SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
The Royals are a long way away from where they were just a few years ago as they currently own the second-worst record in baseball thanks to the lowest-scoring offense in the American League and the second-worst pitching staff in the AL.
Up, slightly. This is the closest thing to an upward trend for this Kansas City roster, as they have won their last two games at home against the White Sox. Of course, they still managed to lose the series as it was a five-game set due to a previous rainout. Prior to this mini two-game win streak they lost their previous five games, so take this trend with a grain of salt.
4/30: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Jason Hammel, 7:10 PM ET
Rodriguez is looking for his fourth straight win and looking to continue his run of the Red Sox winning all of his starts in 2018. After a first start in which his command was clearly a bit rusty, the lefty as been pretty consistent in terms of results of late. He’s lasted at least six innings in each of his last three starts, hasn’t allowed more than three runs and has finished with around 105 pitches every time out. The efficiency is solid, his pitch mix has been exactly what we’re looking for and he truly looks healthy again. Rodriguez faced the Royals once last year and he allowed four runs in four innings with five strikeouts and three walks.
Hammel has been a weird pitcher over the last few years as he’s gotten good results more often than not but it’s never really looked like he should be pitching that well. Last year was a rough one, but he’s recovered this year depending on the metric you use. He’s pitched to a 3.38 ERA over his first five starts despite striking out fewer than five batters per nine innings. However, even with the low strikeout rate his FIP is 3.39 thanks to a low walk rate (2.5 per nine) and allowing just one home run so far. DRA, Baseball Prospectus’ all-encompassing metric, however, has Hammel was well below-average. The Red Sox faced Hammel twice in 2017 and he finished with a 3.21 ERA with 10 strikeouts and no walks in 14 innings and throws low-to-mid-90s four- and two-seam fastballs to go with a heavily-used slider.
5/1: Chris Sale vs. Jakob Junis, 7:10 PM ET
The Red Sox ace is coming off his worst outing of the year, though it really wasn’t that bad of a night as he still got through six innings and allowed only three runs. If that’s as bad as it gets, we’ll surely take it. More concerning than the results, though, were that he couldn’t really miss bats like we’ve gotten used to. He only struck out four Blue Jays in that outing, and they were able to fight off pitch after pitch, which was sort of jarring to see. It would be nice to see him come back with one of those 13 strikeouts in seven innings types of outings. Last season Sale allowed three runs over 8 1⁄3 innings in his lone start against the Royals last year while striking out ten batters with just one walk.
Junis, a former 29th round pick, made his major-league debut last season and was solid over 20 appearances, 16 of which were starts. He’s been more consistent early on this season as the righty has a 3.34 ERA over his first five starts. The 25-year-old isn’t a strikeout machine but his 25 strikeouts in 32 1⁄3 innings are solid enough, and he’s shown great control with only seven walks on the year. His real undoing has been the long ball as he’s allowed 1.6 homers per nine innings over his career and over two per nine to start this season. This will be Boston’s first time facing the righty, and Junis features low-90s four- and two-seam fastballs and a slider, a repertoire very similar to Hammel’s.
5/2: Drew Pomeranz vs. Danny Duffy, 1:10 PM ET
After Pomeranz’ first start back off the disabled list was inconsistent and a bit frustrating, it was easy to call it rust, particularly with Rodriguez having a similar first start and coming back strong from there. However, Pomeranz came back for his second start and was still consistent sitting in the high-80s with his fastball which helped lead to three home runs against the Rays. The sequencing prevented it from being a true blow-up start, but after two straight outings like this it’s hard to not be at least a little concerned. His velocity will be key to watch right out of the gate in this start. Pomeranz did not face the Royals in 2017.
Duffy probably has the most talent and upside of all the Royals starters, but he’s had a rough start to his 2018. Through his first six starts he’s pitched to a 5.40 ERA, though that is largely the result of two bad outings than consistently rough starts. When he’s at his best the lefty can miss bats while also keeping his walks in check, and given Boston’s struggles against southpaws to start this year this could be a day for him to get on track. The Red Sox did not see Duffy in 2017 and he throws low-to-mid-90s four- and two-seam fastballs to go with a slider and a changeup.
Blaine Boyer was a shockingly solid member of the Red Sox bullpen last season for a large part of the season, and it earned him a surprising major-league contract with Kansas City. He’s struggled to start this year, largely due to an inability to find the strike zone.
I have to mention Clay Buchholz despite him not being in the majors. The former Red Sox starter signed a minor-league deal with Kansas City and has looked good in three minor-league starts this year.
Notable Position Players
Mike Moustakas was surprisingly not in demand around this league this winter, and after signing a cheap contract he’s looking to make teams regret it early on. He’s not walking much, but he never does. What is he doing is making a ton of contact and hitting for a ton of power while playing a solid third base.
Salvador Perez is still the face of this Royals team, though he’s missed some time with injury this year. Still, he’s a steady presence behind the place and while he also doesn’t walk much he will provide more offense than your typical catcher.
Whit Merrifield has surprisingly turned into one of the more solid second basemen in baseball with good plate discipline, solid power and positive baserunning. He’s going to be a key at the top of the lineup in this series.
Lucas Duda was another cheap signing for Kansas City this winter and looked at as a potential Red Sox target, but he’s been awful to start the season as he’s been unable to hit for any power early on.
Jorge Soler is a former top prospect and was the return to Kansas City in the Wade Davis trade with the Cubs, and he’s off to a hot start. A lot of his start has been due to luck, but his strikeout rate is down to an acceptable level and he’s drawing a ton of walks, so there is clearly real talent here even as he hasn’t shown off the consistent power he could possess.
Alex Gordon just isn’t the player he once was and is really a glove-first corner outfielder at this point.
Jon Jay doesn’t really have any power but he will draw walks and put the ball in play fairly often.
Alcides Escobar is a defense-first shortstop who has consistently been one of the worst offensive players to have an everyday job over the last few years.
Kelvin Herrera is the last Royals reliever back from their super ‘pen a few years ago, and the upcoming free agent is a likely trade candidate later in the year. In the meantime, the righty is still a solid closer and he’s off to a tremendous start this year with 11 strikeouts and no walks over his first 9 2⁄3 innings of 2018.
The bullpen behind Herrera is rough and there really isn’t a clear hierarchy in the late innings beyond their closer. They have Rule 5 picks in Brad Kelly and Burch Smith from the right side and Tim Hill from the left side who are the most likely to appear in late innings, but they don’t really have good options.
Jorge Bonifacio is an exciting young outfielder but he’s currently out for 80 games after testing positive for PED’s.
Nate Karns is another pitcher coming back from TOS surgery (like Tyler Thornburg) and the starter could be ready for rehab outings soon.
Jesse Hahn was diagnosed with a strained UCL this spring but is trying to avoid Tommy John surgery with a rehab method.
Adalberto Mondesi has been out with a shoulder injury since the spring but he should be ready to get back in games soon and should challenge Escobar for the starting shortstop gig.
Justin Grimm is out with a back injury, but it could be a phantom injury to give him a break after a truly awful start to the year.
These two teams should be able to get all of their games in for this series, and things should get better as time goes on. The first game is going to be on the colder side with plenty of clouds in the sky. The second game should also see some clouds, though with some warmer weather. Wednesday is going to be a great afternoon with clear skies and potential 80-degree weather!