Welcome back to the Weekend Preview!
This time, we’ll look at a team the Red Sox have had a strangely good record against for the last couple seasons. For the final time on the Weekend Preview, here are the American League-leading Kansas City Royals.
Kansas City Royals – Current Record: 73-47 – Projected Record: 94-68
The Royals have cruised into first place in the AL in 2015, and are comfortably in the driver’s seat for the rest of the season as they have a six-game lead on the second-place team, the New York Yankees. Defense, contact hitting and relief pitching have propelled this team to the top, and when you don’t strike out and catch everything that flies, it really does seem like you’re doing everything well. They’ve allowed roughly 3.7 runs per game, good for second in the AL, and that’s all thanks to the defense and their stellar bullpen crew. The starters, other than recently-acquired Johnny Cueto, haven’t been anything special, as they own a 4.21 ERA and a 4.36 FIP as a unit, good for 19th and 25th in the majors, respectively. Sure, the Royals have that one weakness, but when everything else is clicking and shows no signs of slowing down, that weakness can be compensated for. If that compensation translates to a six-run gap between you and the next-best team in your respective league, even better.
Johnny Cueto vs. Henry Owens, Friday, 7:10 p.m. EDT
Cueto, depending on who you talk to, is a true ace. He put up great numbers while on the Reds this year, which is more impressive when you realize he had to pitch in the Great American Smallpark. A 2.62 ERA, combined with a 3.17 FIP and a 0.76 HR/9 while in Cincinnati, really speaks to how good he is. Coming over to the AL hasn’t slowed him down at all. Cueto has made four starts in a Royals uniform since July 31st, and the totals are fantastic: 30.0 IP, 6 ER, 4 BB, 21 K, 1 CGSO. That’s good for a 1.80 ERA and a 2.64 FIP. Oh, and those starts were against the Angels, the Blue Jays and the Tigers twice – none of them the easiest of offenses for a pitcher to succeed against. Of the starters the Red Sox will face in this series, he is by far the best.
Henry Owens is still getting his footing in the majors, and we’ve seen the peaks and valleys of his results. In his first start in the Bronx, he made lefties look silly but racked up a high pitch count early in the 6th inning. At Detroit, he survived four walks and three hits in five innings by inducing a ton of pop-ups, but the high pitch count struck again. His last start at home against Seattle was a disaster, but had some silver linings – while he did give up seven runs and three homers, he struck out ten and walked only one. That’s progress, right? Either way, he’ll face a Royals team with the fewest strikeouts in the majors. If he can scratch out a quality start, the Red Sox will have a chance.
Yordano Ventura vs. Matt Barnes, August 22nd, 7:10 p.m. EDT
Ventura has had the epitome of an up-and-down season. He began the season as Kansas City’s de facto ace, starting the season opener on April 6th and throwing six innings of one-run ball against the White Sox. Then erraticism struck, as he didn’t give up fewer than two runs against until May 19th. After only pitching six innings total in his only two starts in June, the Royals put him on the DL with ulnar neuritis, which was causing numbness in his pitching hand. He came back in early July, and after getting blasted by the Pirates for six runs later in the month, the Royals send him down the Triple-A Omaha on July 21st, only to call him back up to the majors on July 22nd because Jason Vargas hit the DL. Insanity. So how has he done since then? Well, it’s not been a pretty sight. He’s given up 14 runs in 32 innings, and he had a scoreless start against the Tigers on August 11th, but that came with six walks. That was right after a start in which the Tigers tagged him for six runs. So flip a coin. If heads, Ventura tears through the Sox. If tails, he’ll be hit around. Your guess is as good as mine.
The Matt Barnes Starter Experience has been pretty lackluster so far. He got through three scoreless innings against the Indians in his last start, and then proceeded to implode for six runs in the next two frames. He’s here because the Red Sox literally have no one else – Wright, Porcello, Buchholz and Johnson are all on the disabled list. Barnes can still strike out a fair few batters, sure, but he’s got that type of control that really makes you wish you had something, anything else to do when he’s pitching. He could succeed against the Royals, yeah. However, it’s much more likely he’ll take a beating. My advice: keep your expectations low for this one, so when Barnes can miraculously get through six innings with only three runs allowed, you can be pleasantly surprised before the bullpen blows it.
Edinson Volquez vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, August 23rd, 1:35 p.m. EDT
It’s always a bit strange when a pitcher who only strikes out 6.75 per nine innings while walking 3.38 over the same span has an ERA of 3.20. Edinson Volquez is therefore an enigma. A 3.79 FIP over the course of the season usually means he’ll start getting worse sometime soon, and yet he’s still doing the same thing. His tendency to induce grounders is good, but even getting a grounder on 50% of batted balls doesn’t make you this good. August has been a microcosm of his season: 3.12 ERA, 3.92 FIP, all while walking two or more per start. Two starts ago, Volquez got torn apart by the Tigers, as they pinned five runs on him over seven innings. Then he made a start in Cincinnati, and proceeded to hurl six innings of one-run ball. Volquez has made small improvements this year in regards to his whiffs and contact allowed, and there’s been an uptick in velocity across the board. Combine grounders and weak contact with that superb Kansas City defense, and you get what Volquez is having.
Eduardo Rodriguez is going through a strange August. His start against the Yankees on the 6th was good for seven innings and he only allowed two runs. That’s a solid start by the southpaw. Then the Marlins teed off on him in Miami on the 12th, tagging him for eight runs in five innings of work. Not really what you want to see against one of the league’s worst offenses. To top it all off, Eddie’s next start against the Indians turns out to be his best since his debut in Texas, going eight innings, allowing one run, striking out five and walking none. What do the Red Sox have in Rodriguez? Hopefully, a pretty good pitcher. Right now, they’ll have to deal with the growing pains of a young starter. The Royals come into this series with a mediocre .707 OPS against lefties, so this’ll be a good test for him.
The Royals have been without Alex Gordon for some time, so they’ve used a combination of Zobrist and Orlando in left, and will continue to do so until he returns.
That 2-3-4 of Zobrist-Cain-Hosmer is pretty daunting. Zobrist has regained the power stroke that many thought was lost last year, and that gives the Royals another dynamic bat they can put in the two-spot while playing him at virtually four different positions. Morales is no slouch either, as he’s another switch-hitter with notable power. The Royals do hit for contact a lot, but that heart of the lineup can really make a pitcher’s outing go downhill in a hurry.
The young Red Sox hurlers have a tough test ahead of them this weekend. This’ll be a good place for the Sox to start taking inventory, at least with their younger guys. For Kansas City, they just have to win one and they’ll be fine. They’re in no rush to take the series. That’s the luxury you earn when you’re the best.
Photo by Andy Marlin/USA Today Sports Images