The Cleveland baseball team comes to Kansas City with the chance to snuff out the World Champions' hopes for a repeat of the American League Central pennant win of 2015. As it stands heading into this three game series, the Kansas City Royals trail the Cleveland baseball team with a racist logo and mascot by a daunting eight games. The herculean task at hand? Face the unholy triumvirate of Cleveland's best three starting pitchers.
This is a trial by fire. Whether the Royals' uniforms are flame retardant has yet to be determined.
Game One - Monday, 7:15 PM CDT
While the 2016 version of Corey Kluber isn't quite the Klubot that won the Cy Young Award in 2014, this one is still really good. By nearly every defense independent metric, he has been Cleveland's best pitcher, but this year he has suffered both a home-run spike - who hasn't? - and has stranded far fewer runners (64.3 LOB%) than his career average (71.9%). As his career average is pretty close to what league average tends to be (somewhere in the 70-74% range), this isn't likely to be some scenario where Kluber loses his composure on the mound when a runner reaches. Against the Royals this season, he once stranded every runner he put aboard in six shutout innings that were mercifully cut short by a rain delay and once allowed eight of them to score. The Royals will have to hope that the Klubot who shows up tonight will be the malfunctioning one that pitched on June 15.
Game Two - Tuesday, 7:15 PM CDT
2016 has been Danny Salazar's coming out party. He's the fifth-best pitcher in baseball in terms of rWAR this season. His walks have limited his overall value somewhat, but it's not nearly as bad as he's been in the past. Having a vastly improved defense surely helps limit the damage done by the free passes, but he has been a top ten pitcher in terms of K%.
Who makes this start is anyone's guess. Dillon Gee? Chris Young? Brian Flynn? Alec Mills? Nick Tepesch? Eduardo Villacis?
Game Three - Wednesday, 1:15 PM CDT
Carlos Carrasco has outperformed his peripherals so far this season. As he has recovered from a hamstring injury, his velocity has been down, which may be a contributing factor in why his strikeouts are down. Of course with an improved infield defense behind him for the full year, the grounder-inducing power righty might be leaving things up to the men behind him. Regardless of the how and why, the damage has still been limited, though unsustainably so, as he has enjoyed an 86.9 LOB%.
Stats through Sunday, July 17
Imagine that there was a shortstop as good defensively as the Royals' broadcast crew would have one believe that Alcides Escobar is. Not quite Andrelton Simmons, but really damn good. Then imagine that that shortstop wasn't one of the worst hitters in baseball at drawing a walk. He could draw a walk at league-average rates. Then imagine that this fantastical player not only drew walks, but that he also could put up an ISO over .100. And not just over .100, but comfortably over .100. Like .149. Five home runs on a season? That's child's play for this guy. He's got 10 by the All-Star Break. That mythical player is Francisco Lindor, who is tied for eighth amongst position players in fWAR. By the defensive component of fWAR, he has been the second-most valuable defensive player in baseball behind Brandon Crawford, who is also very good but somehow seems less great defensively than the superb Lindor.
The rest of these guys are pretty good, too. Except for these catchers. They've been terrible this year.
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