KC Royals vs. Twins: A Turning Point (May 19-21)

Apr 13, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals base runner Lorenzo Cain (6) dives head first into third base for a stolen base against the Oakland Athletics during the third inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals base runner Lorenzo Cain (6) dives head first into third base for a stolen base against the Oakland Athletics during the third inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports /

After salvaging the final game of their series against the Yankees and thus a winning home stand on Thursday, the KC Royals will be in Minneapolis to take on the Twins this weekend.

There has been no more a momentum killer for the Royals this year than the Twins, as Kansas City has yet to claim a victory in five games against the Twins in 2017. Included in these five losses were three laughers to open the season in the KC Royals’ only trip to the Twin Cities so far.

A Potential Turning Point

As players and managers say, every game is a big game, and every series is a big series. However, this is a big series, and a really big 10-game road trip. KC Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore likes to say that you don’t know anything about your team until you are 40 games, or a quarter of the way, into the season. Well, here we are, 40 games into the season, and we still don’t know much.

What we do know is that the KC Royals, who disappointed their fans by going 81-81 and finishing third in the AL Central last season, currently sit at 17-23 and in last place in the division. On the other side of the field, the Twins, who went 59-103 last season and will soon be drafting No. 1 overall in the 2017 MLB draft as a result, are leading the division, albeit with an unimpressive record of 20-17. If the Royals want to begin climbing in earnest and continue what has been a promising month of May, they need to take two of three from their division leaders before heading to New York to play the Yankees.

Game One

Nathan Karns faces off against Hector Santiago on Friday night to open up the series. Both of these pitchers were acquired in small-scale trades within the last year. These are two very different pitchers who appear to be trending in very different directions.

After getting rocked in his first regular-season relief appearance with the KC Royals by none other than the Twins, and struggling in his first two starts, Karns has slowly started to find his groove. His mid-90s heater and wipeout knuckle curve have been working. His last start against Baltimore was his most dominant yet, as he struck out 12 over five innings, breaking the Royals record for K’s in five frames. He has struck out 22 batters in his last 11.1 innings, dating back to his second-most recent start in Tampa Bay against his original club.

Santiago is coming off a very rough outing against Cleveland. He was knocked out after just 2.2 innings after allowing three homers, six runs and seven hits. Lefty finesse pitchers historically give the KC Royals trouble, and Santiago did throw five innings of one-run baseball against KC last month.

Game Two

Ian Kennedy looks set to make his return to the rotation on Saturday after missing two starts with a hamstring strain. He has been his usually-reliable self when healthy this year, pitching his way to a 3.03 ERA in 35.2 innings.

He will be facing journeyman lefty Adam Wilk, who is making just his 12th career start. Saturday’s game will be his first appearance as a member of the Twins.

Game Three

The finale of this series will be a slugfest, if recent history is any indication. Jason Hammel and Phil Hughes will take the mound. Both pitchers have been awful this year.

Hammel has a miserable 6.20 ERA in 40.2 innings this season in already eight starts. In other words, he is averaging barely five innings every time he takes the mound, and has been ineffective a majority of his outings. He is on pace to finish with 1.3 wins below replacement. He’s barely an eighth of the way through a two-year contract, so he will certainly get the time to fix things. Here’s to hoping that fix exists.

As bad as Hammel’s contract looks right now, it looks like a brilliant bargain next to that of Phil Hughes. The Twins signed Hughes before the 2014 season to a very reasonable three-year contract, but tacked on a much longer and lucrative, $58 million extension to that deal before it was even expired. Things have gone south this year. Hughes has a 5.23 ERA in 43 innings and, like Hammel, is on pace to finish with nearly a win below replacement level. This game could take a while if both pitchers don’t reverse their 2017 trends.

Next: Potential Departures, Vol. 6

The Verdict

While Karns is still a bit of a wildcard, and Kennedy is coming off an injury, their overall performance this season should spawn some optimism for this series, even if their 0-5 mark against Minnesota doesn’t. One might say the script has flipped from past years, and the KC ZRoyals certainly need to flip the script of their head-to-head clashes with the Twins in 2017. I think they’ll capture Friday and Saturday’s games and do just that.