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Can Royals pitching be the cure for Cleveland’s woes?

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This is Cleveland’s last chance to end the losing streak before the All-Star break

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Cleveland Indians v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

It’s pretty hard to be worse off than Cleveland is right now, but the Royals just might be there. No, Kansas City hasn’t lost nine in a row like their AL Central counterparts, but they are one of the worst teams across the board as the universe continues to punish them for their lucky start to the season.

The Royals enter this series having lost seven of their last 10 and dropping two of three to Cincinnati in their last series. One of those losses required Reds pitcher Sonny Gray to completely strip and change clothes to “reset” himself, so maybe they’re starting to get somewhere offensively.

Old friend Carlos Santana is the Royals’ second-best hitter with a 115 wRC+ on the year (and a very Carlos Santanian 15.7% walk rate), behind old enemy Salvador Pérez’s 116 wRC+.

Pitching-wise, there’s simply nothing there. Besides Danny Duffy, who will bring his 2.60 ERA to face Cleveland Thursday, and a couple of standout relievers they have struggled to find arms almost as much as Cleveland has. Daniel Lynch looked solid in his debut in Cleveland, but imploded over his next two starts and was demoted. Brad Keller hasn’t been able to recreate the magic of 2020, and Mike Minor is Mike Minor.

Cleveland, of course, is looking for anything to cling to at this point. Their nine-game losing streak has been a week to forget. It includes traumatic things like blowouts, blown leads, and even losing twice to the Tigers. Just a miserable week of baseball all around, and one they can quickly move on from with a win or two or three or four over the Royals.

They’ll get some pitching help in the form of Zach Plesac making his return from a thumb fracture. He’ll be making his 11th start of the season on Thursday night, and his first since he was sidelined on May 23 with an injury he received as a result of “aggressively ripping off his shirt.”

Prior to the injury, Plesac had a 4.14 ERA, a 16.2% strikeout rate, and a 5.1% walk rate. His ERA- was just above average at 93, so in other words, if he’s going to be the savior that Cleveland needs right now, they’ll have to hope he worked on some things in his six weeks of downtime.

Most importantly this weekend, Cleveland needs to scrape together a few wins and four competitive games to give themselves something to build off of heading into the All-Star break.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 36-50 (12th in AL)
  • Runs Scored: 353 (15th in AL)
  • Run Differential: -69 (nice in AL)
  • Last 10: 3-7
  • Slash: .244/.306/.387
  • wOBA: .303 (12th in AL)
  • wRC+: 89 (14th in AL)
  • ERA: 5.04 (14th in AL)
  • SIERA: 4.41 (15th in AL)
  • K-BB%: 12.3% (14th in AL)

Projected starters

Thursday, July 8, 7:10 p.m. ET: LHP Danny Duffy vs. Zach Plesac
Danny Duffy held the Twins to two runs over four innings in his last start, but only struck out two with two walks. After striking out at least eight batters in half of his first four starts, he hasn’t done it since May 12 against the Tigers.

Friday, July 9, 7:10 p.m. ET: RHP Brad Keller vs. TBD (Eli Morgan*)
Brad Keller is enjoying the highest strikeout rate of his career at 17.7%, but that’s all he’s enjoying. He’s walking a career-high 10.6% of the batters he faces and he’s allowed 62 earned runs in 87.1 innings.

Keller had one of his best starts of the year against the Twins last week, striking out seven and allowing two runs over 6.1 innings. He was able to induce 15 whiffs with his slider, which is his key to success. This season he’s induced swings and misses just 14% of the time, though, and it’s a big reason why he has an ERA north of 6.00.

Saturday, July 10, 6:10 p.m. ET: LHP Mike Minor vs. TBD (Cal Quantrill*)
Thirty-three-year-old Mike Minor doesn’t have the kind of velocity you usually see on a pitcher who throws a high fastball, but even at an average of 90.8 mph, his four-seamer spins at one of the highest rates in baseball to help it play up in the zone. He has relied on his curveball more as he’s aged into his thirties, though, and it just hasn’t been a good pitch for him this season.

Minor has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his last five starts, including a nine-run implosion against the Rangers on June 25.

Sunday, July 11, 1:10 p.m. ET: TBD (Kris Bubic*) vs. TBD (Logan Allen*)
The battle of the TBD’s commences on Sunday, but FanGraphs projects 23-year-old Kris Bubic to take the mound for the Royals. He would be making his ninth start of the season (16th appearance). In his last two starts, he allowed a combined 10 earned runs over 8.1 innings.

Notably, Bubic has been working on improving his curveball this season, which sits with a spinrate in the 69th percentile, and has the lowest hard-hit rate against of any of his pitches (37.5%). Maybe there’s something to build off of there.

*Pitching projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource unless stated otherwise

Hot hitters

OF, Michael A. Taylor - No Royals hitter has been hotter over the last two weeks than outfielder Michael A. Taylor. He sports a 135 wRC+ with a .282/.333/.538 slash and team-leading three home runs in that span.

IF, Hanser Alberto - If Hanser Albert has any hope of turning his dreadful season around, he needs a couple more weeks like the one he just had. The journeyman infielder went 6-for-18 with a home run and a double as he raised his wRC+ on the season all the way up to 81.


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How many games will Cleveland win against the Royals?

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  • 15%
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  • 14%
    (10 votes)
  • 38%
    (27 votes)
  • 19%
    (14 votes)
  • 12%
    (9 votes)
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