KC Royals: Comparing Danny Duffy to his Opening Day opponent

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals open the season next week with a veteran left-hander on the mound. How does he compare to his opponent?

The Opening Day starters for the KC Royals and Cleveland Indians are a collective study in contrasts. Both are talented pitchers, but that’s where the similarities tend to end.

Danny Duffy, perhaps the Kansas City starter by default after Brad Keller tested positive for COVID-19, will christen his 10th big league season with his third Opening Day start when the Royals meet Cleveland next Friday evening. Shane Bieber, perhaps closing in on staff ace status with the Indians, will make his first Opening Day start as his third season in the majors begins. He recently reaffirmed the assignment the club announced in March.

Duffy had his first winning season since 2016 last year, going 7-6 to tie Keller and Homer Bailey for the team’s second-most wins (Jakob Junis had nine but, consistent with the dismal state of KC pitching, lost 14). Duffy also pitched superbly in September after a long stint on the Injured List.

Although Bieber’s a small sample size, he’s enjoyed almost nothing but success since debuting with Cleveland two years ago. He’s 26-13 overall with a 3.72 ERA (123 ERA+), averages almost 10 strikeouts every nine innings, and owns an excellent 5.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Duffy, on the other hand, is 15-18 over the last two seasons, but has suffered from pitching for the loser of over 200 games during that time

Duffy, 31, is in the next-to-last year of his five-year, $65 million contract; Bieber, six years younger at 25, is pre-arbitration eligible but a likely candidate for an extremely lucrative early contract extension.

The two pitchers have faced each other only once before, in a July 3, 2018 contest at Kauffman Stadium. Bieber got the best of it.

Duffy took a 4-2 lead into the sixth inning but, before getting an out, walked Edwin Encarnacion, hit Brandon Guyer, gave up an infield single to Yonder Alonso, then got rocked by a grand slam by Yan Gomes. He finished the inning trailing by two; Bieber retired the Royals in order in his half of the frame, then yielded to a bullpen that saved the game to make him 4-0. Duffy suffered his eighth loss.

Since then, Duffy is 1-2 in three starts against Cleveland. Bieber is 2-0 with two no-decisions in four starts against the Royals.

Duffy has never been an All-Star; Bieber was the MVP of the All-Star Game last season in his first trip to the midsummer classic.

Despite their differences, 2020 is vital for the two pitchers. Indeed, this is probably the most critical campaign of Duffy’s career–he must pitch well all three months of the shortened season if he hopes to stay with the Royals, his well-chronicled career goal. A return to the form that earned Duffy his huge contract will likely secure that goal.

Added pressure is also on Bieber. Even after just two big league seasons, he’s competing with Mike Clevinger for “ace” status now that Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are gone, Kluber in a December 2019 trade to the Rangers and Bauer in a trade deadline deal to the Reds last year. The Indians need another stellar season-long performance from Bieber if they’re going to reclaim the American League Central Division title they relinquished to Minnesota in 2019 after winning it three straight years.

No one knows what this pandemic-shortened season will bring baseball or its teams. Or Danny Duffy and Shane Bieber, for that matter. But we’ll find out in a week what Opening Day has in store for both pitchers.

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The KC Royals’ Danny Duffy and Cleveland’s Shane Bieber square off against each other for the second time when the season starts next week. Let’s hope the two talented hurlers help make Opening Day memorable.