This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for the Guardians. They’ve been a fantastic offensive club for some time periods. They’ve also been totally inept offensively at times. They’ve shown their typical ability to pitch at times, but also have had trouble keeping their opponents off the board at times. And it’s led to uneven stretches of baseball. They started 18-23 and were seven games out of first. Then they went 18-5 in a stretch that ended with them alone in first place for the one day they’ve been at the top of the division this season. And since then, they’re 4-12 after getting swept in a four-game series by the Tigers, a team the lowly Royals absolutely should have swept themselves.
The offense does seem to have found some legs with Josh Naylor and Andres Gimenez looking like an acceptable supporting cast for their star, Jose Ramirez. Add in solid seasons from rookie Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario and the power they have to assume they’ll get from Franmil Reyes and it seems like a team that can score some runs. Their starting pitching has settled in to normal Cleveland levels, so they keep their team in the game, if not more. And their bullpen is led by one of baseball’s best closers in Emmanuel Clase. But there just isn’t enough consistency to count on them to be able to close the gap to the top of the division. That said, they’re a team that if they do somehow get to the playoffs, have enough to win it all if they’re hot at the right time, so they’re weirdly both scary and likely a comfortable team to face.
Royals vs. Guardians Matchup Stats
|Highest fWAR||Andrew Benintendi, 1.8||Jose Ramirez, 3.8|
Guardians Projected Lineup
|Nolan Jones (AAA)||RF||108||.311||.417||.500||15.7%||26.9%||146||---|
Guardians Projected Bench
Guardians Key Relievers
Royals vs. Guardians Projected Pitching Matchup
July 8 - RHP Aaron Civale vs. RHP Brady Singer, 7:10pm
Aaron Civale has always been interesting to me because, watching him pitch, I just didn’t see it. But he was very good as a rookie in 2019 in 10 starts before just being sort of okay in 12 starts in 2020. Last year, he was somewhere around above average to good, but then this season, he started off terribly with a 9.85 ERA through six starts. He actually pitched quite well in his seventh start of the year, but went on the IL with left glute tightness. And he’s been…okay since coming back. He’s made three starts and they’ve all been fine, but I wonder if he’s pitching the way I always assumed he would now. He throws three pitches at least 20 percent of the time - a cutter, curve and sinker - and he’s generally in the zone with the two fastballs with the curve used to break timing and get swings and misses. The curve has done exactly what it’s supposed to do, but hitters have handled both the cutter and the sinker this year because they’re probably catching too much of the plate. He’s always been a low extension guy, but I think putting pitches in the middle of the plate when a hitter has as long to pick it up as they do against him is a bad idea. He’s also been bashed pretty hard on the road to the tune of a .345/.406/.598 line, which includes a rough start against the Royals in that first series of the year in KC.
Career vs. KC: 4 GS, 20.1 IP, 0-1, 5.75 ERA
Brady Singer looked great against the Tigers for four innings on Sunday, but just completely fell apart in the fifth inning. It wasn’t all his doing. There were a couple of bad calls that would have changed the inning and a couple not-so-great defensive plays behind him, but still, he had eight strikeouts and one walk through four and then ended up walking two and giving up a couple runs in the fifth. A game that looked like it would be another six or seven inning gem from him turned into a game the bullpen had to hold down and they are not going very well right now on that front. The good news is that his sinker was moving and he was getting a ton of called strikes on it. This is a Guardians team that makes a lot of contact, so the called strikes are going to be keys for him because the swings and misses will be tougher to come by.
Career vs. CLE: 6 G, 5 GS, 29.1 IP, 2-0, 4.30 ERA
July 9 - RHP Triston McKenzie vs. RHP Jonathan Heasley, 3:10pm
I feel like we’ll look back on the first half of 2021 for Triston McKenzie with so much confusion. He walked 39 batters in 42.1 innings before he was sent to AAA for a refresher. Why is that so weird? He only walked 19 in 77.2 innings after he came back and in 198.2 innings outside of that first half, he’s only walked 50 batters. I don’t know what was going on, but he’s figured it out. He’s not striking batters out like he did last year, but the walks are back down and he’s been very effective. To be honest, he doesn’t make sense. He throws about 60 percent four-seam fastballs at roughly 91-94 MPH and he is in the zone with a lot of them. Now, he does release the ball a lot closer to home than, say, Civale, but even so, to be in the zone and not get hit is an art. He does give up the longball sometimes, but opponents are hitting just .200 on that fastball. And when he needs a swing and miss, he goes with a slider to righties (and some curves) and a curve to lefties. There’s really no secret to how he pitches. His plan is to get ahead with the fastball and strike you out with the breaking ball. So the plan of attack is likely to swing early. But if you’re not getting hits, he’s getting quick outs. He’s a tough pitcher to face because of all of that.
