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Cleveland Guardians Series Preview: The Royals are now right in the thick of a pennant race...sort of

If you can’t win the division, at least you can make a difference in who does.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals get the opportunity to impact a pennant race in a season where they’re just two losses away from guaranteeing their sixth consecutive sub-.500 season. That’s because they’ll host the Cleveland Guardians, who are currently involved in the best division race in baseball as there are just two games separating first place from third place and the Guardians are currently tied with the Minnesota Twins. A good race doesn’t mean these are good teams, mind you. Four teams in the AL East are all better than anyone in the Central. The Guardians, while they are currently at the top of the division, have the 14th best record in baseball. So they’re not great. Their lineup can do some work because they don’t strike out much, but they have three real power threats from top to bottom. Jose Ramirez is the obvious one, but Josh Naylor and Andres Gimenez are the surprises. Maybe Naylor shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was hard to know what he’d do coming off the leg injury. Their strength, as always, is in the pitching. Their top three starters are excellent and the back of their bullpen is nearly unhittable when they’re on and they’re on a lot. They are missing two starters, who are both on the IL, but Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale have been adequate at best. It’ll hurt to be missing the veterans, but the Guardians always come up with something.

Royals vs. Guardians Matchup Stats

Category Royals Guardians
Category Royals Guardians
Winning % .407 .515
H2H Wins 4 6
Team wRC+ 94 96
Team xFIP 4.47 3.84
Run Differential -146 18
Highest fWAR Brady Singer, 2.2 Jose Ramirez, 5.4

Guardians Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Steven Kwan LF 503 .293 .367 .383 9.7% 9.7% 118 2.8
Amed Rosario SS 543 .278 .311 .395 4.2% 16.4% 100 1.9
Jose Ramirez 3B 552 .280 .350 .535 9.4% 10.9% 146 5.4
Josh Naylor 1B 392 .261 .316 .449 6.9% 15.1% 116 1.3
Andres Gimenez 2B 445 .299 .367 .480 6.1% 19.8% 143 4.9
Oscar Gonzalez RF 248 .280 .310 .428 3.6% 21.8% 107 1.0
Richie Palacios DH 112 .245 .304 .304 7.1% 16.1% 76 -0.3
Austin Hedges C 270 .183 .262 .272 7.4% 21.9% 56 0.2
Myles Straw CF 489 .196 .273 .247 9.4% 14.9% 52 0.8

Guardians Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Luke Malle C 164 .231 .317 .343 11.0% 25.0% 92 0.9
Tyler Freeman INF 47 .244 .340 .293 6.4% 10.6% 91 0.1
Ernie Clement INF/OF 158 .203 .268 .224 7.0% 15.2% 44 -0.5
Owen Miller INF/OF 410 .242 .298 .353 6.3% 20.0% 84 0.5
Will Benson OF/1B 42 .158 .238 .158 7.1% 31.0% 19 -0.3

Guardians Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Emmanuel Clase 60 56.2 2 3 28.8% 3.4% 1.11 2.13 1.9
James Karinchak 23 25.0 1 0 41.0% 13.0% 1.08 2.69 0.8
Trevor Stephan 52 52.1 4 4 31.2% 6.0% 2.58 2.62 1.4

Royals vs. Guardians Projected Pitching Matchups

September 5 - RHP Triston McKenzie vs. RHP Brady Singer, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Triston McKenzie 25 152.2 9 11 25.2% 6.6% 3.18 3.91 2.3
Brady Singer 22 121.2 7 4 25.1% 6.1% 3.33 3.32 2.2

I did a podcast heading into the 2021 season and we were talking about the rest of the AL Central. One of the questions was who is the best pitcher we don’t know much about yet and I said Triston McKenzie, which didn’t look so good last year when he had a 6.38 ERA and 20.6 percent walk rate in his first 11 appearances. But since then, something clicked and he’s been outstanding. He has a 3.52 ERA and a 6.5 percent walk rate. That’s with a ton of strikeouts. He’s nasty. He throws a 92-93 MPH fastball about 57 percent of the time. It probably shouldn’t work, but it does. What’s even crazier is that he throws it in the middle of the plate. Fastballs that are roughly league average velocity or slightly below down the middle shouldn’t be successful. But McKenzie is. His curve is his big-time swing and miss pitch and it’s been fantastic while his slider has been a little bit more hittable, but can still be very good. He’s been better against lefties than righties and has bounced back from a tough June with very good pitching in July and August. And what’s so interesting is that he’s been good, but he’s been terrible with runners in scoring position. Either he simply can’t pitch with a runner on second or third or that’s something that will even out and make him even better.

