Boy it’s hard to know what kind of a series this is going to be. The Guardians clinched the AL Central a few days ago, so are they going to play guys full games? Are starters going to full games? Who knows?!?! But what we do know is the Guardians have been white hot to pull aay from the White Sox and Twins down the stretch and make this series meaningless. There’s been quite a bit made about their different offensive approach to the rest of baseball, but their offense isn’t what is winning them games. It’s certainly way better than expected, but while they currently sit sixth in the AL in runs scored per game, they are closer to 11th than fifth. No, the offense isn’t bad, but the pitching is where it’s at with these guys. They have two pitchers in particular who have been outstanding, one who has been very good and then they’ve supplemented. And their bullpen has been just bonkers good, led by Emmanuel Clase who is one of the top three closers in baseball (though the Royals do seem to have his number). They’ve done their damage against bad teams, going a combined 37-23 against the bottom-third of teams in baseball. That would worry me heading into the postseason, but a short series could be tough to score against them, so we’ll see.
Royals vs. Guardians Matchup Stats
|Highest fWAR||Brady Singer, 2.8||Andres Gimenez, 5.9|
Guardians Projected Lineup
Guardians Projected Bench
Guardians Key Relievers
Royals vs. Guardians Projected Pitching Matchups
September 30 - RHP Brady Singer vs. RHP Aaron Civale, 6:10pm
Pitching in Cleveland will likely always be special for Brady Singer. He made his big league debut there with seven strikeouts over five innings. Then he almost threw a no-hitter there later that year, ultimately allowing just one hit over eight innings there. But 2022 is going to be the year that will always be special. He has turned himself into a legitimate top of the rotation starter this season. I’ve spent so much time writing about his numbers since he came back from AAA, but he now has a sub-3.00 ERA on the season, which is an accomplishment. He’s struggled to find his slider early in games his last two times out and all he’s done is struck out 13 and walks three over 13 innings with just one run allowed. Since the break, he’s on another level. He has a 2.01 ERA in 76 innings and is averaging more than six innings per start. He has a nearly five to one strikeout to walk ratio in that time and truly just looks the part of someone who you count on every fifth day. It’s been fun to watch this development.
Career vs. CLE: 8 G, 7 GS, 42.1 IP, 2-0, 4.25 ERA
Aaron Civale also missed some time with an injury this season, though his was a little more traditional. He had forearm inflammation. But he came back about a week and a half ago and has pitched pretty well in two starts since. It’s been a disappointing year for him after breaking out a bit last season. Still, this year, he’s increased his strikeouts while maintaining his walks, which is a good thing. He’s actually allowed fewer home runs too, so the peripherals show that he’s been better than last year even though the ERA is 1.35 higher than last season. He’s a different type of pitcher. He throws a cutter about one-third of the time. It’s been fine. His curve is where he makes his money. He has a 44 percent whiff rate on the pitch and has allowed a .135 average and .270 SLG. It can hang, which is why he’s allowed eight extra base hits on it and four singles. When batters get it, they get it. His issues have come from his sinker and four-seamer and, to a lesser extent because he doesn’t throw it much, his splitter. If he can get by with the cutter and curve, it’ll be a long day for the Royals. Some of his issues stem from simply struggling with men on. He’s allowed a .645 OPS with nobody on and an OPS of .878 with men on and .841 with runners in scoring position. That sort of stuff tends to even out.
Career vs. KC: 5 GS, 27.1 IP, 0-1, 4.61 ERA
October 1 - LHP Kris Bubic vs. RHP Zach Plesac, 5:10pm
You can’t argue anything but that this has been a terribly disappointing season for Kris Bubic. He came into the year touting a new slider and how that was going to help him to take a step from average starter to better and, to this point, he hasn’t thrown it once in a game. I don’t know why that is, but he hasn’t thrown a single slider in a big league game this year. And he’s shown why he needs that pitch. His changeup can be a difference-maker, but his fastball hasn’t been good enough often enough for it to be that pitch. His curve has been good when it’s good, but it’s been super inconsistent. He had a nice run of starts after his return from AAA, so I don’t mean to say there’s no hope for Bubic or anything, but he needs to figure something out soon. Since his run of four straight quality starts ended in early August, Bubic has a 6.80 ERA in 43.2 innings with a 16.6 percent strikeout rate and a 10.4 percent walk rate. That simply doesn’t work.
