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Series Preview: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals

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And now for something completely different.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians took another series this week from the (then) AL Central leading Detroit Tigers. That was neat. Now they’ll continue their road trip in Missouri with a three-game set against the last place Kansas City Royals. Also neat.

What’s going on with the Royals this season?

Team in a box

2019 Kansas City Royals

Record 2-10
Record 2-10
Runs Scored 54
Runs Allowed 74
Run Differential -10
Streak L10
AVG .239
OBP .298
SLG .395
OPS .693
wRC+ 85
K/9 8.44
BB/9 4.36

The Royals got off to a quick start at the beginning of the season by winning their first two games of the year. Everything has gone down hill from there. Their last win came on March 30 against the White Sox. And while their offense hasn’t been terrible (average of 4.2 runs/game during the 10-game losing streak), the pitching has collapsed (giving up an average of 6.5 runs/game during the 10-game losing streak).

Projected starters

Friday, April 12 8:15 p.m. ET: RHP Brad Keller (v. Carlos Carrasco)

Brad Keller has stepped up and has been a stable presence in an otherwise unstable pitching staff. In his 3 starts so far in 2019, he’s yet to give up a home run. He’s also keeping folks off the bases at a pretty good pace (1.053 WHIP); overall, in his 19 innings of work, Keller has allowed just 6 earned runs while walking 8 and striking out 13 (ERA+ 155). The Opening Day starter for the Royals has pitched a quality start each time he’s taken the mound this year; the Royals are 1-2 in his starts. The only game they won was on Opening Day when Keller pitched a 7 inning shutout against the White Sox (the bullpen would go on to give up 3 runs). Keller survives with a fourseam (94 mph) that gets a lot of ground balls and a slider (86 mph) that gets flyballs and whiffs. He’s hardly striking anyone out (6.16 K/9), so expect the Indians to put balls in play against Keller. Keller’s most recent start came on April 7 against the Detroit Tigers; in that game, Keller went 6.0 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 5 hits while walking 3 and striking out 3.

Saturday, April 13 7:15 p.m. ET: RHP Homer Bailey (v. Jefry Rodriguez)

In his first year away from the Cincinnati Reds, Homer Bailey has not been a good pitcher. To be fair, he hasn’t been a good pitcher since 2013, so Royals fans shouldn’t be surprised that he’s been bad so far; he’s completely on brand. Whether he’s been stymied by injuries or just plain performance issues, Homer Bailey has not been a reliable pitcher for quite some time. He’s made just two starts in 2019, and while his first one was passable, his second one was abhorrent. In total, Bailey has pitched in 10.0 innings this year and has allowed 10 earned runs while walking 4 and striking out 15. His fastball (94 mph) still has some giddy-up and has some sink to it, whereas his splitter (86 mph) and curve (79 mph) can get hitters to swing and miss. His most recent start came on April 8 against the Seattle Mariners; in that game, Bailey went 5.0 innings and allowed 7 earned runs on 8 hits while walking 2 and striking out 7.

Sunday, April 14 2:15 p.m. ET: RHP Jakob Junis (v. Corey Kluber)

Jakob Junis is another pitcher who has thrown a couple of quality starts (and one bad one), but the Royals are 1-2 in his starts. So far in 2019, Junis has thrown 15.2 innings and has allowed 10 earned runs while walking 5 and striking out 20 (ERA+ 76). He’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher, relying on his ground ball-inducing slider (83 mph) and his whiff-inducing fastball (92 mph). While he is striking out a ton of hitters (11.5 K/9), he’s also giving up a lot of hits (11.5 H/9) which is inflating his WHIP up to dangerous levels (1.596). He’s got a .409 BABIP against him right now, so he’s due for a bit of positive regression. Hopefully it comes next week. His most recent start came on April 9 against the Seattle Mariners; in that game, Junis went 4.0 innings and allowed 4 earned runs on 8 hits while walking 1 and striking out 6.

Lineup highlights

  • LF Alex Gordon: So Alex Gordon is good again. Who had that on their 2019 bingo card? It’s only a sample size of 43 plate appearances and there’s still a lot of baseball left in 2019, but in the 10 games he’s played so far this year, Alex Gordon has been a force at the plate. He’s rocking a .313/.442/.531 slash line (wRC+ 166). His walk rate is up (14.0%), his K-rate has plummeted (9.3%, down from a career mark of 21.6%), and his power is through the roof (ISO of .219, up from a career mark of .157). There’s still some time for Alex Gordon to come crashing back to earth, but as of right now, he’s the best hitter on the Royals.
  • 2B Whit Merrifield: Everyone expected Whit Merrifield to be good again in 2019, and he has not disappointed. In his 50 plate appearances this year, Merrifield is hitting .340/.380/.532 (wRC+ 144), which is way beyond what he did in 2018. His K-rate is also way down (8.0%, down from 16.2% career mark). Merrifield had also been making headlines this season because of his 31-game hitting streak that was snapped on Thursday against the Mariners. Hmm. I wonder if it’s karmic retribution for Whit’s former teammate.
  • SS Adalberto Mondesi: Mondesi only played in 75 games last year, but he seems to be the starting shortstop for the Royals this year and he’s off to a hot start. In his 49 plate appearances, Mondesi is hitting .304/.313/.587 (wRC+ 134). You’ll notice that his OBP is very similar to his batting average; that’s because he’s walking only 2.0% of the time (down from his career mark of 3.8%). But you don’t have to walk when you hit everything hard and far; of his 14 hits this year, 8 of them have gone for extra bases, including 3 triples.

Storylines

Can the Royals stop losing?

The Royals have lost their last 10 games. That’s not great. They’ve also lost their starting center fielder, Billy Hamilton, to an MCL sprain in his left knee. Hamilton wasn’t doing a lot at the plate before he went down (.237/.286/.237, wRC+ 45), but he can do wonders on the base paths and can play great defense in the outfield.

What’s going to happen on Saturday?

The Saturday pitching matchup is intriguing. It features Homer Bailey, a pitcher who is not known for being very good, going up against Jefry Rodriguez, a rookie making his Cleveland debut. Maybe no one will score any runs. Maybe both teams will score a lot of runs. Both scenarios seem equally plausible.

Will the Indians see the return of Jason Kipnis?

Kipnis has been rehabbing with the Columbus Clippers and seems about ready to be back with the major league squad. He may or may not be with the Indians this weekend, but in the meantime, we can hope that Brad Miller continues to be serviceable (.231/.333/.423, wRC+ 84 but OPS+ of 102).

Kansas City Royals roster

FanGraphs

Poll

How many games will the Indians win against the Royals?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    3
    (67 votes)
  • 47%
    2
    (73 votes)
  • 7%
    1
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    0
    (2 votes)
154 votes total Vote Now