few enough. He doesn’t give up that many hits. The big difference this year is interesting because his home park is still a hitter’s park and there’s more home runs in baseball this year, yet he’s given up just 10 in 115.1 innings pitched. In fact, he hasn’t given up more than one in a start this season. He is just 1-4 with a 4.46 ERA in seven career regular season starts against the Royals, which includes an 0-1 mark with a 3.38 ERA in three starts this year.
Three things to watch for against Gonzalez:
- He throws a lot of pitches, but one difference is that he’s throwing his fastball less this year. It’s about 91-92 MPH and he throws it about 34 percent of the time. He seems to have upped his slider and splitter usage to maybe help control the home runs. He also has a sinker, a curve and the very occasional cutter. His slider and splitter have been very good this year, and they’ve only been responsible for three of his home runs allowed.
- Gonzalez has been good this year, but nobody will mistake him for an ace. Early in games, you can get to him. He’s allowed 18 of his runs the first time through the order, but then he settles down a bit the second time through. Then the third time through, he allows an OPS of .746, which isn’t great, but it’s significantly higher than the .641 he allows the second time through. You can also see it as his pitch count rises. He allows a .304/.345/.532 line from pitch 76-100, so he can be beat. Offenses just have to be patient.
- He doesn’t have much of a platoon split, holding lefties to a .692 OPS compared to .713 for righties. He has given up six of his 10 homers to lefties, but he’s allowed a much lower SLG to them. Jarrod Dyson of all people is 8 for 11 against Gonzalez, so expect him to get the start in this one. Cain, Perez, Hosmer and Morales all have a homer against him, but none have been particularly great in their careers.
Yep. That’s right. Vargas makes his return to the big leagues sooner than I expected, but I guess I also figured the Royals would be in contention for this game and wouldn’t have any interest in a pitcher who hadn’t thrown a big league pitch all year making a start. He’ll be on a pitch count of about 45 or so with Dillon Gee ready to go behind him. Who knows what we’ll see from Vargas in this one. Vargas hasn’t exactly had success against the White Sox in his career. He’s 1-2 with a 7.14 ERA in eight games (seven starts) with his last start against them coming in 2014. Avila, Morneau and Cabrera have all tagged him for homers.
Since Gee is almost a lock to pitch. I’ll talk about him too. He had made four solid starts for the Royals before absolutely imploding against Oakland on Monday. It was clear he didn’t have it from the start, but he was navigating his way through the lineup anyway before the wheels fell off. That’s kind of what happens to fifth starters who should probably be sixth starters, but he has done an admirable job in the role. Hiccups happen; it’s how they rebound that matter, so this is a big start for Gee for both the Royals and for his job next season. He’s 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two games (one start) against the White Sox in his career with both appearances coming this year. Frazier and Shuck have gotten him for homers, but there’s not much of a sample in any of the hitters on the White Sox.
Game 3, Sunday: Danny Duffy vs. Jose Quintana
Remember when during every series preview Quintana pitched, I’d tell you how wrong I was about him? Yeah, I didn’t think he’d sustain his rookie year success. Whoops. He just keeps doing it. Barring injury, he’s going to get to 200 innings for the fourth straight season (he might make it in this game) and looks like he’ll be blowing past it. This year, he’s gotten even better with his strikeout rate remaining up, his walk rate remaining down but being tougher to hit this season even. The guy can really pitch, and I definitely did not see that coming after his 2012 season. Through it all, though, the Royals have been a thorn in his side. He’s just 1-8 with a 4.12 ERA against KC in his career in 21 starts. This year, he’s pitched well but hasn’t gotten run support as he’s 0-2 with a 3.32 ERA against the Royals.
Three things to watch for against Quintana:
- He has a good fastball that he throws about 42 percent of the time at 92-93 MPH. He can reach back for a bit more, but he doesn’t do it often. He also has a sinker, a very good curve and a changeup that he uses from time to time. His curve has actually been the pitch that’s hit most for a homer off him, so hitters should be on the lookout for that, but his changeup is the trouble pitch for him. He’s allowed a .296 average and .519 slugging percentage on that one.
