The Royals leave their best homestand of the season to travel to Cleveland to take on the best team in the division, the Indians, who have just added Josh Donaldson to ensure their postseason ends in heartbreak. As I mentioned when they played last week, the Indians lineup is good, but a bit top heavy. If opponents can keep down their stars, they have a shot to keep runs down against them. Donaldson could help that quite a bit if he’s actually healthy. If they can get Trevor Bauer back and get him a couple appearances before October, their rotation looks really solid for the postseason. Even if they can’t, having three starters at the top like they have, should be enough. Of course, the big issue for them is getting their bullpen worked out with Andrew Miller back on the disabled list and Cody Allen still struggling. The talent is there, though.
Note: All advanced stats are through Saturday’s action.
|Record||77-59, 1st Place, AL Central|
|Team SP DRA||3.45|
|Team RP DRA||4.17|
|Team WARP Leader||Jose Ramirez, 6.7|
|Record vs. Royals||8-4|
Royals vs. Indians
Indians Projected Lineup
Projected Pitching Matchups
Monday – 3:10 pm
Plutko has been tasked with replacing Trevor Bauer in the rotation while Bauer recovers from his stress fracture and he’s been fine in two of his three starts, but got roughed up in the other and the Indians have lost all three. Really it’s been a mixed bag as he’s been up and down this year and in and out of the rotation, so it’s hard to say exactly what you’ll get with him. He relies heavily on a nothing special fastball, throwing it more than 60 percent of the time and averaging just about 91-92 MPH on it. His number two is a slider and he mixes in the occasional change and curve. He’s allowed four home runs on his curve out of a total of 10 at bats that ended on it, which isn’t what you’d call ideal. And it’s not like his fastball has some great spin rate or anything. His trouble with lefties gives me a lot of hope for the Royals in this one. He’s allowed a .337/.412/.673 line against them, so I could see Ryan O’Hearn playing pepper with that tall wall in left and Brett Phillips launching one to right and really any of the lefties who are playing well having a field day in this one.
Junis is coming off his first career complete game in an outing that I didn’t expect to go that long. His homerless streak did end in his last start, but his post-DL numbers are very encouraging for his future. In 45.1 innings, he’s struck out 47, walked 12 and allowed three home runs with a 3.12 ERA. That’s some serious quality. Now, some of that is that his complete game was against the Tigers, who he absolutely owns, but you can only beat the teams in front of you. His history against the Indians isn’t what you’d call good. He’s faced them four times and made three starts with an ERA of 8.05 with four home runs allowed in 19 innings. This year has been especially rough, so this’ll be a nice test for him to see if he’s really back on track or if it was a Tigers-induced mirage.
Tuesday – 6:10 pm
The Royals faced Clevinger last week in Kansas City and Salvador Perez hit a monster three-run homer in the first inning, but then they didn’t get anything else off him. That’s actually pretty par for the course for him. He has a 4.67 ERA in the first and has allowed five home runs in 27 games before generally settling down as the game progresses. He’s been good everywhere, but he’s been a little less good at home this season with a 3.44 ERA compared to 2.88 on the road. He’s just a little more hittable at Progressive Field and interestingly just throws more strikes in general there, walking batters at a significantly lower clip. No Royals have hit him well, even Perez with that massive home run, though O’Hearn did go 1-for-3 against him last week, so maybe he’ll be the Royals player to actually hit Clevinger well.
Duffy has now made two starts since his brief DL stint and has been generally pretty good, going 11 innings with 13 strikeouts, five walks and a 2.45 ERA. Some areas of concern for me include his velocity, which topped out at just 93.7 in his last start after hitting near 97 earlier in the season. This is exactly what plagued him earlier in the year when his shoulder was in question, so I think it’s fair to wonder. Another issue has been a ton of pitches, 199 in fact, to average 18 per inning. Then add in very few swings and misses (a 7.5 percent rate), and there’s definitely reason to be worried. The Indians have been a big problem for him this year. He’s 0-3 with a 10.80 ERA in three starts and has walked 10 while striking out just eight in 15 innings. I don’t have high hopes here, but if he can pitch well, it’ll make me feel a lot better about him.
Wednesday – 12:10 pm
Kluber bounced back big time in his last start against the Rays, going seven shutout innings. But even with that start, he’s been somewhat ordinary over his last 12 starts, going 6-4 with a 3.84 ERA and striking out just 67 in 75 innings, which is very low for him. Also, the 75 hits allowed in that time is quite a few. That a stretch like that is considered a big slump for him says so much about how good he is, but they’ll need him to be vintage Kluber to make it through the postseason. He’s actually been just okay in each of his last two starts against the Royals with a total of 11.1 innings thrown, 16 hits allowed and eight runs. An odd issue he’s facing this year is with runners in scoring position where he’s allowed a .277 average and .485 slugging percentage. Even with that, his strand rate is still 78 percent, so you might be able to make an argument that there’s some regression coming for him, which isn’t something Indians fans want to hear. It’s hard to say that because he’s so good that you expect him to defy the numbers, but hey, you never know.
Keller just continues to roll along and pitch beyond his years. Sure it was the Orioles, but he just went eight innings for the second time in his career and has now thrown 50 innings since the break with a 3.42 ERA and 40 strikeouts. He threw a career-high 114 pitches in that last start, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if Keller is somewhat limited in this one just to be safe. With the Omaha season over by the time this is played, the pitching staff will have plenty of reinforcements in the way of call-ups, so I would expect we might only see five innings of Keller in this one. Of course, that’s all we got from him against Cleveland in Kansas City on the home stand, but it took him 96 pitches to get there. Still, he pitched well, allowing just two runs and striking out five.
The Royals are going well, but the Indians are still the considerably better team and they’re trying to get ramped up right now. I think the Indians take two of three, but the young guys are still fun to see.