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Cleveland Indians vs. Kansas City Royals series preview

The Royals keep slipping while the Indians slip slightly slower.

Kansas City Royals v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The epic final conclusion of the ages Battle for Bikini Bottom ultimate contest of wits of the American League Central has finally arrived.

Can.

You.

Handle.

The.

INSANITY.

Ok, not really. The Kansas City Royals started the season on pace to be one of the worst offensive teams in the history of sport. They have rebounding slightly in recent weeks, and they now only have the second-worst wRC+ in the league (75, ahead of the San Francisco Giants) instead of the absolute worst. They aren’t great, but are kept afloat by a surprising starting rotation, and the Cleveland Indians might finally be kinda great again. Maybe?

Despite their own slow start to the season, the Indians have no need to panic yet. They too have gotten better recently, and like most teams they have a whole season to fix things. I say “most teams,” because the Royals are not one of those teams. Their timeline is shortened to midseason, as the core will likely be blown up and sold for parts come August if they don’t get things figured out by then. In those terms, the Royals season is already half over and they are last in the division by 7.5 games. It’s not looking great.

The Royals in New York and the Indians in Cleveland both had their Thursday contests postponed due to rain, and there’s at least a small chance one of these games could suffer the same fate. The same storms that have annoyed baseball teams over the past weeks are roaming around Cleveland and won’t leave until next week.

Pitching matchups

Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Ian Kennedy (RHP) vs. Mike Clevinger (RHP)

After a slow start to the season, Ian Kennedy has allowed five earned runs over his last 11 innings. If you’re not comparing everything to peak Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber, that’s not too bad. His last outing against the Minnesota Twins contained a season-high five walks, though, which has been an issue for the 32-year-old this season.

Mike Clevinger is coming off an outstanding start against these very Kansas City Royals in which he carried a no-hitter through five innings and struck out five batters. In 17.1 innings this season, he’s allowed just six hits, but issued 11 walks.

Saturday, 4:10 p.m. ET: Jason Vargas (LHP) vs. Danny Salazar (RHP)

Jason Vargas dominated as much as Jason Vargas can dominate his last time out against the Indians — 6.0 innings, four hits, six strikeouts, no runs. He’s having an excellent season to this point with a 2.30 ERA and 2.96 FIP, both career-highs if they he can sustain them over the full season.

A quick glance at his peripherals make them look pretty sustainable, too. He’s stranding 82.1 percent of the runners he allows on base, which is a little high, but nothing impossible. Opponents have a .268 batting average on balls in play against him, only a shade below his .283 career average. There might even be an explanation for this talent surge at 34 years old — he’s striking more batters out. His 22.7 percent strikeout rate is a big jump from his 15.8 percent average.

Danny Salazar throws a baseball. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s very not good.

Sunday, 1:10 p.m. ET: Danny Duffy (LHP) vs. Josh Tomlin (RHP)

Like his teammate, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy dominated the Indians his last time out. His 6.2-inning effort resulted in just one run for the Indians off six hits. Duffy is having a great season as well, with similar sustainable-looking numbers on the surface.

I want to believe in Josh Tomlin, I really do, but those two games where he allowed two runs over 15 innings already seem like ages ago. In reality, they occurred just earlier this month against the Minnesota Twins and this Royals team. Since then, in five starts, he’s allowed four runs, three runs, three runs, seven runs, and six runs off a combined three home runs.

Kansas City Royals roster

FanGraphs