Career vs. CLE: 4 G, 2 GS, 10.0 IP, 0-2, 8.10 ERA
Zach Plesac is expected to make his return to the big leagues after he spent time on the IL with an injury he sustained from punching the mound. Yes, he literally punched the mound and got hurt. This is after he broke his thumb last year taking off his shirt in anger. Pure stupidity aside, Plesac hasn’t been able to follow up his outstanding pitching in 2020 since then. He hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been able to even remotely approach his strikeout rate or his walk rate from those eight starts he made in the shortened season. It doesn’t make him a bad pitcher, but I think Cleveland had hoped he was maybe a guy they could slot at the top and now he’s probably more of a guy they move on from once he starts to make any real money. The big issue for Plesac is simply that his fastball doesn’t work, but he still throws it more than 42 percent of the time. He doesn’t get whiffs on it and he’s allowed a .310 average with a .517 SLG that the underlying metrics indicate might even be overperforming on that pitch. His slider is fantastic. His changeup has been solid. His curve has been good. But that fastball is a big problem. And with that, lefties have hit him around the park with a .281/.350/.454 line against him. He’s done quite well against the Royals in the past, but I think you can look at their lineup now with guys like MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey and others from the left side and see how that could change moving forward given his struggles with lefties.
Career vs. KC: 12 GS, 68.0 IP, 6-1, 2.65 ERA
October 2 - RHP Max Castillo vs. RHP Shane Bieber, 12:40pm
There’s just something about the Royals that brings out the walks in pitchers. Max Castillo walked five batters in 20.2 innings with Toronto. He walked four in his last start alone. Of course, to be fair, he had walked just two in his first 9.2 innings, which was basically the same rate, so small sample size alert. Of course, he walked two of three batters he faced in a weird relief outing on Thursday and has now walked five of the last eight batters he’s faced. He just seemed to run out of gas in the fifth inning against the Mariners the other day and couldn’t get a single out or throw strikes in that crazy game. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Castillo, but I don’t know that I see a long-term starter. As the game changes, he seems like someone who could be very useful as a multi-inning reliever or even someone who is something more than an opener but less than a typical starter. I wonder if there’s more to his fastball, though. His location on it just lends to getting hit and it has gotten hit. If he could add just a little extension with some offseason work or maybe even up that spin rate a little, what I’ve seen from it is that it could be a very good pitch. That’s why I’m excited about coaching and development changes because Castillo could be someone who benefits quite a bit from a change. HIs changeup has been fantastic. His slider has been even better. He’s got those two pitches. Fix the fastball and we can talk, but until then, he’s probably more of a three-inning guy.
Career vs. CLE: First Appearance
Shane Bieber didn’t have a bad year in 2021, but he just didn’t pitch a lot, making just 16 starts. He’s been fully healthy this year and, assuming the Guardians let him go in this one, he should get to 200 innings for the second time in his career. He’s changed from his Cy Young year in 2020 and even from his excellent 2019 season with fewer strikeouts, but he’s just as effective. He’s only averaging 91.3 MPH on his fastball after sitting 94.1 MPH in 2020, but the numbers on it aren’t significantly different. HIs slider has become his number two pitch again, just like it was in 2019, and it’s been fantastic, but he also has that great curve and the cutter he can use as a weapon as well. When a pitcher learns how to pitch with slightly reduced but still excellent stuff, that’s when he starts to get dangerous and starts to look like a guy who might be able to go for a long, long time. I always dig around for any splits that are especially interesting and Bieber is so consistent. He allows just a .728 OPS when he’s behind in the count. That’s crazy. About the only thing I can say is that if he gets deep enough (and I doubt he will as they prep for the playoffs), he has allowed a .333/.341/.494 line from the seventh inning on. He’s very, very good.
Career vs. KC: 12 GS, 69.1 IP, 5-0, 3.12 ERA
October 3 - RHP Zack Greinke vs. RHP Triston McKenzie, 5:10pm
Zack Greinke’s last start in Detroit will likely go down as his best of the season unless he’s able to duplicate it in this one. He went seven shutout innings, besting his previous season-high for innings by two outs. He was in command all night long, getting weak contact and dropping his season ERA down below 4.00 for the first time at the end of a start since May 18. Now he sits with an ERA- of 99 (one percent above average) and a FIP- of 104 (four percent below average). He’s been solid. He’s averaged roughly 16 outs per start. The league has averaged roughly 16 outs per start. He’s certainly earned his salary and I think if he wanted to come back, the Royals would be happy to have him and they should be given the lack of certainty in the 2023 rotation. If the Royals choose not to start him in this series to end his season on a high note, I don’t think I’d find too much fault in that either.
