The Royals, 32-33 on the season, have traveled a strange path to reach their current record. The team started the year 17-10, but then went 6-22 in their next 28 games. Kansas City has since snapped out of their slump, and own a 9-1 record over their last 10 games.
The Royals have dominated the Rays this season, as they are 4-0 against the former Devils and have outscored Tampa Bay by 21 runs. The Royals have already scored 17 runs this series, or as many runs as the team had scored in their previous five games combined.
Jeremy Guthrie will take the mound for the Royals today. The veteran starter looks impressive by traditional statistics, as he owns a 7-3 record with a 3.60 ERA. His peripheral statistics look less impressive, as he continues to survive despite an inability to miss bats.
Guthrie has only struck out 12.2% of batters faced this season, which is well below-average, while issuing walks to 7.8% of batters, which is right at league-average. That is hardly a recipe for success; his 4.89 xFIP and 4.98 suggest Guthrie will start to allow more runs per start moving forward.
The right-hander has survived this season by stranding 85.9% of the runners who reach base, which is 12.6% higher than his career LOB%. It's theoretically possible, but extremely unlikely that Guthrie continues to strand that many baserunners.
Guthrie has outpitched his career FIP by .57 runs and his career xFIP by .42 runs, so he is unlikely to completeky implode the remainder of the season. ZiPS projects Guthrie to finish the season with a 4.24 ERA, while Steamer projects a 4.27 ERA.
Alex Cobb will start for the Rays. Cobb is the latest starter that Tampa Bay has found on their pitching tree, as the 25-year-old owns a 2.95 ERA with a 2.95 xFIP and 3.06 SIERRA. The right-hander has fanned 22.6% of batters faced, while only issuing walks to 6.2%.
Cobb is a groundball pitcher, as he sports a 58% groundball percentage in 2013. His ability to force groundballs has helped mask some home-run problems for Cobb this season; he owns a 17.6% HR/FB ratio, but only allows 1.02 HR/9.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball wrote a scouting report on Cobb two years ago:
Cobb works with an 88-93 MPH fastball, a strong curveball, average slider, and a very good changeup with splitter-like action... Scouts project him as a number four starter, a guy who will eat innings and win if he has a decent team behind him, but if he fully maximizes his fastball command, he could exceed expectations.
So far this season, Cobb has definitely exceeded No. 4 starter expectations. The right-hander throws a lot of off-speed pitches, and has started to rely more on his curveball. But his changeup/splitter is his best pitch. Here's a .GIF of Cobb throwing the chageup, courtesy Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs:
Sullivan wrote an article about Cobb last week, so check it out if you want an even longer breakdown on the starter's success this season.
The Rays will send the better pitcher to the mound on Saturday, but the Royals enter as the hotter team. I don't know about the rest of you guys/gals, but I'm excited to watch today's game.