The good news is the Royals still have a shot at the American League Central. It’s not a great shot, but with seven games remaining against the Cleveland Indians, it’s a shot nonetheless. Three of those seven games are this weekend. Since these teams faced off just a few days ago, the standings haven’t really changed, but the Indians roster has. In the last week they placed Andrew Miller, Danny Salazar and Jason Kipnis on the disabled list, which means that three players who have big roles in the Indians success are missing for this series. They’re still a very good team without those three, but it does help the Royals’ cause just a little.
|1st Place, AL Central
|Team SP DRA
|Team RP DRA
|Corey Kluber, 5.7
|2017 Record vs. Royals
Indians vs. Royals
Indians Projected Lineup
With Salazar hitting the disabled list, Merritt will get a shot at the rotation in his place. You likely remember Merritt for being the guy to help pitch the Indians to the World Series last year by giving 4.1 shutout innings against Toronto in the ALCS. It was an impressive performance for the lefty who had all of four big league games under his belt at that point. He’s been very good in the majors in extremely limited action, but he sure appears to be a back of the rotation starter at best and likely more of a swing man. Of course, the same was said about his opponent, Jason Vargas.
Merritt is your classic finesse lefty. He has a fastball that sits about 88 mph. It can touch the low-90s, but not often. He also has an excellent changeup that can be deadly. He mixes in a curve and a cutter, both of which need improvement for him to be a solid starter, but in spurts (and one start is a spurt), he can definitely get the job done. Mike Moustakas isn’t the best hitter against lefties, but he does have an .875 SLG against changeups from lefties this season. Of course, that’s only in eight at bats. You’d think the guys in the lineup who do their damage against lefties would fare well in this one. Given Merritt’s strike throwing tendencies, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Whit Merrifield goes after a pitch early and is able to get ahold of one to start the series off right.
Vargas hasn’t been able to recapture his early season magic, giving up at least three runs in every start this month and going more than five innings just once. Since the calendar flipped to July, he’s gone 2-4 with a 7.15 ERA in eight starts spanning 39 innings. He’s working on an extra day of rest, which has been good for him. In 10 starts with five days of rest, he’s 7-3 with a 2.95 ERA and has gone 64 innings with just 17 walks allowed. Maybe that’ll be the answer here.
Weather: 68°, Wind NE 3-6 MPH, Mostly Sunny/Clear, 0% Precipitation
Clevinger was kind of a savior for the Indians when their rotation was struggling and Salazar went down the first time. With Josh Tomlin on the DL as well, the Indians really needed the righty to step up. He strikes out a ton of hitters and will walk his fair share as well, but he’s stingy with the hits. He allowed just one hit in 5.2 innings against the Royals the first time he faced them, but then gave up four runs on eight hits over five innings in his second outing against them a few weeks later.
I always think of Clevinger as a power righty, but his fastball averages 92-93 mph, which is better than I can do, but just around average these days. He throws that about half the time and mixes in a changeup, slider and curve. All of his off speed and breaking pitches have done the job, though he’s allowed four homers on changeups this season, so he will hang those occasionally. Clevinger has fallen off a bit the last couple of months, posting a 4.56 ERA since late May. Two things caught my interest with Clevinger. The first is that he has a 5.45 ERA at home in 38 innings. Small sample, sure, but it’s worth at least mentioning. The second is he’s allowed a 1.239 OPS when behind in the count, a .445 OPS when ahead and a .427 OPS when even. For a guy with bad control, he throws a lot of first pitch strikes, but he also gets a lot of swings on it and I think guys are trying not to get behind him because of his breaking pitches. Patience is a virtue against Clevinger. Get ahead and you can hit him.
Hammel has been the Royals most consistent starter by far since the beginning of June, a start that was against Cleveland. You can pretty much pencil him in to go about six innings and give up about three runs. Against a guy like Clevinger, that should be enough, though it likely becomes a battle of the bullpens, which Cleveland wins most nights. Still, Hammel has had success against the Indians this year, going 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts against them.
Weather: 70°, Wind NE 4-8 MPH, Mostly Sunny/Clear, 0% Precipitation
It sure seems like Carrasco should be better than his ERA, and the predictors agree with that. He’s striking out a ton of hitters, not walking that many and not allowing any hits. The home runs aren’t crazy or anything, either. And yet, he’s sitting with an ERA near four. He’s only faced the Royals once this year and gave up five runs on five hits in 4.1 innings while only striking out three. That was actually the game where Hammel started to be the guy the Royals thought he could be and they scored in double digits for the first time.
When you’re talking about pure stuff, Carrasco has some of the best in baseball. His fastball sits around 94-95 mph and he throws it a lot. His sinker is excellent, his slider is nasty, his curve is great, his changeup can and has destroyed hitters. Yet for some reason, opponents have hit .355 with a .683 SLG against his four-seamer and .309 with a .529 SLG against his sinker. With those kinds of numbers, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas could be in for good days. Each have slugging percentages above .700 against right-handed fastballs. Like Clevinger, Carrasco has really struggled in Cleveland, posting a 4.13 ERA and allowing 12 home runs in 66.2 innings. He also has had trouble as he gets deep into games, allowing a .680 OPS and a .672 OPS the first and second time through the order respectively, but .800 the third time through.
Duffy was a brutal ball four call away from heading into the final third of his last start with a no-hitter, but even with the walk and subsequent home run allowed, he had his best start of the month by a long shot. Pitching in Cleveland may give Duffy some bad memoires as he had what was probably his worst start of the year there in late May. He also hurt his oblique in that one, which cost him five weeks on the disabled list. He shut down Cleveland in a 1-0 loss in early May, so hopefully he can recapture that magic.
Weather: 75°, Wind SE 5-10 MPH, Partly Sunny, 0% Precipitation
The Royals need a sweep. If they don’t get it, they’re not done or anything, but to make the last month of the season about a push for division, they really do need a sweep. I don’t see them getting it. They catch a break in the schedule this time in not getting Corey Kluber, but the Indians are such a good team and Clevinger can be a handful at times. I think the Royals only take one of three and hopefully can at least keep pace in the Wild Card race.