Career vs. KC: 8 G, 6 GS, 40.0 IP, 3-2, 3.15 ERA
Jonathan Heasley had a very nice run of starts that was interrupted by a bad fifth inning in Anaheim and then a downright bad game against the Rangers. But he got back on track against an unlikely opponent, the Houston Astros. He went six innings against them and gave up just two runs for his fourth quality start (I really don’t like that stat, but it’s also somewhat useful with this team) and his seventh where he’s allowed three runs or fewer. Heasley is not an ace and likely will never be, but a guy who can keep a team in a game like has is valuable. The Guardians are actually kind of a similar team to the Astros in that they make a lot of contact, so some of what Heasley did against the Astros could work here. What the Guardians don’t do is walk or hit for as much power, so there’s an opportunity to get some earlier count outs for him if he’s on his game with his breaking balls. I’d be weary of throwing the changeup a lot, though, as this team has feasted on right-handed changeups this season. Fastballs up, breaking balls down could do the trick for him.
Career vs. CLE: 1 GS, 6.0 IP, 0-0, 4.50 ERA
July 10 - RHP Zach Plesac vs. RHP Zack Greinke, 1:10pm
For one short season in 2020, Zack Plesac became a different type of pitcher and it looked like Cleveland had done it again. He struck out more than a batter per inning and walked only six in 55.1 innings that year. But last year, he reverted back to the pitcher with a strikeout rate in the teens and a merely very good walk rate rather than a great one and he went back to being a solid pitcher and not a great one. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in what he does. He averages nearly six innings per start and has been great recently with a 2.14 ERA in his last seven starts where he has a 19 percent strikeout rate and 5.4 percent walk rate. It isn’t amazing, but it works for him. What he doesn’t do is miss barrels. He does get hit pretty hard, which is why it’s so important for him to keep his walks down. He does get whiffs with his slider, but he throws a four-seamer, a changeup and a curve with it and only the curve gets whiffs of the other three pitches. The fastball is what teams will beat him on, so if the Royals aren’t hitting that, they’re in trouble. Plesac has also struggled quite a bit away from home and while he’s given the Guardians some innings, he’s gotten three outs past the sixth inning all year.
Career vs. KC: 11 GS, 63.0 IP, 6-0, 2.29 ERA
Zack Greinke was very good in his first two starts off the IL, but he got burned by a better lineup than he’d faced and in a much smaller park. He’d pitched in the park plenty having been an Astro for two and a half years, but he just doesn’t have the stuff to get it done for long against a dangerous lineup in a park like that. I’ve talked a lot about his cutter and he threw 14 more of them against Houston, but for the first time, it got hit. I don’t think that’s as big of a concern against this Guardians lineup in Kansas City, so maybe he’ll continue to work with that pitch, but I’m very curious to find out. He’s responded pretty well to giving up some runs, with the only exception the start before he went on the IL, so it’s hard to say if he was hurting for that one or not, but of the three times he’s given up five plus runs in a game, he’s responded with two runs allowed in the next start once and one another time. So this is an opportunity to bounce back from a rough one against a lineup he’s done well against this year already, albeit in terrible hitting weather.
Career vs. CLE: 32 G, 27 GS, 165.0 IP, 11-9, 3.65 ERA
Royals vs. Guardians Prediction
It’s so hard to say which Guardians team we’ll see this weekend. Is it the team that struggled with a downright bad Tigers team or is it the one that won 18 of 23 at one point? They’re certainly better than the Royals because most teams are, but I’m going to go out on a weird limb here and predict the Royals win two of three.
SB Nation has partnered with DraftKings to sponsor select series previews this season. Here are the betting odds for this series. The Royals are 1.5 run underdogs tonight with a -115 moneyline, and an over/under of 8.5 runs scored in the game.
How many games will the Royals win this weekend against Cleveland?
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