The bottom of the rotation is rarely a sure thing headed into Spring Training, but things were different for the Royals this season. In 2018, Kansas City entered the season with Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy as starters. That was pretty much it.
Jakob Junis seized a starting spot, along with Brad Keller, but those things were far from established in Spring Training. Just three seasons later, Kansas City entered Spring Training with depth at starting pitcher. Brad Keller had established himself as Rad Keller. Danny Duffy was still kicking around. Brady Singer represented the future. Mike Minor represented a front office willing to spend money.
Four spots taken. One spot left. But really, it was Kris Bubic’s spot to lose. Like Singer, he represented the future and in 2020 was also pretty good, specifically in September. And many of us (including me) were ready to see Junis in the bullpen. But then they optioned Bubic, in part to fix some Spring Training kinks, but also because they didn’t need a 5th starter yet.
When manager Mike Matheny needed a spot start last week to give Keller an extra day of rest, Junis was the natural fit. And all he did was turn in one of his best Major League performances, holding Cleveland scoreless in 5.0 IP, striking out six and giving up just a single hit. He also needed just 58 pitches to do it.
And now, he’s right back in the fight for that last spot in the rotation. Tonight, he’ll get his second audition against a young but meddling Toronto Blue Jays squad. Toronto is this season what the Royals hope to be soon – a team infused with young starts that isn’t quite ready to compete for championships but might just be ready to compete for postseason spots.
And while they aren’t hitting particularly well, they will certainly be a strong challenge to Junis than Cleveland was, who have scored fewer runs than any team in the American League. If anything, two of their franchise guys – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette – are absolutely smashing everything in sight.
Kansas City enters the four-game set having yet to lose a series, but are still looking for answers offensively. Aside from Salvador Perez, who may be hotter than Vlad and Bichette combined, and the middle of the Royals lineup has been lacking.
And while Kansas City has yet to lose a series, they are also yet to have a winning streak. That could change today. Here are your lineups for tonight’s action at Kauffman Stadium.
Looking to make it three straight.#TogetherRoyal pic.twitter.com/JqwGL33rj5— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) April 15, 2021
Tonight, we are all Number 42. #WeAreBlueJays pic.twitter.com/sYqBJHDzDT— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 15, 2021