If the Cleveland Indians have World Series aspirations, they will need to keep beating up on the current world champs, the Kansas City Royals. I do not actually know if that's true -- they could get swept by the Royals and still win -- but crushing the Royals is always fun so let's root for it.
This will be the fourth time these two teams have met this season, with the Indians leading the way with a 6-4 record. The last series was a sweep in favor of the Royals in mid-June. The Indians responded by setting a new franchise record for wins in a row with 14 over the next two weeks.
For the first time pretty much all season, these two teams will play each other without the American League Central lead on the line. In fact, the Royals are not even in second place anymore. The last time they were even close was July 2, when they were in second at six games back from the Tribe. Since then they have bounced between third and fourth in the Central and they have never been closer than seven games behind.
Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. Edinson Volquez (RHP)
Edinson Volquez has been far from a great pitcher this season, but much of his 4.85 ERA can be attributed to two starts where he totally imploded: an 11-run loss to the Houston Astros and an eight-run loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Take out those two games and he is... still pretty bad.
Nearly half the pitches Volquez has thrown this season have been sinkers -- a higher percentage than any season in his career -- and it is not working well. Opponents are batting .315 off of it while swinging and missing just 5.74 percent of the time.
Volquez's last game was a six-inning win against the Seattle Mariners in which he struck out three and allowed three earned runs off of six hits.
All-Star pitcher Corey Kluber, on the other hand, is having another tremendous season. His 2.94 FIP is still tops in the American League, and he leads all AL pitchers with 3.3 FanGraphs WAR. His last outing proved why he was an All-Star: An eight-inning domination of the New York Yankees where he struck out eight and allowed just one earned run off five hits.
Tuesday, 8:15 p.m. ET: Danny Salazar (RHP) vs. TBD
Fellow All-Star pitcher and potential Cy Young candidate, Danny Salazar, will take the mound in game two, hoping to continue his breakout season. Despite a high walk rate (3.96 BB/9), Salazar is sporting career-bests in ERA (2.75), FIP (3.37), ground ball rate (48.5%), home runs per nine innings (0.77).
The Dzar is technically coming off an injury ("shoulder fatigue"), but I would not be too worried about it being more than anything as a way to avoid pitching in the All-Star game. He has already pitched 104.2 innings this season, rapidly approaching his career-high of 185.
Wednesday, 2:15 p.m. ET: Carlos Carrasco (RHP) vs. Ian Kennedy (RHP)
After facing two straight All-Star pitchers, the Royals will be left facing... Carlos Carrasco. Another pitcher who could have been an All-Star if he was not injured for a month.
The Royals will counter with Ian Kennedy, who is very much not an All-Star candidate. The 31-year-old has a 3.86 ERA this season, but his FIP sits at 5.06. Opponents have a .255 BABIP against him and only 33.5 percent of balls are on the ground. In Kennedy's last outing he lasted 5.1 innings and allowed one earned run off four hits.
The last time these two teams played, the Indians were coming off a horrendous West Coast road trip. That is not the case this time, so hopefully, things will go differently. Following this series, the Indians will travel to Baltimore before returning home to host the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics in a post-RNC Invasion Cleveland.
Team in a box
Before getting too drawn into that sixth-best ERA, keep in mind those numbers include bullpen and starting pitching. And the Royals have a disgustingly good bullpen. Based on just starting pitching alone, the Royals ranked 12th in ERA (4.93), although their strikeouts per nine is ranked third (8.21).
The Royals offense has managed to one of the worst in the AL while still having the second-highest BABIP (3.19).