5/10-5/12 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

Mailbag: Cliff Lee, Nick Hundley, Rob Refsnyder
RAB Live Chat
(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Kauffman Stadium hasn’t been very kind to the Yankees over the last 12 months or so. Mariano Rivera suffered his season-ending knee injury in Kansas City last May, then Robinson Cano was booed basically off the field during the Homerun Derby in July. New York is 6-5 at Kauffman Stadium over the last three years.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Royals made some significant moves this past winter, and so far they are paying some very real dividends. Kansas City is 18-13 with a +18 run differential, landing them right behind the Tigers in the AL Central standings. They won last night to halt a three-game losing streak, and they’re just 5-5 in their last ten games.

Offense
At 4.3 runs per game with a team 93 wRC+, the Royals are above-average in terms of runs per game but below average in terms of results at the plate. That means they’ve either been good or lucky (or both) with their timing and sequencing. Manager Ned Yost’s team is perfectly healthy, at least on the position player side.

The Yankees have no chance if the Royals have a ninja in their lineup. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
The Yankees have no chance if the Royals have a ninja in their lineup. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

LF Alex Gordon (134 wRC+) has batted leadoff every game this year except for one, yesterday’s win over the Orioles. He batted third in that game, and I don’t know if that will be a regular thing going forward. Either way, he is their best hitter and all-around player. DH Billy Butler (109 wRC+) provides plenty of support, as has the surprisingly productive CF Lorenzo Cain (125 wRC+). 1B Eric Hosmer (95 wRC+) and 3B Mike Moustakas (81 wRC+) continue to be various levels of disappointing.

C Salvador Perez (81 wRC+) is off to a slow start, ditto SS Alcides Escobar (80 wRC+) and RF Jeff Francoeur (61 wRC+). 2B Chris Getz (42 wRC+) gets most of the playing time at second, though IF Miguel Tejada (128 wRC+ in limited time) and IF Elliott Johnson (91 wRC+) will see time at the position as well. The backup catcher is C George Kottaras (153 wRC+ in limited time), the backup outfielder OF Jarrod Dyson (84 wRC+). The Royals have hit the second fewest homers (22) but stolen the sixth most bases (24) in baseball this year, so they’re a speed team.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Wade Davis
The Yankees are going to face three pitchers they are pretty familiar with this series. Davis, 27, spent the last four years with the division rival Rays, but he was sent to Kansas City in this winter’s blockbuster trade. They moved him back to the rotation, and he’s pitching almost exactly like he did as a starter from 2010-2011 (4.75 ERA and 4.43 FIP) rather than as a reliever last year. The peripheral stats — 7.42 K/9 (17.9 K%), 3.86 BB/9 (9.3 BB%), and 39.8% grounders — are solid but not spectacular. Davis is a different animal as a starter, sitting in the upper-80s/low-90s with his three fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter) rather than the mid-90s he averaged out of the bullpen. A mid-80s changeup and low-80s curveballs are his top offspeed offerings. The Yankees have seen Davis a few times over the years, and for the most part they’ve handled him well when he’s been in the rotation.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Saturday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Jamie Shields
After spending parts of seven years in Tampa Bay, the 31-year-old Shields took his workhorse act to the Royals in an offseason trade. He’s pitched very well so far (2.52 ERA and 2.62 FIP), with excellent strikeout (8.64 K/9 and 24.9 K%), walk (2.16 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%), and ground ball (47.3%) numbers. Shields remains a master at pitching backwards, using a low-80s curveball and upper-70s slider to set up three upper-80s/low-90s fastballs: two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter. His put away pitch is that all-world changeup, which sits in the mid-80s and both drops off the table and fades away from lefties. The Yankees and Shields have plenty of history, so there are no surprises here. It’ll be just like old times.

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Ervin Santana
Santana, 30, went from leading the league in homers in 2012 to pitching like an ace in 2013. He owns a 2.36 ERA (3.06 FIP) with career-best walk (1.29 BB/9 and 3.6 BB%) and ground ball (44.8%) rates. His strikeout (7.50 K/9 and 20.8 K%) rate is his best in about five years as well. Santana hasn’t changed his pitch selection or added velocity, so he still sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer while relying on a low-80s slider much more than a mid-80s changeup. He has made some minor adjustments to his delivery though, which has supposedly boosted his command. We’ll get a look at it this weekend. Santana and the Yankees certainly know each other from those Yankees-Angels battles, so again, no surprise here.

