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Red Sox vs. Royals Series Preview

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A look at the four-game set this week at Fenway.

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Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Royals Review

The opponent in one sentence

The Royals are not really in the bottom tier of baseball at this point as they try to come out the other side of their rebuild, but there is still some work to do to get back into true contention.

Record

34-44

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 1, Royals 2

Trend

Down. The Royals took two of three from the Red Sox just a couple of weeks ago, but things have been disastrous since then. After taking the first game against the Yankees immediately following their series with Boston, Kansas City has not won a game since. In all, they’ve dropped five in a row, including a sweep in Texas over the weekend, and going back even further they’ve lost 12 of 15, with two of those three wins coming against the Red Sox.

Pitching Matchups

6/28: Garrett Richards vs. Danny Duffy, 7:10 PM ET

Things are good for Boston right now, but that doesn’t mean they are without questions. There are still a few things that need to be figured out, and Richards is high up on that list. The righty has made it pretty clear that he is being affected by the league’s crackdown on pitchers using sticky stuff, and the performance is backing that up in a very real way. He’s no longer confident in his breaking balls, making him rely too heavily on the fastball and leading to bad results. Richards has a 9.82 ERA over his last three outings, striking out six while walking seven over 11 innings of work. He needs to prove he can still pitch, because it’s a fair question right now and if there’s another blow-up outing on Tuesday it may be time to reevaluate his spot in the rotation.

It’s been a little buried with Kansas City not really playing all that well of late and Duffy missing some time in June, but the lefty has been very good when he’s been able to pitch this season. In this month, he’s only made two appearances totaling three innings, but on the season he’s pitched to a 1.81 ERA over 44 23 innings. There has seemingly been some luck involved as he’s allowed only two home runs despite that typically being a big issue for him over his career. On the other hand, the stuff has been very good and he’s keeping his walks in check. Look for the Red Sox to try and get balls up in the air against Duffy, and hopefully they’ll carry in this summer air. The southpaw will throw a fastball that’s been getting up into the mid-90s this season along with a slider, a changeup, and a two-seam.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

6/29: Nick Pivetta vs. Brad Keller, 7:10 PM ET

There was some fear with the sticky stuff conversation showed up that Pivetta could be coming back down to Earth as well, but while he still hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like he’s certainly not in the same category as Richards. In fact, the righty had one of his best starts of the season his last time out, and against the Rays at that. Pivetta actually had a no-hitter going his last time out before being removed from the game, striking out eight and walking two over 6 23 innings. He doesn’t need to allow literally no hits, but that is the kind of performance the Red Sox need, with Pivetta having a feel for all of his pitches and not being afraid to attack the zone with those offerings.

Coming into this season, Keller appeared to be a big part of the future Royals rotation. He didn’t have to be an ace as Kansas City has a handful of pitching prospects coming up soon, but he looked like at least a solid rotation member. This season has been a big step back, though. He’s never had much swing and miss to his game, but now he’s combining the lack of stuff with less control than before as well as a spike in home runs. The Red Sox got to Keller the last time they faced, too, scoring five runs over five innings of work. He’s been easy to hit all year — he leads the league in hits allowed — and Boston’s bats should be looking for mistakes to pounce on in this matchup. Keller will throw two kinds of fastballs along with a slider, with all three coming at a nearly equal rate.

6/30: Martín Pérez vs. Mike Minor, 7:10 PM ET

This has been a truly fascinating season for Pérez, who has been a little bit of everything to this point in the year. He was fine to start, then hit a stride where he was legitimately the best pitcher in the rotation, before hitting a wall earlier this month with two straight horrendous outings. He answered back with a good one two starts ago before falling victim to poor defense his last time out. The errors behind him led to a trio of unearned runs, and with the Yankees rolling out an all-righty lineup Alex Cora wisely went away from Pérez in the fourth inning. All in all, it does seem as though the lefty is recovering from that brutal two-start swing earlier this month, even if he’s not quite at the high he was towards the end of May. Pérez did face the Royals a couple of weeks ago, allowing just one run over five innings of work.