- Quintana may be wearing down as he’s had one of his worst months of the year in September with a 5.49 ERA in three starts. He wears down in games too, allowing a .778 OPS the third time through an order and an OPS of .838 the fourth time through. So the Royals can get to him, but, like Gonzalez, it might require a little patience.
- Quintana has a pretty traditional platoon split, holding lefties to a .597 OPS and righties to a .685 OPS. Neither is good for the hitter, but one is definitely better than the other. Cheslor Cuthbert has homered twice against him as has Perez, Morales and Hosmer. Alex Gordon has chipped in one as well. Perez and Morales have also hit him pretty well overall.
Duffy deserved a better fate his last time out. He ended up allowing three runs in 7.1 innings, but a rested bullpen would have meant he’d have exited after the 7th inning and never would have been charged for those last two. It does seem like he’s back on track after two lackluster starts, so that’s good news for the Royals. Personally, I’d take it easy with him and make sure he’s not throwing too many high stress innings, given the nature of the Royals playoff chase these days. He’s 5-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) against the White Sox and is 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA in four starts against them this year. Five of the six runs he allowed came in one of his first starts of the year when he was perfect through 5.1 but then couldn’t get an out. Sanchez and Abreu have hit him well, but that’s really about it.
Game 4, Monday: Yordano Ventura vs. Carlos Rodon
Rodon had been pitching really well before struggling his last time out against the Indians. He had a stretch of seven starts where he had posted a 1.85 ERA with lots of strikeouts and very few walks. Then he allowed six runs in five innings with five strikeouts and three walks, so it’s hard to know if that’s a blip in the radar or he’s running into a wall. He is past his career high in innings pitched just barely, so that could very well be the case, although I think his last start was probably just a rough patch against a good team. He has four career starts against the Royals, all this year, and he’s gone 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA, so he’s had some pretty good success.
Three things to watch for against Rodon:
- He throws a 94 MPH fastball about 40 percent of the time and supplements that with a sinker almost a quarter of the time that’s just about a tick slower. He also has a very good slider and a changeup that’s supposed to keep hitters honest. His slider has been truly outstanding, but he’s struggled with his fastball, allowing a .360 average and .584 SLG.
- Rodon has pretty decent control, but he doesn’t throw an inordinate number of first pitch strikes. That’s why it’s so weird that opponents are hitting .475 with a .729 SLG on the first pitch. I guess it has more to do with the fastball being a pitch that can be hit as opponents have hit .517 with a .724 SLG against the fastball on the first pitch of at bats. Whatever the reason, if the Royals go hunting fastballs early, that’s probably their best path to success.
- Rodon has a huge platoon split, allowing a .595 OPS to lefties compared to .817 to righties. With that in mind, I’d definitely get Hunter Dozier a start in this one if they haven’t already in this lefty heavy series, but I’m not holding my breath. Merrifield has four hits in seven at bats against, Billy Burns has had some success as has Cain, but that’s about it. Might be nice to change that in this one.
Ventura had a tough go of it in his last start against the A’s, and I noted before the game that if I was going to be worried about Ventura not being completely there in a game, it’d be in one without much meaning. He hasn’t pitched too many of those in his big league life. With that in mind, we’ll see how he does in another game that likely won’t mean much unless the Royals find life and find it quickly. He’s 3-4 with a 4.43 ERA in 10 career starts against the White Sox with a 1-2 record and 4.67 ERA in four starts against them this year. Abreu, Saladino, Frazier and Garcia have all homered against him, and he’s actually fared pretty well against most of the White Sox hitters in his career.
Let’s just say I’m not brimming with confidence about this team. I think they find a way to win two and keep people somewhat interested in the last few games of the season, but I really believe they’re running on empty at this point.