Last week I wrote that the Royals faced a bad team and needed to take advantage of their sojourn up north if they wanted to make hay of this season. They were promptly swept. Now its early, and its always a little difficult to win on the road against professionals (note: the Houston Astros are not a professional baseball team by any stretch), but if the Royals are going to contend they really need to dominate the Twins at home. The Royals took seven of nine contests from the Twins in 2013 from the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium, outscoring the Twins 42-20. They really need to match that win total in 2014 to be competitive.
If Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales were the big losers in the free agency market, one could argue that tonight's starting pitching matchup - Jason Vargas and Ricky Nolasco - were two of the big winners. Both are fairly cromulent pitchers who signed early when there was still a lot of demand, and were rewarded with handsome contracts many felt were overpays. The pair have combined in their careers for exactly zero All-Star appearances, zero Cy Young votes, zero sub-3.50 ERA seasons, and zero 16 win seasons, and yet received a total $85 million this past winter.
Nolasco has always been a pitcher whose ERA hasn't quite matched his FIP. He generally posts solid strikeout-to-walk ratios (3.47 in his career) although he's off to a lousy start in that category this year with nine walks and seven strikeouts in eighteen innings. He is, like Jason Vargas, considered an "inning-eater", although like Vargas, he has only topped 200 innings pitched twice. Pitchers don't eat innings like they used to. Thanks, Michelle Obama.
The Twins are off to a ridiciulous start in drawing walks this year, with 82 for the year, 14 more than any other team in the league. They drew eight walks in just the eighth inning of their game last night, as many walks as the Royals have drawn in their last four games combined. Brian Dozier has led the way with 13 free passes, giving him a 134 OPS+ despite just a .207 batting average. Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe have also reached double-digits in walks, with Josmil Pinto, Aaron Hicks, and Kurt Suzuki right behind them, all with more or as many walks than the Royals walk leader - Salvador Perez. I don't know if its an organizational philosophy (the club has finished top five in walks in three of the last five seasons) or random luck in an early year, but these once-buntastic Twins have gone Moneyball on us. Its like I don't even know who Ron Gardenhire is anymore.
RF Nori Aoki
2B Omar Infante
1B Eric Hosmer
C Salvador Perez
LF Alex Gordon
DH Billy Butler
CF Justin Maxwell
SS Alcides Escobar