You're killin' me, Kelvin. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
You’re killin’ me, Kelvin. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The bullpen was expected to be the strength of Yost’s club, and sure enough they rank fifth in the game with a 3.33 reliever ERA (3.68 FIP). Closer RHP Greg Holland (1.57 FIP) has been awesome despite one or two rather spectacular meltdowns. Setup man RHP Kelvin Herrera (6.31 FIP) is killing my fantasy team by giving up homers left and right, so RHP Luke Hochevar (2.66 FIP) has been seeing some eight inning time.

Kansas City has two southpaws in specialist LHP Tim Collins (2.08 FIP) and multi-inning guy LHP Bruce Chen (1.61 FIP). Given how much the Yankees struggle against southpaws, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chen comes in and dominates for three or four innings at some point this series. RHP Aaron Crow (3.84 FIP) and RHP J.C. Gutierrez (4.48 FIP) fill the final two bullpen spots. The common theme here is power — outside of Chen, all of these guys live in the mid-to-high-90s with their fastballs. They all should be fresh for today, they haven’t work much recently.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are in a bit of a bullpen bind. Joe Girardi acknowledged yesterday that Mariano Rivera and David Robertson and both unlikely to be available today after throwing back-to-back days, and I assume the same is true for Preston Claiborne. That leaves Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan for the late innings tonight. Yikes. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage details. As for a Royals blog worth your time, check out Royals Review.

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Mailbag: Cliff Lee, Nick Hundley, Rob Refsnyder
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  • trr

    The 1st place Yankees (!!!) against the Royals.
    The Royals are no longer and a pushover, and yes, we may be playing a little over our heads, but I see no reason why we can’t win 2/3.
    Let’s do it!

  • MannyGeee

    Saving grace is that there are no LHP this weekend, so its the return of Pronk to the lineup! That said, an unnamed source informed me that they have been trying to give Santana the flu and Chen would get the start.

  • Arnav

    I really hope that Robbie gives it back to the KC fans for what they did to him last year.

  • gc

    Fuck the Royals, their stadium, and their fans. I want the Yanks to CRUSH THEM!!!

    • trr

      tell us how u really feel, gc!

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Haven’t paid much attention to them, but the Royals really do seem to be a much improved team., I always have crazy respect for Shields, and this feels like the best pitching we’ve seen from them in a while. Like always, it seems to be about whether their young core truly takes them to that next level before the big names they acquired find greener pastures.

    No matter what the names on the lineup are lately, though, I believe in my team. Yanks take 2 of 3.

  • JLC 776

    KC has always had an unnatural hatred for the Yankees and their budget. That said, let’s use it to crush them.

  • LarryM Fl

    I agree. We need and should take 2 of 3. My plan bust out the bats. Hit the PP out of the ball score 2 runs per game. Hold the Royals to 1 run per game for two games then we win two. Why does Girardi have such a tough with this lineup. Joe just KISS.

    All kidding aside the team is playing pretty good but a few extra hits and runs would be appreciated by our over achieving pitching staff.

  • Ed

    After reading about them putting Davis back in the rotation, and getting better than expected results out of Santana, I’m seeing them as a likely to be willing to let Joba start next year. With If they keep up their early hot start, and combined with their proximity to his home, I could see them being really attractive for Joba.

    • mt

      That’s a perfect place for him (also where does Joba’s son live – in Nebraska? If so, more reason to go midwest since he is very involved with his son). Also Santana is a free agent and if he keeps it up may be in for a good pay day for him that KC may not want to match.

      • MannyGeee

        Yup, I concur. Joba and the Royals are a complete match. On almost every count.

        • jjyank

          I will cry a little inside if I see him in that blasphemous shade of blue.

  • Pinkie Pie
    • Kristen Lee

      I think it was harassing his family at the bathroom that was the problem. I’ll boo all-day.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I was hoping that was a eyes-bulging George Brett, but it’s the other thing.

  • Eddard

    If they can take 2/3 in KC it will guarantee them a .500 road trip. I think they have a shot, although I could see all 3 of these games being low scoring affairs. KC really improved its pitching in the offseason, one of the best in baseball thus far. For our offense it really comes down to Cano, Wells and Hafner. Those 3 need to hit for us to have a chance.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      “EddardWorld’s KEYS TO THE GAME.”

  • gageagainstthemachine

    I hope KC signs Bo Jackson to a one-day contract sometime so that he can come back to the stadium, take a symbolic at-bat for a career that “could’ve and probably would’ve been” if not for a freak hip injury. But…instead of letting him take a gimme over the plate and crush it (I bet he still can), they arrange a blatant strikeout on 3 pitches well off the plate and then he gives the fans one more broken bat over his head as he steams off pissed. And then as an encore, George Brett, unbeknownst to the crowd, charges out of the dugout and argues with the umpire on the called strikes to Bo. That would be a great double re-enactment if I ever saw one.