SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
After a surprisingly solid start to the season, the Kansas City Royals have fallen back toward the middle of the pack in the American League Central.
This is the first series between the Red Sox and Royals this season. The Red Sox went 5-1 against the Royals in 2019 but did not play them in 2020.
Down. The Royals have have lost 11 of their last 12 games and gone 4-11 in June and that’s after a pretty miserable May, when they went 11-17.
6/18: Nick Pivetta vs. Jackson Kowar, 8:10 p.m. EST
Nick Pivetta caught a case of the home run bug in his last start. After doing a solid job of keeping the ball in the yard for his first 12 starts (five home runs in 64 1⁄3 innings), Pivetta allowed four long balls across five innings (including three in the span of four batters in the fifth inning) in a 7-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on June 12. Pivetta’s usual weakness has been with free passes, as he has a walk rate of 11.2 percent, but he has usually avoided too much trouble with decent strikeout stuff.
A top 10 prospect in the Royals’ system, according to FanGraphs, Kowar is a 24-year-old right-hander who has pitched a total of two MLB innings, all of them coming this year. Despite the low inning total, this will actually be his third start of the campaign, but the others went terribly, as he has allowed a total of eight earned runs on eight hits and five walks overall this season. Kowar features a fastball that sits at about 96 miles per hour as well as a curveball and a changeup.
6/19: Martín Pérez vs. Kris Bubic, 4:10 p.m. EST
For a minute, it looked like Martín Pérez had a claim to the title of best Red Sox starter in 2021, but back-to-back duds on the mound have derailed such discussions. After getting lit up for six earned runs over two innings against the Houston Astros on on June 8, Pérez couldn’t record more than four outs before exiting against the Blue Jays last time out, allowing five earned runs and three home runs before handing the ball to Alex Cora. Pérez’s ERA has ballooned to 4.52 thanks to those two starts and his expected ERA looks even worse (5.37). Hopefully he can rekindle the magic he displayed earlier this month when he twirled 7 2⁄3 shutout innings against the Astros on June 3.
Like Kowar, Kris Bubic is another young starter hoping to establish himself as a fixture for the Royals’ rotation in the long term. However, unlike Kowar, Bubic has a bit more experience under his belt at the MLB level. The 23-year-old southpaw logged 50 innings across 10 starts in 2020 and has accumulated 42 2⁄3 innings across 10 games this year, including six starts. Despite that extra experience, Bubic, who throws a fastball, a curveball and a changeup, still has some work to do, as he has been worth -0.3 fWAR this season despite an acceptable 4.01 ERA. His last two outings have really soured things, as he surrendered a combined 11 earn runs over 8 2⁄3 total innings against the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland A’s.
6/20: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Brad Keller, 2:10 p.m. EST
Nathan Eovaldi will close out the series for the Red Sox. He’ll be out to build on Monday’s impressive start against Toronto, when he shut out the Blue Jays over the course of 6 2⁄3 innings. In that contest, he logged his 11th start without giving up a home run this season, pushing his MLB-leading mark in home runs allowed per nine innings down to 0.34. Avoiding the long ball is a rarity in the current game, but Eovaldi has made it a habit, helping to support his stellar mark in FIP (2.62).
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Royals will trot out another one of their young starters on Sunday, as Brad Keller takes the mound for his 15th start of the campaign. Despite already being in his fourth MLB season, Keller is just 25 years old. However, youth has not served him well this season, as the right-hander enters the weekend with a 6.14 ERA, while ranking in the the bottom 10th percentile in MLB in a number of categories, including xwOBA, xERA and xSLG. Keller has relied most heavily on his sinker this season, but he also features a fastball, a slider and a changeup.
This would have been the first time the Red Sox faced Andrew Benintendi in a Royals jersey since they traded him to Kansas City this past offseason, but Benintendi is currently on the 10-day injured list with a fractured rib. The rest of the MLB roster doesn’t feature any former Red Sox contributors, although the Royals do have former members of the organization like Mike Shawaryn and Gabe Speier in their minor league system.
Notable Position Players
Salvador Perez is still one of the best hitting catchers in baseball and is currently the frontrunner to represent the AL in the All-Star Game.
First baseman/DH Carlos Santana was put on this planet to draw walks. He has a 15.4 percent walk rate this season and an on-base percentage of .365, helping to boost his wRC+ to 115 despite a .244 batting average.
Jorge Soler has struggled this season, but the right fielder/DH is still only two years removed from a 48-home run season.
Whit Merrifield provides speed on the base paths and solid defense at second base (and the outfield from time to time), but his usually solid batting average has taken a slight dip this season, although he has still displayed pretty good plate discipline.
Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi is a burner when he gets on base, stealing 99 bases over the previous three seasons. Mondesi has only played in eight games this season, so his current wRC+ (197) is more a symptom of small sample fun than a dramatic improvement at the plate.
As a former first round pick, Hunter Dozier is a recognizable name on the roster due to his prospect pedigree, but those days are long in the past, especially as the 29-year-old has a 53 wRC+ this season.
Michael A. Taylor’s first season in Kansas City has gone similarly to his last few with the Washington Nationals, as the outfielder has a 74 wRC+ right now after posting marks in the 70s in each of the last three seasons.
Jarrod Dyson returned to the Royals this season to try to rekindle the glory days of 2014 and 2015. So far, the 36-year-old outfielder has been a nice surprise, slashing .280/.345/.400 while remaining a good baserunner.
Flamethrower Josh Staumont is the nominal closer for the Royals and he has the stuff to back it up, boasting 91st percentile fastball velocity and an 82nd percentile curveball spin rate.
Meanwhile, right-hander Scott Barlow (1.85 ERA, 34 innings) and left-hander Jake Brentz (1.99 ERA, 31 2⁄3 innings) have eaten up innings and performed nicely.
The Royals also feature right-handers Greg Holland (4.32 ERA, 25 innings) and Kyle Zimmer (2.19 ERA, 24 2⁄3 innings) fairly frequently.
As I mentioned, Benintendi is currently on the shelf as is left-handed starting pitcher Danny Duffy, who was in the midst of a very solid campaign before he went on the 10-day injured list in May with a strained forearm flexor. Three other pitchers (Daniel Tillo, Ronald Bolaños and Jesse Hahn) are also out with injuries.
This should be a pretty good weekend for baseball, albeit a hot one. Current forecasts call for dry skies with varying cloud cover in Kansas City all weekend, with temperature highs potentially reaching triple digits and lows sitting in the 70s.
A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly its Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant and Baseball-Reference for research.