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Texas Rangers Series Preview: No surprise here for Surprise foes

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The season starts with the Surprise bunkmates doing battle.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Texas Rangers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 season starts off on time and with fans in the stands. Okay, maybe not full capacity, but fans nonetheless, which is going to be so great to see. It’s a little bit odd for the season to begin with spring training partners facing off as they’re as familiar with each other as they are with any other team, but it’s nice to see someone other than the Chicago White Sox (although I guess the pandemic allowed for it to be the Indians last season). They’ve actually never faced the Rangers on Opening Day in spite of sharing a division with them until realignment in 1994.

The Rangers look a little different than last year and a fair amount different than when the Royals last saw them in early June of 2019. They’ve moved on from Elvis Andrus in favor of the excellent defense Isaiah Kiner-Falefa provides. They’ve made solid moves to pick up Nate Lowe to play first and David Dahl to play left. They don’t have Mike Minor (but the Royals do), Lance Lynn or Corey Kluber, but they do headline their rotation with noted Royals killer, Kyle Gibson. They also picked up Royals killer in training, Dane Dunning, when they dealt Lynn to the White Sox. It’s an interesting group. I’m not sure if they’re terrible or somewhere closer to just below average, but I do like what Chris Young (yes that Chris Young) has done since taking over.

As always when a new year starts, the stats you see below will be from last year until there’s enough to put up this year’s stats. When that will be is whenever I feel like it.

Royals vs. Rangers Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Rangers
Category Royals Rangers
Winning % .433 .367
Team wRC+ 91 76
Team xFIP 4.47 5.00
Run Differential -24 -88
Highest Returning fWAR Salvador Perez, 1.9 Joey Gallo, 1.0

Rangers Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Isiah Kiner-Falefa SS 228 .280 .329 .370 6.1% 14.0% 93 0.7
David Dahl LF 99 .183 .222 .247 4.0% 28.3% 10 -0.8
Joey Gallo RF 226 .181 .301 .378 12.8% 35.0% 86 1.0
Nick Solak 2B 233 .268 .326 .344 7.7% 18.0% 86 -0.2
Nate Lowe DH 76 .224 .316 .433 11.8% 36.8% 102 0.1
Ronald Guzman 1B 86 .244 .314 .436 8.1% 27.9% 104 0.2
Leody Taveras CF 134 .227 .308 .395 10.4% 32.1% 93 0.4
Jose Trevino C 83 .250 .280 .434 3.6% 18.1% 89 0.3
Brock Holt 3B 106 .211 .283 .274 8.5% 22.6% 53 0.0

Rangers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Jonah Heim C 41 .211 .268 .211 7.3% 7.3% 40 -0.1
Charlie Culberson INF/OF 7 .143 .143 .286 0.0% 57.1% 3 -0.1
Adolis Garcia OF 7 .000 .143 .000 14.3% 57.1% -49 -0.1
Eli White INF/OF 52 .188 .231 .229 5.8% 30.8% 24 -0.3

Rangers Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Matt Bush (2018) 21 23.0 0 0 17.6% 13.0% 4.70 5.25 -0.1
Ian Kennedy 15 14.0 0 2 21.7% 7.2% 9.00 5.36 -0.6
Taylor Hearn 14 17.1 0 0 30.3% 14.5% 3.63 50.60 0.1

Probable Pitchers

Thursday, April 1 - Kyle Gibson vs. Brad Keller, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kyle Gibson 12 67.1 2 6 19.3% 10.0% 5.35 4.36 0.1
Brad Keller 9 54.2 5 3 16.3% 7.9% 2.47 4.33 1.3

Well, well, well. It’s old Royals nemesis Kyle Gibson, who finally left the American League Central and just in time for the Royals to not face anyone outside of the Central divisions. He really seemed to figure something out in 2018 before struggling in 2019 and then saw his strikeout rate drop below 20 percent and his walk rate rise above 10 percent. Plus he gave up a lot of home runs. Just a pretty big disaster season all around in the first year of a three-year deal with Texas. He continues to rely heavily on a sinker, but it just doesn’t work last year with a whiff rate of just 11.4 percent and an average exit velocity of more than 90 MPH. It seems that he might want to rely more heavily on his changeup and slider than he has in the past as both those pitches were quality, so maybe he will shift a bit, but for a guy who has been doing it one way for a long time, it’s hard to say that he will. If you were wondering how he’s done against new Royals, Carlos Santana has hit .176/.333/.529 in 42 plate appearances and Andrew Benintendi has hit .167/.231/.167 in 13 plate appearances.

