KC Royals: Last place rears its ugly head once again

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

A sweep of Baltimore, certainly achievable for the KC Royals when this week began, didn’t happen. The Orioles, baseball’s worst team on Monday, ruined whatever plans the Royals had to go 4-0 on their only visit to Baltimore this season when they beat Kansas City Tuesday and Wednesday. And despite losing Monday and Thursday, the Orioles no longer bring up the major league rear—instead, their 45-94 record is slightly better than Arizona’s 45-95.

The Royals, however, are back in a fight they don’t want.

With just three weeks left in this roller-coaster ride of a season, the Royals are battling Minnesota to avoid finishing last in the American League Central. The division cellar isn’t a place the Royals have had to themselves since losing to Houston Aug. 19, although their horrible Wednesday loss to Baltimore dropped them into a last place tie with Minnesota. Fortunately, Thursday night’s 6-0 victory over the Orioles moved KC a game ahead of the Twins, who lost to Cleveland.

But keeping Minnesota alone at the division bottom won’t be easy. The Royals must go 2-1 this weekend to head home without even a partial claim to last place, then play Minnesota three more times in their final 19 games.

What might affect their chances this weekend?

Minnesota is playing a bit better baseball than the KC Royals right now.

The Twins bring a slightly more impressive recent record into tonight’s series opener. An even 5-5 in their last 10 games, they won three of four games at Cleveland, and four out of their last five. The Royals are losers of six of 10 and split their four-game series with Baltimore, a team worse than themselves and far worse than Minnesota’s opponent.

And the Twins shut the Indians out twice and allowed them only six runs over the other two contests. Kansas City whitewashed Baltimore in Thursday’s series finale, but gave up 18 runs in the first three games, including nine in one inning Wednesday that accounted for the club’s embarrassing loss.

KC Royals catcher Salvador Perez could feast on the Twins at Target Field.

Kansas City can always count on Salvador Perez, whose 42 home runs are three short of Hall of Famer Johnny Bench’s record of 45 for catchers and six shy of Jorge Soler’s single-season club record 48. Perez is especially effective at Minnesota’s Target Field—so effective, in fact, that his 19 home runs there lead Twins’ opponents.

And Perez is particularly fond of Minnesota pitching. In 140 career games against the Twins, he’s slashing .299/.325/.523 with 28 of his 194 career homers and 98 of his career 639 RBIs. If the Twins don’t control Perez, they’ll have a long weekend.

Give the KC Royals the edge in starting pitching in this weekend series.

“Mercurial” aptly describes Kansas City’s 2021 starting rotation. Despite some stellar performances (Carlos Hernandez’s 6-1, 3.29 ERA record and Kris Bubic’s flirtation with a no-hitter last month come to mind), the starters have the American League’s fourth worst ERA (4.84), its third worst OBA (.286), and its second worst WHIP (1.45).

And although Minnesota’s starters aren’t much better—their 5.18 ERA is second highest in the AL, their .262 OBA ranks one spot better than KC’s, and their 1.32 WHIP is four places better, the Royals’ starters are currently better.

Take tonight’s battle of two rookies for example. The Twins’ Griffin Jax (3-3, 6.79 ERA) faces Daniel Lynch (4-4, 5.29). Jax is 0-2 with two no-decisions in his last four starts, and gave up nine, six, and four runs in his most recent three. Lynch, on the other hand, is 2-1 over his last four starting assignments, although the White Sox shelled him for six runs in 2.2 innings six days ago.

Then, Minnesota will send Michael Pineda (5-8, 3.99), loser of three of his last four outings, against KC’s Brady Singer Saturday evening. Singer’s been strong and stingy lately—he owns a 1.45 ERA and 1-1 record over his last four starts.

Rookie Bailey Ober (2-2, 4.00) is set to pitch Sunday’s finale for the Twins against Bubic (4-6, 5.07). Ober has a win, a loss, and two no-decisions over his last four appearances (including one relief stint). And despite a rough outing against Seattle three games ago—the Mariners tagged him for five runs in 4.1 innings—Bubic surrendered only four runs in 11.2 innings across two other starts in his last four games.

For this series, at least, Kansas City’s rotation has the edge. If it doesn’t hold up, the Royals could find themselves in the division cellar when the weekend is over.

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First pitch for tonight’s series opener is set for 7:10 p.m. CDT at Target Field. The KC Royals and Minnesota play at 6:10 p.m. CDT Saturday, and wind up their three-game set Sunday afternoon at 1:10 p.m. CDT.