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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: It’s been 168 days since the Royals beat them

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The next time the Royals come to Cleveland after this, they’ll face the Guardians. For now, they’ll try to beat the Indians for the first time since April.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

April 5 was a simpler time. The Royals offense looked like it might be a positive. Their young pitching was all promise and basically no fail. And the Royals beat the Indians 3-0 behind a good performance from Danny Duffy. Since then, the Indians have beaten the Royals 11 times in a row and done it in a number of different ways. They’ve blown them out, won close games and come back. But the common denominator is that they just keep winning. After a bit of a surge by the Indians, they’re 6-10 in their last 16, but they did blow out the Yankees two games in a row in games the Yankees very badly had to win, so there’s something there. But ultimately, the Indians are a mediocre team done in a bit by injuries, but mostly by poor roster construction.

For years, they’ve been led by their stars without much in the way of supporting cast offensively. With Francisco Lindor gone, that’s remained true but with fewer stars. Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes can get the job done, but outside of Myles Straw getting on base a lot and Bobby Bradley hitting some home runs, they don’t have much else. They do have some pop and some speed, but they don’t walk too much and they do strike out. They are literally hit or miss as they’ve been no-hit three times, but do occasionally have big games. On the pitching side, they’re still missing Shane Bieber, but Cal Quantrill has stepped up in a big way and looks like another in a long line of Indians starters who become better than expected. I think we say this every year, but if they can get some offense to support their stars, they have a chance to win a lot of games next year.

Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .450 .497
Team wRC+ 89 91
Team xFIP 4.54 4.26
Run Differential -99 -12
H2H Wins 1 11
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 4.2 Jose Ramirez, 5.8

Indians Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Myles Straw CF 576 .267 .348 .340 10.9% 20.0% 96 3.0
Bradley Zimmer RF 305 .231 .338 .342 9.8% 35.1% 91 1.0
Jose Ramirez 3B 575 .265 .357 .552 11.5% 13.4% 138 5.8
Franmil Reyes DH 422 .259 .329 .549 9.2% 32.0% 131 1.6
Bobby Bradley 1B 239 .220 .310 .455 9.6% 34.3% 104 0.3
Harold Ramirez LF 327 .269 .309 .403 4.3% 15.3% 91 0.3
Yu Chang 2B 215 .224 .256 .420 4.2% 27.0% 77 0.1
Roberto Perez C 139 .150 .255 .342 11.5% 33.8% 63 -0.2
Andres Gimenez SS 181 .204 .272 .315 6.1% 26.5% 60 0.1

Indians Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Austin Hedges C 283 .174 .217 .291 4.9% 29.3% 32 0.1
Ernie Clement INF/OF 125 .219 .270 .307 4.8% 14.4% 57 0.0
Owen Miller INF/OF 177 .193 .237 .301 5.1% 27.1% 43 -1.1
Oscar Mercado OF 197 .226 .305 .373 9.1% 16.8% 85 0.6

Indians Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Emmanuel Clase 65 63.2 3 5 26.3% 6.3% 1.41 2.64 2.0
Nick Wittgren 54 56.1 2 7 25.2% 5.7% 4.79 3.29 -0.3
Bryan Shaw 72 70.1 6 7 22.5% 11.7% 3.58 4.29 -0.1

Probable Starting Pitchers

Monday, Game One - Brady Singer vs. Triston McKenzie, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer 25 120.2 4 10 22.4% 9.2% 4.85 4.19 1.8
Triston McKenzie 22 109.1 5 6 28.9% 11.4% 4.28 4.32 1.8

The Royals have seen Triston McKenzie four times already this year, but only three starts. Either way, we’ve talked quite a bit about him this season, but you might recall that he started the season unable to control much. Through June 12, he walked 39 batters in 42.1 innings. It was clear that the stuff was good as he only allowed 28 hits, but it just wasn’t good enough and he was sent down. He walked a ton of batters in his minor league stint, but then was basically fixed when he came back. In 11 starts since his return, he’s walked more than one just once. He has 68 strikeouts and 11 walks in 67 innings and has allowed 38 hits in that time. That’s just ridiculous. He’s given up exactly one run in exactly six innings in all three of his September starts including one against the Royals. McKenzie is so slight, but so tall that you might think he’d throw harder than he does. He averages 92.1 MPH on his fastball and throws it 62 percent of the time. It hasn’t been a great pitch, but his slider and curve have been ridiculous. He’s allowed 14 hits in 140 at bats on those two pitches. The one area where he’s struggled is with runners on, so if the Royals can just reach base, which is no easy task, they might have a shot.

Brady Singer missed his last start after he ended up on the Covid-IL, but he’ll be back for this one. The rest might not be the worst thing for him. He followed up his best start of the year by giving up five home runs in less than five innings against the Twins. Home runs aren’t an issue for him normally as he only has allowed 14 total and had only allowed one since the start of July, but he still gave them up. He’s faced the Indians once this year. You might recall the game. It was the one where Angel Hernandez was behind the plate. It was just a bit over a year ago that he had a no-hit bid in Cleveland, so maybe he can find that stuff once again. But I have my doubts.

