The Twins are on life support. Can the Royals nurse them back to health?
The Twins have their collective backs up against the wall. They just completed a five-game series against the Guardians and anything short of winning three of five would have put them in a precarious situation for the rest of the season. They did not win three of five. They won one of five. Now they’re left with 15 games to play and are seven games out with two teams to leapfrog in the standings without any more head-to-head matchups remaining against the Guardians. They do have six more against the White Sox, so they could make up some ground there, but it may not matter. As we discussed last week, injuries have certainly played their part, but the lack of consistent starting pitching that can get deep into games and then having bullpen issues for much of the season has plagued this team. They’re good enough offensively to win, but when they just can’t get consistent pitching, it turns them into a thoroughly mediocre team, which, even in the AL Central just isn’t quite good enough.
Royals vs. Twins Projected Pitching Matchups
Dylan Bundy made his last start against the Royals on Thursday in the series finale and only made it through four innings with two runs allowed. As we talked about last week in the preview, that’s by design for the Twins. They simply don’t get many innings from their starting rotation and Bundy is no exception. He’s completed six innings just four times all season and more than six just once. He has a reverse platoon split because he’s been very successful against lefties with his fastball/changeup mix. Against righties, he throws a lot of sliders, but those have sort of hung in the middle way too often and they’ve handled his fastball quite well. It seems to me that maybe the use of his changeup sets up his fastball and he should be throwing some right-on-right changeups, but I’m not here to help the Twins. I mentioned his home and away splits last week and how he has been much better at home this year, but this start, of course, will be a road one.
Career vs. KC: 10 G, 9 GS, 50.1 IP, 2-2, 4.11 ERA
Zack Greinke last pitched on Wednesday in Minneapolis and he had a heck of a time getting through the first inning. He gave up hits to the first two batters and then the Twins scored a run on a double play, which looked like the inning might conclude pretty easily, but Greinke walked the next batter, then allowed a single, double, walk and another single and by the time the inning was over, he’d allowed three runs on five hits total. When his day was over after four, he’d allowed three runs on five hits total. He threw 40 pitches in that first and then 41 over the next three with just one walk issued. Given his success to end that game and his home/road splits (1.93 ERA at home vs. 6.36 ERA on the road), you’d have to think he’s feeling good about facing this lineup at Kauffman Stadium.
Career vs. MIN: 29 G, 25 GS, 153.0 IP, 5-13, 4.65 ERA
I was impressed with Bailey Ober in seeing him last season and early this season. He didn’t seem to be someone who was going to be an ace or anything, but there’s a lot of value in a pitcher who limits walks and can get some strikeouts. But he injured his groin and missed three and a half months before returning against Cleveland with five innings of one-hit ball on Friday. Ober uses his 6’9” height well and leverages an average fastball that sits at 91.6 MPH to look like it’s 92.6 MPH out of his hand. That’s not a huge difference, but it can impact decision making. On top of that, his slider has been nearly impossible to hit with a 33.8 percent whiff rate and a .159 average and .205 slugging percentage allowed. He hasn’t been hit for power, but lefty bats have handled him pretty well with a .290 average compared to .215 for righties. The nice thing is that the Royals have some versatility with their lefties and righties to be able to potentially take advantage of that.
Career vs. KC: 4 GS, 16.1 IP, 0-0, 4.41 ERA
Daniel Lynch’s start on Thursday against the Twins was one of the more head-scratching starts in awhile. He gave up three runs on seven hits in five innings and the Twins hit line drives all over the field. But that was when they made contact. Because they swung and missed 16 times against him with his fastball and slider handling the bulk of that. Similar to Greinke, Lynch started the game with some struggles, giving up all three runs and four of the hits in the first two innings. It was the type of game, as I wrote on Inside the Crown, that basically backs up whatever you believe to be true about Lynch. One thing about Lynch that would be among the easiest fixes is to figure out how to get the bottom of the order out. He’s allowed a .310/.385/.488 line to numbers eight and nine hitters in a lineup. That’s compared to .287/.351/.449 to the rest of the lineup, which is still not good, but it’s better than what he’s allowing to theoretically the worst hitters. The Twins lineup, with all their injuries, has gotten pretty thin at the bottom, so he needs to handle those hitters better.
Career vs. MIN: 6 GS, 31.0 IP, 1-3, 4.65 ERA
The Twins took Josh Winder in the 2018 draft that we know so much about as Royals fans. He went to the Virginia Military Institute, so he was teammates with Nate Eaton. Winder was very good in 2019 and picked up where he left off in AA last year before struggling just a little bit in AAA in four starts. But he made a few nice appearances earlier this year in AAA and then has found his way to the big leagues when the Twins had some needs. His first two starts were great. Then he had a rough one. But he’s been generally pretty solid for Minnesota. He hasn’t gotten past five innings in either of his last two starts, but he has gotten through six in three of his eight. Winder throws a four-seam fastball that he should not be throwing nearly as much. It’s straight and it has been hit hard to the tune of a .333 average and .681 slugging percentage. His slider has been his best pitch
Career vs. KC: First Appearance
Jonathan Heasley had what was pretty easily the second-best start of his young career his last time out. He went 6.2 innings with no runs on two hits allowed and struck out five. He did walk three, so that was still sort of an issue for him, but that was about as good as he’s ever looked. I was a bit concerned about the drop in velocity we saw from him in the start before the last one and in this one, but Mike Matheny did allude to the fact that it was by design. First off, I hate that they can’t figure out how to help someone command their fastball at full velocity, but if it’s the first step to getting the velocity and command to match up, I’m fine with it. I don’t think it is, but we can’t discount that at this point. Heasley has struggled with lefties quite a bit, so I’d be interested to see if there’s some emphasis on his changeup, which I thought looked pretty good in Boston. He didn’t throw a ton, but I liked the movement on it. That might help him to not have such drastic platoon splits.
Career vs. MIN: 1 GS, 5.1 IP, 1-0, 6.75 ERA
Royals vs. Twins Prediction
While the Royals are playing some terribly uninspired baseball, they have been better at home this season and did take a series from the Twins in Kansas City earlier this year. It’s hard to know what this team is going to look like in this series, though, after a five-game set with their division title hopes basically on the line. Do they come in determined to make up a deficit that is nearly impossible to make up? Or do they come in defeated and play like their offseason has already begun? I’m going to go with the chalk on this prediction and say the Royals lose two of three, but when a team gets their hopes dashed, you just never know how they’ll respond.