After a successful first weekend of the season that saw the Royals take two of three to start the year, they travel to Cleveland to take on the team soon to not be known as the Indians. While the team is largely familiar to the one the Royals have seen for the last few years, there is one noticeable difference and it’s the subtraction of Francisco Lindor as they traded their face of the franchise for two shortstops who are fine and two minor leaguers who are fine. But hey, at least they don’t have to pay the freight for a superstar, right? And to add to it, they included Carlos Carrasco in the deal, which means they’ve dealt Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, all in the last 20 months, which is crazy.
So what have they added? Well they have a center field platoon that we’re likely to see both halves of in this two-game series in Ben Gamel and Jordan Luplow and they seem to be trying to make Amed Rosario an outfielder, though that experience isn’t going too great. They did pick up Eddie Rosario as a free agent, so that helps their outfield offense a bit, which they absolutely needed. And they do get Emmanuel Clase back from suspension after he missed all of 2020. He was the biggest piece in the Kluber deal from Texas and can be absolutely nasty out of the bullpen. He and Karinchak can make them a really tough bullpen. The hope for them is that with Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac, the Indians pitching factory can keep them afloat along with Jose Ramirez hopefully not falling into the abyss that he saw for a year after steroid allegations hit and before he bounced back in a big way last season.
As always early in the year, all stats are from 2020 unless noted. And that will continue until I decide to list 2021 stats.
Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape
|Highest Returning fWAR||Salvador Perez, 1.9||Jose Ramirez, 3.4|
Indians Projected Lineup
|Jake Bauers (2019)||1B||423||.225||.312||.371||10.6%||27.2%||80||-0.3|
Indians Projected Bench
Indians Key Relievers
|Emmanuel Clase (2019)||21||23.1||2||3||22.3%||6.4%||2.31||3.42||0.4|
April 5 - Danny Duffy vs. Logan Allen, 3:10pm
The Royals will get their first look at Logan Allen, who was acquired in the deal that sent Bauer to Cincinnati in 2019. He had a really nice spring for the Indians, striking out 18 in 14 innings with just three walks, so they’re definitely excited to see if he can carry that over into the regular season. So far in the big leagues, he hasn’t shown much strikeout ability, but the innings have been pretty limited. The scouting report on Allen shows a low-90s four-seamer, an excellent curve, a slider and a changeup that can be very, very good when it’s on. The changeup is impressive from what I’ve seen and the spin rate on it is interesting in how low it is, which can be a good thing for a changeup. The key is going to be his fastball. In the big leagues, it’s been mashed. Last season, he allowed a .421 average and .684 slugging percentage. It was .349 and .605 in 2019. If he can’t get the fastball by big league hitters, he’ll never be able to get to the rest. The Royals have some bats that can handle lefties, so this might be a tough matchup for him.
Danny Duffy gets his first start of the year after Royals people absolutely raved about him in spring training. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a ton of data in Arizona with just one park showing Statcast data, but in the start he had there, I was encouraged early by Duffy’s velocity, but then discouraged when he simply couldn’t hold it into the game. I liked that he showed better command in spring, but giving up four home runs in 17.1 innings, Arizona air or not, is a bit concerning. He hasn’t been very good against the Indians or at Progressive Field, which isn’t ideal, but he’s actually handled many of the Indians well. A big key for him in this one will be Luplow, who has crushed him in limited at bats and will be in there as part of their center field platoon.
April 7 - Jakob Junis vs. Shane Bieber, 12:10pm
The Royals get the Indians ace and 2020 Cy Young Award winner in Shane Bieber. Man he was good last season. He started off his season throwing six shutout innings against the Royals and striking out a ridiculous 14. He then struck out nine over six innings in his second start against them in late August and ended up striking out double digits in eight of his 12 starts with a season low of eight strikeouts. Yes, that was his season low. He was great at the end of the year, but one slight ding to him was that he did walk 15 in his final six starts, spanning 36.2 innings. The 10.2 percent walk rate is a little elevated for what you want, but when you strike out that many (38.8 percent in that time), it likely doesn’t matter.
I know I’m writing a lot on Bieber, but he’s a really fun pitcher and also it’s just a two-game series, so there’s a little more time to write about fun pitchers here. I was surprised to see that he actually does get hit sort of hard when he gives up contact, but look at all that red in the chart above. It helps when you mix pitches the way he does. Last year, he threw four pitches at least 10 percent of the time and used his changeup just enough (and gave up a .063 average on it with a 53.7 percent whiff rate). Worth noting, his velocity was down to 92.2 MPH in his first start for the year, and got hit pretty hard. He still got swings and misses on it, but he gave up an average exit velocity of 99.3 on it and it accounted for both extra base hits allowed. If he comes out throwing 92, the Royals have a shot. If he’s mid-90s, their best bet is going to be to get his pitch count up.
I’m not sure the Royals were expecting to unleash Jakob Junis as a starter this early (though I did think he might be the fifth starter next week, so it’s not that early), but here is pitching the day Brad Keller was supposed to go. All the talk this spring was about the new cutter he’s added, and it’s hard to argue with the results. He was outstanding in the spring with just two hits allowed in seven innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He has three strikeouts in two innings to start the year, and he’s likely still fairly stretched out from spring to be able to give three or even four if he’s pitch efficient in this one. The Indians have hit him around a fair amount in the past, but with a revamped repertoire, maybe he can show off what he added and keep the Royals in the game before he hands it off to a bullpen that’s been very, very good.
The Indians are always a tough team to gauge because they can always pitch, so it won’t be quite the easy go for the Royals offense that we saw against the Rangers pitching staff. I do think they split the series, though, as the two teams are probably a lot closer than the Indians want to believe.
Who takes this series?
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