Brad Keller gets the Opening Day nod for the second time in the last three seasons, and he definitely earned it with his 2020 numbers. His first assignment ended up with seven shutout innings against the White Sox in 2019, which the Royals would gladly take in this one. While the Rangers are a bit of a different team now than they were the last time the Royals saw them, he’s pitched nine innings against them with just a walk allowed, so that’s a positive. He has a 2.91 ERA in 170 career innings at home, so that in combination with a bad opponent lends itself to some optimism for him in this one.

Saturday, April 3 - Kohei Arihara vs. Mike Minor, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kohei Arihara (Japan) 20 132.2 8 9 19.4% 5.5% 3.46 --- ---
Mike Minor 12 56.2 1 6 25.9% 8.4% 5.56 4.50 0.8

You probably don’t know a ton about Kohei Arihara, but he was an interesting, sort of sneaky signing by the Rangers this winter. He has two fastballs, a two-seamer and a four-seamer and both sit in the low-90s with some decent movement. He has a slider in the low-80s that gets some really impressive late break when it’s on, which he uses mostly against righties. He uses his splitter to get his strikeouts, though he hasn’t been a big swing and miss guy in Japan with Nippon Ham. While he uses the slider against righties, his cutter is his go-to against lefties. It sits in the upper-80s to low-90s. Then he has a changeup that, when good, is excellent. But it can get hit when it’s not exactly on point. In my opinion, if he can get the slider a little firmer, it could become a big swing and miss pitch, but it’s hard to say that’ll happen until we see it.

Mike Minor makes his first start for one former team against the team he left the Royals for when he was looking for a starting job that the Royals just weren’t offering. The first two years of his three-year deal with the Rangers were excellent. He even garnered Cy Young votes in 2019. But the wheels fell off last season as his velocity dropped. But a funny thing happened during his rough 2020. According to xFIP, he was basically the same pitcher. His SIERA in 2020 was actually better than in 2018 or 2019. In spring training, the velocity was a little closer to what we saw before 2020, so hopefully he can keep those peripheral improvements and actually get closer to 2018/2019 and give the Royals a big-time rotation block for the next two seasons.

Sunday, April 4 - Jordan Lyles vs. Brady Singer, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jordan Lyles 12 57.2 1 6 13.5% 8.6% 7.02 5.92 -0.2
Brady Singer 12 64.1 4 5 23.2% 8.7% 4.06 4.05 1.0

The Rangers picked up the Opening Day starter Gibson and Jordan Lyles before the 2020 season, along with Corey Kluber with the hopes of those three joining Lance Lynn and Mike Minor to form a very good rotation. Only Lyles and Gibson remain and the Royals get to see Lyles to wrap up the first series of the year. It’s been a very weird career for Lyles, who was bad for Houston before he was traded to Colorado and was somewhere between bad and below average. In 2018, he caught on with the Brewers and pitched well in relief before signing a deal with the Pirates for 2019 where he was again bad. Then he went back to Milwaukee and had a fantastic 11-start stretch that led to a two-year with Texas. He posted a 7.02 ERA last season, so he might be wishing he’d stayed with Milwaukee. What went wrong? Everything. He didn’t strike out enough. He walked too many. He gave up way too many hits. His four-seam fastball was the biggest culprit in 2020 with a .330 average and .651 slugging percentage allowed. His breaking pitches were actually pretty good, but if he can’t do anything with his fastball, it’ll be a long game and maybe a long season for him.

Brady Singer gets his first start in front of fans after a very successful rookie season that saw him post an ERA slightly above 4, but with a really good finish. He had a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings in his final four starts with 25 strikeouts and eight walks. He went through a rough stretch with eight homers allowed in 29.1 innings during one stretch during the year, but he didn’t give up a single home run in his last five starts. He also looked very good in Arizona and reports on his changeup were much better than they’ve been in the past. He’s going to need to throw more changeups throughout the season to make it through a longer season, but I’m interested to see him against a lineup that struggles with contact to see if he can’t get off to a good start to the season.

Prediction

The Rangers are not good at all. The Royals hope to be good, but may or may not be. I’m thinking a series win for the Royals with a shot at a sweep if the Royals can get to Arihara in game two.

Poll

Who takes this Royals vs. Rangers series?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Royals Sweep
    (31 votes)
  • 60%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (60 votes)
  • 8%
    Rangers Win Two of Three
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Rangers Sweep
    (1 vote)
100 votes total Vote Now