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Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians Begin Gigantic Four-Game Series With First Place At Stake

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KANSAS CITY, MO - Leadership. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - Leadership. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Royals lost on Opening Day. The Indians lost on Opening Day and the next day. since then, they've both been nearly unstoppable and the two presumed doormats sit atop the AL Central. Cleveland is 11-4, Kansas City is 10-5. Everyone else in the division is below .500, adding to the intrigue. Tonight, the Royals and Indians open a huge four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.

Cleveland has a one game edge, a lead that is justified in many of the macro stats. The Indians have an impressive run differential of 29 runs, while the Royals have been just 19 runs better than their opponents.

The offensive matchup:

The two teams have taken slightly different paths to the top, but through April 17th they've been two of the three most productive offenses in the American League. For all the talk about the Royals bullpen, Kansas City leads the AL in runs scored with 82. Cleveland is third, with 79.

BA OBP SLG wOBA
KC .275 .341 .408 .338
CLE .265 .330 .433 .338

 

The Royals have been better at getting on base (thanks to a higher batting average, mind you) but the Indians have hit for much more power. Overall, the results have been about the same. The Royals have scored slightly more runs, but their equal wOBA suggests they're more or less equals at the plate. Depending on what Grady Sizemore is capable of going forward, that might not remain the case.

With Melky Cabrera and Chris Getz returning to Earth/form, the Kansas City offense increasingly looks like Billy Butler and a bunch of guys. Butler has been incredible this season, posting a .441 wOBA in regular playing time. In much less work, Wilson Betemit is next on the team at .428, followed by Gordon at .405, Francoeur at .360 and... Treanor at .353. No one else has really been effective.

The pitching matchup:

 

Runs Allowed ERA SP tRA RP tRA
KC 63 3.70 4.75 4.30
CLE 50 3.16 3.91 3.59

 

As you can see, the Indians have simply been better than the Royals, through the laughably small sample of fifteen games. They've surrendered thirteen fewer runs and the advanced tRA stat suggests that has been an earned difference. Cleveland pitchers have struck out 101 batters thus far, against 90 strikeouts recorded by Royal pitchers. The Royals, however, have walked fewer batters, leading 41 to 44 in that category.

Here are your pitching matchups. I don't really see an edge one way or the other.

  • Mon: Carlos Carrasco v Kyle Davies
  • Tue: Jeanmar Gomez v Bruce Chen
  • Wed: Justin Masterson v Luke Hochevar
  • Thur: Josh Tomlin v Sean O`Sullivan

If you want to wade through that list of obscure over-achievers at this point and pick a favorite, feel free. The combination of a small sample this season and the general unknown quality of most involved makes it seem like folly to me.

Cleveland trailed the White Sox 15-0 at one point on Opening Day, so it's stunning to see that they now have a run differential of +29. The Indians have only played three one-run games and one extra inning affair (2-1 in one run games, 0-1 in extras) so they haven't even been winning many close games. The Royals, on the other hand, have played four extra inning games thus far and six one-run affairs. Thanks to a good start from the bullpen and some random heroics from folks like Chris Getz and Matt Treanor, the Royals have done well in those close games. Though one doesn't feel like that's necessarily going to last all season. The Royal bullpen certainly looks shakier than it did four days ago.

I don't know which team is really better in a true talent sense or who will have a better 2011. I am struck by just how shockingly good Cleveland has been during their hot streak. The Royals, on the other hand, won a bunch of weird games. Maybe Indians fans would feel the opposite.

So... no snark or satire from me for this one. This should be a fun series. First place in the AL Central is at stake.