Career vs. CLE: 34 G, 29 GS, 176.0 IP, 12-9, 3.48 ERA
I’ve written before about Triston McKenzie’s crazy walk rate to start the 2021 season and how much better he’s been since. Among qualified pitchers heading into play yesterday, McKenzie is one of eight with a strikeout rate above 25 percent and a walk rate below 6.5 percent. He’s turned into a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter, similar to what we’ve seen from Singer. They’re actually having pretty similar seasons, which is a little surprising. He does it by throwing the ball in the zone. His fastball sits at 92-93 and the heat map shows it sitting right in the middle of the zone. Yet hitters are hitting just .202 against it. That happens because they have to worry about the slider and the curve. I think the slider is getting hit a bit because htiters are gearing toward that, but the curve has been an outstanding pitch for him this season with a whiff rate over 45 percent. He can be gotten, but you have to get him early. Opponents are hitting .341 with a .625 SLG when the at bat ends after the first pitch. He’s allowed an OPS over 1.000 on 1-0 pitches and 2-0 pitches and is at .959 on 1-1 pitches. The longer the at bat goes, the more trouble opponents have with him.
Career vs. KC: 10 G, 8 GS, 51.2 IP, 4-2, 2.79 ERA
October 4 - LHP Daniel Lynch vs. RHP Cal Quantrill, 5:10pm
Daniel Lynch had one of his best starts of the year his last time out when he gave up two runs over six innings against the Tigers. Sadly his offense couldn’t drive any runners in, literally, and he ended up taking another loss, but he pitched well. What I appreciated was he only walked one batter and that continues a trend that’s seen him really limit his walks over his last handful of starts. As I wrote on Inside the Crown, I feel like there’s a great starting point for someone to come in and help put the finishing touches on him as a starting pitcher. He is now limiting walks and he’s throwing strikes. The key is to help him finish hitters. Maybe it’s the changeup that has been really good over his last few starts. Maybe it’s figuring out how to get more spin on his fastball that’s been a bit too hittable. I don’t know what the answer is, but I believe the canvas is there for someone to help him take that next step.
Career vs. CLE: 4 GS, 17.2 IP, 0-2, 8.66 ERA
Cal Quantrill is a perfect example of someone who works in Cleveland, but might not work anywhere else with his low strikeout rate. He’s been very good, but is definitely someone who you’d predict regression for with a 4.20 FIP to go along with 3.42 ERA. Still, it works. And it works quite well at home. He’s 8-0 there, so I don’t know what kind of magic he’s doing, but h’s doing it. He uses a sinker 45 percent of the time and a cutter about 36 percent of the time, so those are his main offerings, but he gets it done with his changeup too, which is how he’s able to handle lefties so well. The one thing he doesn’t do great is get through a lineup. The second time through, he’s allowed a .308/.356/.460 line, so that’s something to watch for them in the postseason, but he may not get to a second time through in this one with it being a tune-up for the playoffs.
Career vs. KC: 8 G, 5 GS, 35.0 IP, 5-0, 3.09 ERA
October 5 - RHP Jonathan Heasley vs. RHP Aaron Civale, 3:10pm
Jonathan Heasley had made two consecutive very good starts and started his last one against the Tigers with good results through four innings. Then he fell apart. He was hurt a bit by an error, but then gave up some very loud contact that led to him not being able to finish five innings. It’s just another in a long line of inconsistency with him this season. It’s his first big league season, so that’s not the most surprising thing in the world, but he needs to figure out how to maintain what he’s done in the good starts and limit the bad ones. Duh, right? Honestly, I still just don’t see it, but someone is going to have to make some starts in 2023, so there’s at least something to an 8.3 percent walk rate since his first few starts of the season that make me think there’s some hope for him yet.
Career vs. CLE: 2 GS, 7.1 IP, 0-1, 9.82 ERA
We already talked about Civale, come on now. Plus, the odds are that this is more of a bullpen game to get everyone an inning or so to get ready for their important games coming up a couple of days later.
Royals vs. Guardians Prediction
How do you predict a six-game series that has one team playing for pride and one team literally not caring about the results? I honestly don’t know the answer. I guess I’ll say each team takes three, but about the only thing that would surprise me in this series is either team sweeping it.
Six whole games against one team. How many wins for the Royals?
This poll is closed