Just a couple of seasons ago, it appeared Minor was resurrecting his career with the Rangers, heading back to the rotation after a season in the Royals bullpen and putting up two straight solid seasons in Texas. He signed back with Kansas City this year for a rotation job, but things haven’t gone nearly as smoothly. The southpaw has been wildly inconsistent this season, mixing in good and bad starts seemingly every other time out. For example, two starts ago he looked very good against the Red Sox, allowing just a pair of runs over 6 23 innings. Last time out, he allowed nine runs over five innings. Boston will look to make it two bad starts in a row, and they should be looking to just put balls in play against him and make things happen. Minor will feature a low-90s fastball along with a changeup, a slider, and a curveball.

7/1: Nathan Eovaldi vs. TBD, 1:10 PM ET

Eovaldi is very clearly the staff ace as we exit the month of June and head into July. The two things that mark the performance of an ace are consistent outings and stepping up when the team clearly needs it. Eovaldi has done both of those things of late amid some struggles elsewhere in the rotation. While the righty hasn’t been perfect all year, he’s pitching to a 2.55 ERA over his last five starts with 33 strikeouts to just six walks. He does still get into some trouble with the long ball here and there, but his control is good enough that he’s not putting on free runners in front of the homers. Kansas City did get to him earlier in June, however, scoring four runs (three earned) over only four innings of work.

The Royals have not yet announced a starter for this series finale, and it’s hard to get a firm grasp on what they’re thinking, so I’m not going to try.

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Old Friends

Andrew Benintendi would have been making his first return to Fenway this week, but unfortunately he is still on the shelf and likely won’t be in Boston for this four-game set.

Notable Position Players

Salvador Perez is the face of this Royals team and will likely be the All-star starter behind the plate for the American League. After missing 2019, he came back with a big 2020 and has carried that success over to 2021 with a 119 wRC+. He’ll swing at everything, but he makes a ton of good contact.

Whit Merrifield is a bit of a pest atop this lineup. Although he’s not much of a power threat, he’ll put nearly everything into play and he does a great job of converting those balls in play into hits.

Carlos Santana is a walk machine. He doesn’t combine the same power with that patience that he did in his prime, but he’s walking more often than he’s striking out this year and that’s been enough to put him above average at the plate.

Ryan O’Hearn has missed some time this year, and while he’s hitting for solid power it’s not enough to make up for the strikeouts and lack of walks.

Jorge Soler has historically been a big power hitter, but the pop just hasn’t been there this year, resulting in one of the worst lines from an everyday player in the game.

Hunter Dozier has actually been even worse than Soler, though a lot of that is due to a low BABIP. If that normalizes, he’d be more bad than terrible.

Kelvin Gutierrez makes a decent amount of contact for today’s era of baseball, but he also doesn’t draw walks and has been making far too much weak contact.

Michael A. Taylor will flash good defense out in center field, but he doesn’t provide a whole lot at the plate.

Nicky Lopez it’s a throwback kind of player, making a lot of contact, drawing some walks, and not really hitting for any power whatsoever.

Bullpen Snapshot

Greg Holland has been getting some chances as the Royals closer again, flashing things back to their World Series days, but he’s struggled to look like his old self. The stuff is fine, but not good enough to make up for his deficiencies in command.

Scott Barlow has been much better in the late innings, working around some control issues with big-time stuff that is tough to make contact, and even tougher to square up when you do.

Kyle Zimmer isn’t your prototypical late-inning arm, leaning more on ground balls and low-impact contact than strikeouts.

Injuries

Benintendi, as mentioned, is still on the shelf. He went down with a fractured rib in the middle of this month, and his timeline to return is still not clear.

Adalberto Mondesi beat up on the Red Sox the last time these two faced, but apparently suffered an oblique injury at the end of that series, and it’s not clear how long he’ll be out.

Cam Callagher hurt his shoulder last weekend, putting him on the injured list after serving as Perez’s backup behind the plate.

Jesse Hahn hurt his shoulder early in the season, then suffered a setback in his rehab. He’s still trying to work his way back out for another rehab appearance.

Daniel Tillo underwent Tommy John surgery late last summer and is expected to miss this entire season.

Ronald Bolaños went down with a flexor strain injury in the middle of June and was quickly placed on the 60-day injured list.

Weather Forecast

It’s going to be a muggy week at Fenway, with temperatures in the 90s along with humidity. The only game that could have some question to be played as scheduled, however, is on Thursday. There are thunderstorms in the forecast for the evening, but with it being a day game they may be able to get the game in before weather comes into play.


A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.