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Series preview: Cleveland at Royals

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Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but Cleveland is playing an AL Central team this week

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals made their offseason splashes on offense, but it’s been a surprising starting rotation that has carried them to an AL Central-leading 16-10 record through the first month of the season.

Royals starters have the 12th best ERA in baseball, and that includes the struggles of Brad Keller’s 8.06 ERA. They don’t have the makings of a group that has been extraordinarily lucky, either. Their combined .302 BABIP is one of the highest in baseball, and they’ve only stranded 69.7% of the batters they have faced. They don’t have an abnormally low home run or walk rate, and they’ve struck out their fair share of batters, but nothing that would suggest they are going to come crashing back down to Earth.

Unless this rotation can truly outperform projections all season long, it might just go down as a hot month. But even after the regression monster comes for them, they could settle as a middle-of-the-pack rotation which is probably more than they could have imagined coming into the season.

A lot of how the Royals handle their surprise success will hinge on some young pitchers making strides forward. They’ll need Brady Singer to develop a third pitch eventually, and they will have to hope that Daniel Lynch — their top pitching prospect — can come out of the gate hot. Lynch will make his debut against Cleveland in tonight’s game after last pitching in High-A in 2019. Brad Keller’s 2020 results were clearly a mirage, but he’ll need to stop walking so many batters eventually, right?

The Royals will enter this series winning seven of their last 10 games, though two of their three losses came in blowout fashion against the Twins over the weekend.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 16-10
  • Runs Scored: 120
  • Run Differential: -3
  • Last 10: 7-3
  • Slash: .237/.305/.397
  • wOBA: .306
  • wRC+: 98
  • ERA: 4.34
  • SIERA: 4.19
  • K-BB%: 13.4%

Projected starters

Monday, May 3, 8:10 p.m. ET: LHP Daniel Lynch vs. Aaron Civale
Like a lot of players making their debuts this year, 24-year-old Daniel Lynch’s comes after leapfrogging a couple of levels of the minors. The lefty last pitched 78.1 innings for the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks in 2019. He was ranked as the No. 62 prospect in baseball by FanGraphs prior to the season, with a velocity that had slowly been climbing throughout his professional career and a four-pitch mix consisting of a cutter, slider, curveball, and changeup. FanGraphs’ rank is one of the lowest for Lynch — Keith Law had him at No. 17 overall, and MLB Pipeline has him at No. 24.

Tuesday, May 4, 8:10 p.m. ET: LHP Mike Minor vs. Sam Hentges
You can set your watch by Mike Minor being a passable-if-not-spectacular starter for whichever team he’s on. From his debut season with the Atlanta Braves in 2010 to 2021, his second year with the Royals, Minor has consistently held an ERA in the 4.00’s or lower-5.00’s with a pretty alright strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s the kind of pitcher every rotation needs that isn’t great but can hold down some innings and give you a good start once in a while. He’s hit 200.0 innings twice in his career, though he hasn’t lasted more than six in any start this year.

Minor’s stuff is definitely beginning to peter off, based on his Statcast measurements. He sits in the lower end of everything except average exit velocity, where he finds himself in the 55th percentile. As the velocity on his four-seamer has slowed towards 90, he’s begun leaning on his breaking stuff a lot more this season. His four-seamer usage dropped from 50.7% last year to 32.5% in his five starts this season. Meanwhile, his slider and curveball have each seen big upticks in usage. It could just be a result of the teams he has faced in such a month into the season, but I wouldn’t expect that trend to change against Cleveland.

More importantly, Sam Hentges will make his debut in the rotation for Cleveland on Tuesday. The big lefty pitched 5.2 relief innings this year and was named to the rotation Friday following Logan Allen’s demotion.

Wednesday, May 5, 8:10 p.m. ET: RHP Brady Singer vs. TBD (Shane Bieber)
Brady Singer is off to a hot start for the equally hot Royals, but it was almost put in jeopardy in his last outing. Singer left his start against the Twins in the third inning when a 105.5 mph line drive struck him in the foot. X-rays on his heel came back negative, and he said he’s feeling fine. That’s good news for Kansas City, who needs Singer and his 3.09 ERA to keep shutting down opponents if they want to maintain their surprising AL Central lead.

His 2021 debut was rough — five runs allowed in 3.1 innings against the Rangers — but he rebounded with three-straight outings of allowing one or fewer earned runs in at least five innings. His most dominant came against the Tigers, when he struck out eight, walked none, and allowed one earned run in seven innings of work. Cleveland faced Singer twice last year, both at Progressive Field, and they scored a combined two runs in 13 innings. Cleveland batters struck out 15 times and drew just four walks against him.

Singer has shown flashes of a changeup and four-seamer, but is primarily a sinker-slider pitcher, with the common duo accounting for 96.1% of his total pitches.

Thursday, May 6, 2:10 p.m. ET: LHP Danny Duffy vs. TBD (Triston McKenzie)
Can Danny Duffy finish the 2021 season with a 0.60 ERA and a .247 BABIP against? Tune in to find out.

The answer is no. I mean, he’s going to give up another run eventually — so far he’s only given up two in 30 innings of work. But eventually, he’s going to crack and we just have to hope it will be on Thursday. Nothing about Duffy’s approach this season seems to point to a true second-coming at 32 years old, although he recently told the Athletic that he is throwing with more intent this year. He’s just had a good couple of games (including shutting down Cleveland over six innings back on April 5).

Cleveland hasn’t announced a starter for this one; I penciled Triston McKenzie in but we’ll see if that sticks.

Lineup highlights

1B, Carlos Santana - Carlos Santana is doing exactly what one would expect him to do, but maybe better than he ever has. He has currently walked more than he’s struck out (15.3% to 14.4%), has hit six home runs, and is slashing .280/.387/.516 for a Royals-leading 154 wRC+. He has been worth every penny of the $8.8 million Kansas City owes him this season, and any team with a hole at first base would have been crazy not to give him that money to play for them this season.

OF, Andrew Benintendi - Andrew Benintendi started the season slowly, with just 10 hits in his first 49 plate appearances, but he’s now riding a six-game hitting streak, including two home runs against the Twins on Saturday. If his 120 wRC+ holds, it would be his best offensive season since 2018 and the kind of return to form the Royals hoped they would get out of him when they acquired him this offseason.

Royals roster

Poll

How many games will Cleveland win against Kansas City?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    4
    (5 votes)
  • 25%
    3
    (31 votes)
  • 52%
    2
    (64 votes)
  • 13%
    1
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    0
    (7 votes)
123 votes total Vote Now