This series is meaningless in the grand scheme of the game, but it’d be good to see the Royals find some success against a team they’ve struggled with this season.
The last time the Cleveland Indians finished below .500 was 2012. They were 81-80 in 2015, which is their worst finish since their sub-.500 team, but it’s safe to say that this version of the Indians is their worst since at least then and maybe since that 2012 club. They’ve been done in some by injuries, but also by their ownership group’s unwillingness to go get what was needed in order to compete. They tried to fill holes in the roster with stopgaps like Eddie Rosario and it just didn’t work. The injuries have been big ones. Shane Bieber hasn’t pitched since June 13. They’re optimistic he can come back soonish, but that doesn’t help make up for what’ll be near three months or maybe even more when he returns. Aaron Civale got hurt. Triston McKenzie is currently on the IL. Josh Naylor had a horrific injury earlier this season. They’re certainly not alone in their injuries, but they’ve lost some key players to a team that didn’t have that many key players to start.
Offensively, they aren’t an especially good hitting club, but they do have some pop. Guys like Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes are middle of the order bats in any lineup. Bobby Bradley hasn’t shown he’s a good hitter yet, but he has shown he has excellent power. When they picked up Myles Straw in a trade with the Astros at the deadline, they added an element of speed to a lineup that was a bit surprising in its ability to swipe a bag already. So while this isn’t a particularly good offense, it’s certainly also not a particularly bad offense. It’s just kind of right in the middle. The pitching staff, when healthy, is a particularly good pitching staff, but they’re not healthy. Bieber, Civale and McKenzie are hurt. While Cal Quantrill seems to be figuring some things out, they just don’t have enough with all three out. Plus when you consider that they just demoted James Karinchak to AAA because of his issues, you can see why they’re struggling a bit. They still have Emmanuel Clase, who is filthy, but they have a middle of the pack offense and a middle of the pack pitching staff. They definitely come by their 64-64 record honestly.
Probable Starting Pitchers
Zach Plesac just hasn’t been able to follow up his breakout 2020 season this year. He upped his strikeout rate and limited walks so well that Indians fans had to be hopeful that he could keep that up, at least in some capacity, but it just hasn’t worked for him this year. His strikeouts are back down to what he showed in his rookie season, making 2020 look like an outlier. He’s actually throwing a touch harder this season, but his fastball has continued to not be very successful. While his slider has been very good this year, it’s gotten hit a touch more than last year, but the real difference is in his changeup. Last year, he gave up one extra base hit in 52 plate appearances that ended on it. This year, he’s allowed 11 in 125 including six homers. He has had a reverse platoon split this year, which is actually a little surprising given how rough the changeup has been. Where he’s really struggled this year is with runners in scoring position, allowing a .293/.333/.598 line. That is not good. He gave up three runs in four innings against the Royals in his only outing against them earlier this year.
It’s been a strange season for Jakob Junis, who came to camp as a reliever but pitched so well that he was the guy the Royals turned to when they needed a fifth starter early in the year. And he was pretty good, well, at least by the numbers. In four starts, he allowed just one home run in 21.1 innings and struck out 24 while walking seven. He was moved to the bullpen to make room for Daniel Lynch’s debut, which obviously didn’t so great for either. Junis got rocked immediately in the bullpen. He gave up five home runs in 11.1 innings with 19 hits allowed. So he got sent to Omaha to work as a starter and he was okay in his first two starts, but gave up 11 runs on 14 hits, including four homers in five innings over his next two starts and he hit the minor league injured list. But since he’s been back in Omaha after rehabbing, he’s gone 7.1 innings with no runs on three hits allowed, so here he is. This might be his last shot as he’s a legitimate non-tender candidate following the season, so hopefully for his sake this is a good audition.
Logan Allen’s first two starts of the year were really solid, going five in each and giving up two runs to the Royals and then one to the Tigers. He got hit hard in his next three starts and was sent to the minors. Then he came up in late June/early July and made two stats that weren’t very good either. But he came back last week against the Red Sox and was really good, giving up just one run on hit over six innings. His fastball has been hit really hard this season, with a .328 average and .656 slugging percentage. His changeup has also given him trouble and while he’s been hit very hard by both righties and lefties, lefties have actually been better against him. He’s made just two starts on the road this season and has allowed 10 runs on 10 hits in 5.1 innings, so the Royals have to hope the road Allen shows up in this one.
Jackson Kowar will get another shot as he’s been announced as the starter for the second game of the series. His first trip to the big leagues went…poorly. But there was definitely a sign of progress in his third outing that was out of the bullpen before he was sent to Omaha to work on some things. He added a slider in his time in Omaha and while he wasn’t quite as good upon his return as he was to start the year, his most recent start was his best when he struck out nine in six innings. For me, I just want to see him not be overwhelmed by the moment. This Indians team is hitting well right now, but he has the stuff to handle any team if he’s in command.
Triston McKenzie was placed on the IL last week with shoulder fatigue, but he’ll be activated in time for this game, which makes it seem like it was a roster maneuver. The rail thin righty has had a weird season for the Indians, starting the year walking the world, but he’s been much better in his last eight starts, walking just eight batters in 49 innings while striking out 48. He’s had his ups and downs in those eight starts, but he’s throwing way more strikes, so that’s helped him quite a bit. He doesn’t throw all that hard, only averaging around 92 on his fastball, but his curve and slider are both big-time swing and miss pitches that have been absolutely nasty for him this year. Opponents are hitting just .112 on those two pitches. He doesn’t really have a platoon split and he’s actually been better when facing an opponent more times during the game. The stuff is legit, so if he’s controlling it, it’s going to be a tough night for the Royals offense.
Mike Minor last had a truly bad start when he faced the Indians in July right before the break. In that game, he allowed six runs on nine hits and only lasted four innings. Since then, he’s been generally fine, going 41.1 innings in seven starts with a 4.35 ERA. The thing about Minor is that he really hasn’t been that much worse than anyone could have hoped or expected, but he was right on the line, so while you’re probably okay with him giving up four runs in seven innings, that still is a 5.14 ERA. He hasn’t been great against Cleveland this year, but I think his fastball tells the story a lot. When he’s getting bad swings on it, he’ll be fine. When he’s not, he’s likely going to get hit.
The Indians fell to a season-low-tying three games under .500 following a 17-0 loss on August 12 and have bounced back nicely since, going 9-6. The Royals are playing some excellent baseball right now as well. I’m going to ride the wave of good Royals play and say they take two of three this series.