Career vs. KC: 9 G, 7 GS, 46.0 IP, 4-2, 2.74 ERA

Yes, this is basically what I wrote for the Tigers series. It’ll be okay. In a way, I’m sort of glad Brady Singer unraveled on Tuesday night against the White Sox. It was easier to swallow because the Royals offense picked him up for once, but it allows the opportunity to see how he responds. We saw him not have much against the White Sox a few weeks ago and gut it out to go six. But we haven’t had many chances to see how he responds to bad results. He struggled against Houston in June and came out the next start and was just okay. The last time he failed to go five innings, he responded with nine straight starts of six innings or more. So he’s passed the tests so far, but it’ll be nice to see how he responds to this. As much as we don’t want to see failure, it’s a great test. My one concern with Singer is that he is showing some signs of fatigue with where he’s missing on his sinker, but even so, a Guardians team that doesn’t swing and miss much might be good for someone who gets so many called third strikes. Singer faced Cleveland the last time he failed to go six innings in a start and started that stretch I mentioned above, so maybe history will repeat itself.

Career vs. CLE: 7 G, 6 GS, 36.1 IP, 2-0, 4.21 ERA

September 6 - RHP Shane Bieber vs. LHP Kris Bubic, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Shane Bieber 25 159.0 8 8 25.8% 5.2% 3.06 2.96 3.9
Kris Bubic 23 105.1 2 10 17.6% 11.1% 5.47 4.67 0.1

While Shane Bieber has been unable to recapture the magic of his 2020 season, he’s still been a fantastic starter for Cleveland over the last two years, though he did miss time in 2021. This year he’s been healthy. His strikeouts are a fair amount down, but his walks are as well and he’s giving good innings every fifth day, having gone six or more in 20 of his 25 starts and in each of his last nine. What’s so intriguing about Bieber, to me anyway, is that his fastball velocity has dropped considerably to an average of 91.2 MPH this season. And while it’s been hit a bit, it hasn’t been crushed like you’d expect. His slider, curve and cutter have been so good that he can live with that fastball, but I suppose if there was a day where he didn’t have a couple of his other pitches, it could end up rough for him. I’m not entirely sure if that’ll ever happen, though. While Bieber does have traditional splits as he goes through an order multiple times, there really isn’t a lot about his profile that says how an opponent can find success. It’s just about him having an off day.

Career vs. KC: 11 GS, 61.1 IP, 4-0, 3.38 ERA

Kris Bubic threw six innings for the first time in nearly four weeks in his last start in Chicago. He only gave up two runs on five hits, so on the surface, that’s a strong start. But he also walked four and struck out just one. After showing a propensity for getting the strikeout over his previous few starts, he now has just four strikeouts in his last three total. That’s good for just a 6.2 percent strikeout rate, which simply doesn’t get it done. While some pitchers have the issue of putting hitters away, Bubic doesn’t even seem to be getting there to have the chance to do it. He’s actually throwing a lot more strikes with a rate of 66 percent over his last 10 starts compared to a 59 percent rate in his first 13 appearances. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe his stuff isn’t good enough to live in the zone as much as he is. The Guardians are a tough team to test that hypothesis on because even though their walk rate is one of the lowest in the league, they don’t swing and miss, which means pitches in the zone are going to get hit.

Career vs. CLE: 3 G, 1 GS, 3.2 IP, 0-1, 14.73 ERA

September 7 - RHP Cody Morris vs. RHP Zack Greinke, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Cody Morris 1 2.0 0 1 23.1% 15.4% 9.00 5.32 -0.1
Zack Greinke 21 108.2 4 8 13.7% 4.5% 4.14 4.45 1.1

The Guardians took Cody Morris in the seventh round of the 2018 draft we know all too much about as Royals fans. As a typical Guardians prospect, he didn’t seem to be much of anything and then struck out 93 while walking 20 in 61 innings last season. He’s had some shoulder issues that have cost him a good chunk of this season, but he struck out 30 and walked six in 15.1 AAA innings this year. He made his first big league start on Friday and wasn’t good. He generally pitches in the 92-95 range with a four-seamer that can touch as high as 97 or maybe 98. He gets ton of spin and movement. He also throws a good changeup, a cutter and a curve. Command can become an issue for him because his delivery can get long at times, but he’s very difficult to hit as you can see from all those strikeouts.

Career vs. KC: First Appearance

Zack Greinke is set to make his return from the IL in this one with no rehab starts. He was pitching pretty well when he went on the injured list after he came back from his previous stint with forearm issues. In 11 starts, he had a 3.32 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 11 walks in 57 innings and was even better at home in six starts spanning 33 innings with a 1.64 ERA with 24 strikeouts and five walks. He obviously isn’t the pitcher he once was and definitely isn’t the innings-eater he once was, but he can certainly be effective with his strike-throwing and can help to give a little extra rest to an otherwise young rotation that seems to be slowing down a bit as the year winds down.

Career vs. CLE: 33 G, 28 GS, 170.0, 12-9, 3.55 ERA

Royals vs. Guardians Prediction

I don’t like these pitching matchups, though I do like that Singer is going in this series and was pushed back. I like that for competitive reasons and I like that because it negates the advantage for one game that the opponent has on the Royals. I don’t know if the Royals did it because they wanted to play spoiler more or if it’s because Singer actually needed an extra day (which I think he did), but I like it. Still, after all that, I think it’s hard to predict more than one win for the Royals, which is what I’m going with here.


How many wins for the Royals against Cleveland this week?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    (3 votes)
  • 28%
    (28 votes)
  • 54%
    (53 votes)
  • 13%
    (13 votes)
97 votes total Vote Now