SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
After a slow start to the season the Royals have turned it on over the last month or two behind great hitting and solid enough pitching to get by.
Royals 2, Red Sox 1
Up. Way up. The Royals may be the hottest team in baseball (or, at least in a world in which the Dodgers don’t exist) having won their last eight games. Granted, it hasn’t been the toughest competition as all of the victories have come at the expense of the Tigers and White Sox, but eight straight wins is eight straight wins. The Red Sox are hoping a trip to Fenway will cool these Royals down.
7/28: David Price vs. Jason Vargas, 7:10 PM ET
Amidst all of the controversy around him, Price has started to turn in strong performances more often than not. With the offense struggling as badly as it is, the Red Sox need their starting pitchers to do more than carry their weight, and Price is starting to do so. Of course, his last start out was a step in the wrong direction, so he’ll be looking to prove that day in Anaheim was a blip on the radar rather than a sign of things to come.
Vargas has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season and has been a steady hand atop the Royals rotation. Over his first 19 starts of the year, the lefty has a 3.08 ERA, although his 4.09 FIP and 4.15 DRA suggest he’s pitched a bit above his head. It’s pretty remarkable that he’s pitched so well, although being a fly ball pitcher in Kansas City has proven to be a successful strategy in the past and it’s certainly working for Vargas. He looked to have been backsliding a bit to start the month after allowing six runs in each of his first two July starts, but he came back in his last outing and allowed only two over five innings of work. Vargas features a four- and a two-seam fastball, both in the mid-to-high 80s, along with a changeup and a curveball.
7/29: Rick Porcello vs. Trevor Cahill, 7:10 PM ET
Porcello’s overall season has obviously been a disappointment, but he’s pitched much better in the month of July. Since the calendar flipped, he’s made four starts and has a 2.54 ERA to go with 22 strikeouts and four walks over 28 1⁄3 innings. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t gotten any run support after turning it around (not that he got much before) and he has an 0-3 record to show for his efforts. He just needs to keep pitching like he has and hopefully his teammates will pick him up soon.
Saturday will actually be Cahill’s Royals debut as the righty was just acquired by Kansas City last week in a trade with the Padres. The deal also included a couple of relievers we’ll discuss a bit later. As for Cahill, he had been a bad starter for many years in this league, but he turned his career around last year in the Cubs’ bullpen. San Diego signed him as a starter this past winter and he’s been outstanding. With almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and a vastly improved swinging strike rate to go with it, he’s pitched to a 3.69 ERA that his peripherals suggest should improve. Although he does have lapses in control, he gets enough ground balls that he can stay out of too much trouble. Cahill mainly relies on a low-90s sinker to go with a devastating changeup/curveball combination.
7/30: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Jason Hammel, 1:35 PM ET
Rodriguez has made two starts since returning from the disabled list, and while they’ve both been solid enough we’re still looking for him to make the leap back to the guy he was before he went down and appeared to be emerging as a legitimate and consistent mid-rotation arm. The key for the lefty will be efficiency, as he failed to make it through six innings in both of those outings.
Hammel has taken a step back in 2017 after a couple of successful years with the Cubs. (Side note: The Royals love these Cubs reclamation projects, apparently.) The righty has made 20 starts for Kansas City, and while he hasn’t been a disaster by any means he has pitched to a 4.81 ERA with a 4.32 FIP and a 4.64 DRA. His biggest issue has been an inability to miss bats. That being said, he did hold the Red Sox to two runs over seven innings back in June. In fact, since the start of June he’s had one start in which he’s allowed more than three runs and has a solid 3.67 ERA over that span. Hammel throws a fastball and a sinker, both in the low-90s, along with a slider.
None. Stupid Royals
Once upon a time, it seemed inevitable that the Red Sox were going to trade for Mike Moustakas. In fact, when one looked at this series back in April or May, it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine this being Moustakas’ first series against his old team. Instead, the Royals have turned back into contenders and their third baseman has been a big reason why. He won’t draw many walks and he won’t hit many singles, but Moustakas is going to put the ball in play this weekend and unfortunately some of that is going to involve some very loud contact.
Eric Hosmer has never had the prototypical power you expect from a star first baseman, but he hits for enough that he still shines as a contact-oriented hitter. He’s been outstanding this season, and while some of his high batting average on balls in play is due to luck, much of it is because he simply makes good contact.
Lorenzo Cain has taken a step back in power this season and that has made him simply a league-average hitter. Despite that, he’s still arguably the best overall player on this roster thanks to his defense and baserunning.
Salvador Perez is the heart and soul of the Royals and one of the best catchers in all of baseball. Someday, his extreme workload behind the plate is going to catch up with him, but this apparently isn’t the year. Despite one of the most aggressive approaches in all of baseball, Perez has had a very good year with the bat showing off big time power and solid overall contact skills.
Whit Merrifield isn’t one of the bigger names on this roster but with good contact skills and surprising pop he’s one of the biggest reasons this offense has turned things around.
Jorge Bonifacio is another reason for it as the rookie has injected life into the top of this lineup with some strong power numbers. He will strikeout some, though, so the Red Sox will do what they can to keep him off balance.
Alex Gordon used to be the best player on this team and was the face of their rebuild. He’s been awful in 2017, though, as his power is now nonexistent and his plate discipline is simply average.
Alcides Escobar is one of the worst hitters in baseball this year. He can still field his position at shortstop, but it’s hard to see how they can keep this bat in the lineup so often.
Kelvin Herrera has been one of the most consistent and underrated relievers in baseball since his first full season back in 2012. Although he’s taken a bit of a step back in his overall numbers this year, much of that was due to some uncharacteristic home run issues early in the year. He’s shaken those since and will be a tough matchup at the end of games this weekend.
Joakim Soria has been the Royals’ primary setup man all year, although the next name in this section may challenge him. Either way, the former Tigers closer is having a great year in Kansas City by combining big strikeout numbers with an impressive groundball rate.
Brandon Maurer used to be the Padres closer but came over to Kansas City in the same trade that sent over Cahill. He doesn’t have the huge strikeout numbers of some other elite relievers, but he still misses enough bats and has solid enough control to be a legitimate late-inning arm.
Ryan Buchter was the third piece in that Padres trade and becomes the primary lefty in Kansas City’s bullpen. He does miss a lot of bats, but he combines that with some lapses in control and a major tendency towards fly balls.
Cheslor Cuthbert was a surprise contributor to the Royals last year but has struggled mightily in his chances at the highest level in 2017. The infielder has been out with a wrist injury but is on rehab assignment and could be back soon.
Nate Karns had been having a solid year in the Royals rotation before going down with an elbow injury in May. Unfortunately, he’ll be out for the rest of the year after undergoing surgery.
Paulo Orlando is a bench outfielder at best, but he’s been out since May with a shin injury.
It’s not going to be the nicest weekend we’ve ever seen at Fenway, but things should remain dry and they should easily get all three games in. If you are attending any of these games, bring a sweatshirt, at least for Friday and Saturday night.