After two games with the Red Sox, the Yankees close out their homestand with four games against the last-place Royals.
Their Story So Far
Kansas City is just four years removed from winning the World Series, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the roster. On the 25-man roster, only Alex Gordon remains. The Royals’ record, 6-12 coming into Thursday’s action, reflects the overhaul as the team goes into another rebuild.
Their offense has been right near league average with a 99 wRC+ while leading baseball with 20 stolen bases. Their pitching staff is more of a problem. The Royals’ 5.34 collective ERA is tied for 24th in all of baseball while the bullpen has a 6.37 ERA, third-worst in MLB.
Catcher Salvador Perez is out for the season with Tommy John surgery while pitchers Trevor Oaks and Jesse Hahn are on the 60-day IL with hip and elbow issues, respectively.
On the 10-day IL, starter Danny Duffy is working his way back from left shoulder tightness and is making a rehab start this weekend. Reliever Brian Flynn is out with left elbow soreness.
Players Spotlight: Alex Gordon and Whit Merrifield
If you’ve heard one thing about the Royals this season, it was likely about Merrifield surpassing 30 games with his hitting streak dating back to last season. However, there’s more to Whit than just hitting. He’s able to play all over the field. He hits for average, not too much power, and steals a lot of bases. He led the American League in steals each of the past two seasons. He’s everything you want in a leadoff hitter.
Meanwhile, Gordon has had a late-career resurgence starting with the last two months of 2018. He still struggles against same-sided pitchers, but he’s hitting .339 with a 1.008 OPS to begin the season, hitting three homers after just 22 over the last two seasons. In his final year under contract, Gordon would be valuable even if his bat was falling flat; Gordon is a wizard in the field, having won six Gold Gloves in left field, including the last two years.
- Whit Merrifield, 2B (.320/.350/.493, 123 wRC+)
- Adalberto Mondesi, SS (.254/.289/.507, 106 wRC+)
- Alex Gordon, LF (.339/.427/.581, 172 wRC+)
- Hunter Dozier, 3B (.298/.388/.596, 160 wRC+)
- Ryan O’Hearn, 1B (.163/.339/.306, 83 wRC+)
- Jorge Soler, RF (.221/.284/.471, 99 wRC+)
- Lucas Duda, DH (.200/.359/.433, 111 wRC+)
- Martin Maldonado, C (.174/.269/.239, 43 wRC+)
- Billy Hamilton, CF (.213/.283/.213, 39 wRC+)
The team has some positional flexibility with Dozier and Duda able to man first base and Merrifield able to play middle infield or all around the outfield. Chris Owings is a utility player while backup catcher Cam Gallagher and pinch runner/outfielder Terrance Gore man the bench.
Thursday (6:35 PM ET): RHP Domingo German vs. RHP Homer Bailey
Bailey seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s just 32 years old, having spent much of the last four seasons on the disabled list. From 2015-18, he started just 46 games for the Reds, going 9-27 with a 6.25 ERA in 231 2/3 innings.
The veteran righty has been able to avoid the IL this season, but the results haven’t changed. He brings a 5.29 ERA into this series with three home runs in 17 innings. His strikeout rate has been surprisingly prolific, fanning 21 in those 17 frames after just 75 strikeouts over 106 1/3 innings last season.
He still works with a 93 mph heater while going offspeed about half the time with his mid-80s splitter his key secondary offering. He’ll also mix in a slow curve and a hard slider.
Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner are 4-for-7 with a walk against Bailey. German has only faced Maldonado, who he struck out in 2017.
This matchup comes in with an unfortunate narrative already baked in: Junis is the pitcher who hit Aaron Judge in the wrist last summer and caused him to miss more than a month of games. The HBP didn’t appear intentional, yet Junis got death threats for injuring the Yankee slugger.
On the mound, he’s been a bit unlucky this season. The right-hander has pitched to a 3.55 FIP but has a 6.14 ERA. His strikeout rate has improved in each of his three MLB seasons — he’s at 24.5 percent through four starts — while his walk rate has hovered around six percent.
Junis faced the Yankees twice last season, beating them in Kansas City before getting pounded for seven runs in the Bronx. The big blow in the New York start was a grand slam by Didi Gregorius. Get well soon, Didi!
Fillmyer has been thrust into the Royals’ rotation with Duffy on the mend and will be making his third start of the season Saturday. He struggled against the upstart Mariners in his first appearance before settling down with an OK start (three runs, one walk, two Ks in five innings) against the White Sox.
The young right-hander works off a low-90s fastball and sinker with 20 percent sliders, 13 percent curves and 14 percent changeups. Statcast doesn’t rate him well as he’s allowed a bottom third percentile exit velocity (93.6 mph) in his eight innings and has a low strikeout and hard hit rate. Let’s see a larger sample before making definitive judgment.
Fillmyer is a local product. He is from Roebling, N.J. and attended Mercer County Community College, not too far from the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate Trenton Thunder.
Sunday (1:05 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Royals) vs. Jorge Lopez (Never faced Yankee batters)
Lopez is a product of the Royals’ rebuild, coming over in the Mike Moustakas trade in July. The 26-year-old starter actually debuted in the Majors for Milwaukee in 2015 but didn’t get an extended opportunity to start until after the traded.
Like seemingly everyone in baseball, he’s struck out more batters this season while being prone to the long ball. Extremely prone. He’s allowed six homers in 23 innings. The White Sox produced five of the those homers across his two starts against the Southsiders. Still, he produced a career-high 10 strikeouts in his last outing in Chicago.
Lopez has a fastball averaging 93 mph (down one mph from last season) and turns to that and his sinker about half of the time, filling in the gaps mostly with his low-80s curveball.
Though there are many, if you want to pinpoint one weakness on the roster, it’s the bullpen. Kansas City leads baseball in losses where the team held the lead, though the Yankees aren’t far behind. Their starters outside Brad Keller, who the Yankees miss, have been middling to bad and the bullpen hasn’t been much better.
Kansas City’s eight-man bullpen has a clear division with four veterans and four youngsters. Right-handers Wily Peralta and Brad Boxberger are relievers with late-inning bona fides while Ian Kennedy has transitioned from the rotation to the bullpen. Left-hander Jake Diekman can work as a matchup lefty or get RHBs out. Of those pitchers, Kennedy has had the best start to the season while Peralta and Boxberger have ERAs above 7.00.
On the young side, right-handers Glenn Sparkman and Jake Newberry have had poor starts in limited innings while second-year righty Scott Barlow has been a pleasant surprise with a 2.57 ERA over seven innings. Lefty Richard Lovelady debuted earlier this April and has a 16.20 ERA in 1 2/3 innings.
Keys for the weekend
Take Three of Four (or More)
The Royals have the second-worst record in the American League (Boston is worse) and they’ve played like it. The Yankees need to keep winning series, home or away, against inferior competition if they want to make up their early deficit to Tampa Bay.
Kansas City can run. Merrifield led baseball in stolen bases last season while Hamilton has 264 stolen bases over the last five seasons. Off the bench, Gore has been known for his pinch-running prowess. With pitchers like Adam Ottavino not known for holding runners, KC could feast this weekend.