The punchless Royals have to hope to find their punch back at home against the Tampa Bay Rays, another team once believed to be a top Wild Card contender but now stuck in the middle of the abyss. The Rays actually have some similar attributes to the Royals, at least offensively, in that they looked extremely competent for a long time before suffering a complete outage in putting up their own scoreless streak a couple weeks back. They can hit the long ball and work a walk, but they’ll definitely strike out a lot. Their starting pitching has been mostly pretty impressive while their bullpen has been much better since the Royals saw them back in May.
|Standings||4th Place, AL East|
|Team SP DRA||4.11|
|Team RP DRA||4.10|
|Team WARP Leader||Chris Archer, 5.7|
|2017 Record vs. Royals||1-3|
Royals vs. Rays
Rays Projected Lineup
Pruitt is a 27-year old rookie who was drafted in the ninth round by the Rays back in 2013. He’s always put up solid enough numbers in the minor leagues and after showing the ability to miss a few bats and control where it was going, he made his big league debut this season. He’s spent most of his time in the bullpen, but some injuries in the rotation have led to him being needed in the rotation. His numbers as a starter have been better with a 4.86 ERA in seven starts and just a 1.27 WHIP compared to a 1.85 WHIP from the bullpen. That said, he’s allowed 11 runs in 10.2 innings over his last two starts.
There’s nothing terribly exciting about Pruitt as he throws a 91-93 MPH four-seam fastball, a slider, a curve and a changeup. Nothing has been especially effective for him this season, but his fastball has been the biggest culprit of his struggles with a .314 average against it along with a .614 slugging percentage and 12 extra base hits in just 70 at bats. His slider and changeup are his swing and miss pitches if you consider him to have any. Both have relatively low whiff rates, so he’s a guy the Royals may be able to get on track against. Of course, we know that when the Royals scuffle, it doesn’t matter who they face, so you never know. He appears to be stretched out enough to go deep into the game, as his 107-pitch outing against Seattle would suggest, which could be good for the Royals because if they see him a third time, maybe they can get the job done. He’s allowed a .379/.419/.690 line when facing a lineup a third time. Yikes.
I spent the better part of 2016 defending Ian Kennedy voraciously and rightfully so. He was more than solid last season. And then in the early part of this year, he was excellent. Then he hurt his hamstring and things went to, well, you know what they went to. Since the break, he’s made eight starts with a 6.47 ERA over 40.1 innings. The guy who was always difficult to hit has given up 48 hits in that time and walked 16, so there are base runners galore, and even when he’s good, he has a home run issue. It’s been bad. My guess remains that he’s feeling the effects of the injury, but whatever the reason, he hasn’t been good enough and the Royals desperately need him to be good enough in this one. The Rays with their swing and miss tendencies will be a good matchup for him if his fastball is on, but if not, their power tendencies will be trouble.
Weather: 77°, Wind NNE 4-8 MPH, Mostly Sunny/Clear, 0% Precipitation
If you asked me the starting pitcher the Royals would be most likely to go after in free agency, I’d tell you it’d be Alex Cobb. After missing all of 2015 and most of 2016, Cobb has come back this year different but still good. He had become a really quality strikeout pitcher, averaging more than eight per nine innings in 2013 and 2014, but he’s down to just six this year. His control has remained and he hasn’t become especially hittable. He’s just different. And more homer prone, so maybe the Royals can knock the ball over the fence a little against him.
Cobb lives mostly on his sinker and his curve. Both are very good pitches. He also has a splitter and will flash a four-seam fastball to show some different movement at a similar velocity to the sinker. This season, the splitter has given him more trouble than anything with a .302 average and .500 SLG allowed. He also hasn’t gotten many swings and misses on any of his pitches, so this is another game where the Royals should make some contact. Whit Merrifield and Eric Hosmer could be in line to do some damage against Cobb. They have a .448 and .444 average respectively on sinkers this season. Merrifield has a 1.034 SLG and Hosmer is at .667 on them. If you’re looking for picks to click, those two would be them. Merrifield has never faced Cobb, but Hosmer has a .357/.375/.857 career line against him to back that up. Cobb has also posted a 4.94 ERA away from Tropicana Field this season with a big drop in strikeouts and a jump in walks.
Junis has made three straight very strong starts for the big club and is putting himself in a position to not just be in the 2018 rotation, but maybe in the postseason rotation if they somehow find a way to get there. He’s gone 19.1 innings over those three starts and allowed just four runs on 15 hits with 16 strikeouts and only one walk. Oh yeah, and no home runs allowed either. That’s pretty important for him. It’ll be interesting to see what his slider can do against the swing and miss Rays.
Weather: 78°, Wind NE 4-8 MPH, Mostly Sunny/Clear, 0% Precipitation
The former Royals prospect Odorizzi is having a bit of a rough season. He’s spent some time on the disabled list and things just haven’t gone well. He’s still difficult to hit, but he’s given up a ton of home runs and is walking more batters than ever before, outside of his two-start stint with the Royals in 2012. It really all turned for him after a good start against the Royals back in May. Since then, he’s made 16 starts with a 5.67 ERA and allowed 21 home runs in 81 innings. Either the Royals are catching him at a good time or he’s catching the Royals at a good time. Something has to give.
Odorizzi works heavily with a four-seam fastball and splitter combination, throwing those two pitches about three-fourths of the time. He mixes in a cutter and the occasional slider and curve. He doesn’t allow a ton of hits, so nothing has been hit for an especially high average, but he’s allowed a .520 SLG on his fastball. He sits between 89 and 93 with the fastball, and a few Royals hitters have typically feasted on that. Hosmer has a .661 slugging percentage while Mike Mosutakas is up at .643 and even Alcides Escobar is at .515 with a .333 batting average. If you want to impress your friends, tell them you think this is one is an Escobar extra base hit game. They’ll think you’re an idiot and then he’ll double in the fourth and you’ll be a genius. But really, this seems like a good game for Moustakas to hopefully break Balboni’s record, but maybe just tie it if he hasn’t homered in the first two games of the series.
Vargas, like much of the rest of the rotation, is struggling mightily. He allowed more than two runs just once in his first seven starts. He’s allowed at least three runs in all five of his August starts. So to say things have changed is an understatement. He did throw seven shutout innings against the Rays in May, and their swing and miss tendencies could make his changeup look really good if it’s good, so there’s some hope there, I guess.
Weather: 79°, Wind E 4-8 MPH, Mostly Sunny/Clear, 0% Precipitation
The Royals need this series badly. So do the Rays. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like the Royals don’t have a shot to score like crazy in this series just like I’m not going to pretend like they won’t score four runs in the whole series. This team is just too unpredictable. I think the Royals do take two of three here, but I’m maybe the least confident in that prediction that I’ve ever been.