Monday, Game Two - Ervin Santana vs. Francisco Perez, After Game One

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Ervin Santana 35 61.1 2 2 18.8% 7.5% 4.70 4.76 0.1
Francisco Perez 2 3.1 0 0 5.9% 17.6% 8.10 8.45 0.0

These starters are not yet announced and may not be until right before game time, so I’m guessing here, but Francisco Perez hasn’t pitched in awhile and was a starter before this season and has pitched multiple innings in many outings this year. He seems like as good a bet as any. He’s a lefty who has just consistently gotten hitters out in the minors with tons of strikeouts that have actually increased at the upper levels. He’s not an especially hard thrower, averaging 92-93 on his fastball but can touch higher of course and has what appears to be a pretty good slider. There isn’t a ton of information on him because he has never been a top prospect in spite of the numbers, but he has a changeup that, from what I’ve seen, looks like it leaves a lot to be desired, so right-handed hitters in the big leagues shouldn’t have much of an issue with him.

I think Ervin Santana makes sense as the guy for the Royals in this one. I probably would have skipped Ronald Bolaños yesterday in Omaha and brought him up to make the start, but he also hasn’t looked great since coming back from the injury and in a seven-inning game, three or four innings is plenty for the starter to not completely destroy the bullpen. Santana has had a rough September, giving up six runs on 10 hits in 6.1 innings with five strikeouts and three walks, but he had a fantastic August, giving up just one run on seven hits in 15.1 innings. We know he’s going to throw some strikes and we know that in stints longer than an inning or two, he’s likely to lose some velocity and get hit hard at some point, but if he can get the game to the fifth, it’ll be a success.

Tuesday - Daniel Lynch vs. Cal Quantrill, 5:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Daniel Lynch 13 59.0 4 5 17.8% 9.7% 5.34 5.20 0.5
Cal Quantrill 38 137.0 6 3 19.5% 8.0% 2.89 4.46 1.6

The Indians picked up Cal Quantrill last season in that big trade with the Padres and he has been very good since moving into the rotation. He started the year in relief and pitched very well and then he was kind of up and down for a bit as he was building up his innings, but since the break, he’s 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 75.1 innings with just 51 hits allowed. There is some concern because he doesn’t strike out that many hitters, but it’s definitely enough with how difficult he has been to square up. He lives on his hard sinker that comes in at 94-95, but he’s backed off it a bit this year in favor of a slider that has been dominant. If you can get him to throw a four-seamer, that’s the bet bet to get something done as opponents have hit .279 with a .492 SLG on that pitch. He also has a changeup and an occasional curve. He’s been outstanding at home with a 2.27 ERA in 79.1 innings and while he doesn’t have a huge issue with facing a lineup a third time, the Indians don’t let him get much deeper than that. He’s only faced one batter a fourth time all year. He’s thrown eight innings against the Royals this year with just three strikeouts and two walks, but he’s also only allowed three runs.

Daniel Lynch had to leave his last start with a calf issue that turned out to just be cramps, so that was good news, but it hampered him in a game where his slider looked as good as I think I’ve seen it, so that was disappointing. He’s had a tough go of it since September started. He was rocked by the White Sox and didn’t get out of the third. Then he gave up four runs to the first four batters against the Twins before settling in. Then he had the calf issue that he said was causing him some problems even when he was out there. In all, he’s given up 13 runs on 14 hits in 10.2 September innings. He’s facing the Indians for the second time. You might recall his big league debut was against them way back in May and he was okay but couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. After some rest from the shorter start, the hope is that he can bounce back to his August self.

Wednesday - Carlos Hernandez vs. Logan Allen, 5:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Hernandez 23 80.2 6 2 21.6% 11.2% 3.90 4.88 1.0
Logan Allen 11 44.1 1 7 15.2% 8.1% 7.11 5.21 -0.5

The Indians got Logan Allen in the deal that brought them Reyes, so even though Allen has been disappointing, they got a win no matter what he does. And that’s a good thing because he’s generally been pretty bad. In 11 starts, he’s been extremely hittable while walking too many guys. That’s a terrible combination. And when you add in that he’s been beaten by the home run ball a lot, it gets even worse. He’s a fastball/slider guy with the fastball sitting 92-93 and occasionally getting up to the 95-96 range. His slider has actually been good and his changeup, which is his third pitch, has been generally okay but like we’ve seen from Kris Bubic, when he hangs it, it gets hit. But the real culprit is the fastball, which opponents have a .337 average and .663 SLG on. With all that said, it should come as no surprise to you that he has a 3.09 ERA in two starts against the Royals this year with just 10 hits allowed in 11.2 innings. He has shown a very interesting pattern that if you don’t get him early, you won’t get him. The Royals are one of the few teams he’s faced who haven’t gotten him.

I maintain that Carlos Hernandez is gassed after the longest season of his career. He wasn’t good against the Orioles, but ended up getting through six with just one run allowed. He was worse in his last start against the A’s and wasn’t so lucky. The walks are up, strikeouts are down and velocity is way down, so that’s something to watch for here. The Royals are in a bit of a situation with healthy starters after the shortened 2020, but if Hernandez looks like he did in his last two (and maybe even if he looks good), this should be his last start of 2021. He’s too important for the future. While he hasn’t faced the Indians this year, he did throw 3.2 shutout innings against them last year in his big league debut, so he has that to go on for this start.

Prediction

The Royals haven’t beaten the Indians since the very first time they played them. Do I truly believe they’ll get swept again? No. But am I going to predict it? Absolutely.

Poll

Can the Royals break their losing streak against the Indians?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Yep, and they’ll start a four-game winning streak with a sweep.
    (3 votes)
  • 7%
    They will and they’ll win two others to take two of three.
    (3 votes)
  • 41%
    The losing streak will end and they’ll get a split.
    (16 votes)
  • 38%
    Yes, but they’ll only get the one win.
    (15 votes)
  • 5%
    No way. The losing streak reaches 15 with an Indians sweep.
    (2 votes)
39 votes total Vote Now