June is far too early to call a series a "must-win," so I am not going to do it. Instead, I will insinuate that it would really super swell if the Cleveland Indians could sweep the Kansas City Royals here and extend their lead in the American League Central Division past three games.
At worst, if the Royals get revenge for the last series and sweep the Tribe, the two teams would be in a virtual tie atop the AL Central. Even if the Detroit Tigers sweep in their series against the Chicago White Sox, the best they could hope for is a tie as well.
The last time these two division rivals played it was a laugher in favor of the Indians. Just a week ago the Indians were fresh off their four-game sweep of the World Series champs (outscoring them 25-6 in the process) before heading out on their West Coast road trip. Well now, after several late games in a row, the Indians are back to a more reasonable start time of 8:15 p.m. ET for these games in Kansas City.
- Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET: Carlos Carrasco (RHP) vs. Edinson Volquez (RHP)
- Tuesday, 8:15 p.m. ET: Josh Tomlin (RHP) vs. Chris Young (RHP)
- Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. Ian Kennedy (RHP)
Outside of directly hitting their first three starters, the Indians could not ask for a better pitching matchup going into this series against the Royals. They will send their ace, Corey Kluber in Game 3, their other ace, Carlos Carrasco in Game 1, and the inexplicably amazing Josh Tomlin in Game 2.
Edinson Volquez, whom the Royals will send out to face Carrasco, has had a rough go of it this season. He has allowed at least three earned runs in his last four starts, including five he allowed on June 3 against the Indians. Carrasco is not quite the shutdown machine he was prior to his hamstring injury, but in his two starts since returning from the disabled list he has pitched 11.2 innings and allowed seven earned runs while striking out eight.
Chris Young always seemed to give the Indians lineup fits in year's past, but they had no trouble getting to him on June 5 to the tune of five earned runs and six hits, four of which were home runs. The Little Cowboy continues to defy everything and keeps being spectacular this season. As Joel Hammond noted on Twitter, he is one of only two pitchers to have more wins than walks this season (can you guess the other?).
And finally, to finish the series on Wednesday the Indians will turn to Corey Kluber who, like clockwork, started the season slowly but has been phenomenal lately. Outside of one hiccup against the Texas Rangers on May 31, Kluber has allowed two or fewer runs in four of his last five starts. His last outing was a complete game domination of the helpless Los Angeles Angels in which he struck out eight and allowed just two hits.
OH SWEET MERCIFUL EAST COAST START TIMES. Following this series in Kansas City, the Indians will finally return to Progressive Field for the first time in roughly 17 years. They will host another division rival, the White Sox, before the Tampa Bay Rays come to town to try their luck against the Tribe's ferocious pitching staff.
Team in a box
With two of their biggest stars still sidelined following an on-field collision, the Royals offense is in a freefall. They are worse off than the last time they played the Indians across the board -- their runs per game dropped .34, their on-base percentage dropped .005, their slugging percentage dropped .008, and even their stealing slowed down enough to drop them by two spots in the American League.
Even after winning two of three against the White Sox in their last series, the Royals have been overall terrible in their last 10 games. They were not a big home run team to begin with, but they are now last in the American League with just 54 long balls. For comparison, the first-place Baltimore Orioles have hit 99 out of the park, while the Indians have hit 71.
The Ned Yost approval poll - June 2016 edition | Royals Review
Over on Royals Review, they ran their monthly approval poll for manager Ned Yost and there is still overwhelming support for their skipper. As of this voting there are 239 votes (84%) stating they approve of the job Yost is doing, and just 46 (16%) saying they do not.
Jeremy Guthrie gets his college degree | Royals Review
I don't know why, but these stories always get me. Ex-Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie recently got his college degree after 19 long years.
Yordano Ventura and the importance of the curve | Kansas City Star
Although the Indians will not actually face Yordano Venture, here's a nice in-depth piece about why his curveball is so important to his overall pitching game.
Kansas City Royals
Even though he has been injured for almost a month, Mike Moustakas still ranks fifth on the Royals in FanGraphs WAR, if that tells you had bad things are in KC right now. Eric Hosmer leads the Royals in wRC+ with 144, and he has still not had a significant slump this season. It has to happen eventually, right? Why not now.
For some strange reason, the Royals actually decided to bench All-Star second baseman Omar Infante for some other guy. Said other guy, also referred to as Whit Merrifield, is slashing .322/.337/.425 with three stolen bases. Alcides Escobar has been a total disaster at the plate and he is last on the Royals in wRC+ with 48 and a .243/.269/.288 slash.
Luckily the Indians will avoid Danny Duffy, because he is the only starter that strikes any amount of fear into opposing lineups with his 2.94 ERA and 3.09 FIP. The Royals bullpen is as good as always, with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis holding a 1.50 ERA and a 1.16 ERA, respectively.