I doubt there’s anyone connected with the Kansas City Royals – fans, players, front office, everyone – who didn’t welcome today’s off day. It’s a time to breathe, a time to re-boot, a time to relax.
But not for long. Friday night, the Royals start a three-game series with the Detroit Tigers, the team they’re chasing in the American League Central. The Tigers have a half-game edge, but don’t forget about that suspended game the Royals will complete at Cleveland on Monday night. Kansas City trails 4-2 in that one and will be batting in the bottom of the ninth.
Winning the division would be a huge deal for the Royals. The postseason is the postseason, of course. And wild-card teams have won world championships. But a one game series is such a roll of the dice. And even though Kansas City would likely have its big game pitcher, James Shields, on the mound for such a game, there are no guarantees.
Best for the Royals, as with any team, to get into a seven-game series without having to worry about a wild-card game.
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All of that adds to the heft of this series with Detroit. It’ll be Jason Vargas, Shields and Jeremy Guthrie going for Kansas City against the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
Let’s examine the Royals’ starters for this series.
Jason Vargas (11-9, 3.41 ERA, 179.2 IP, 184 H, 68 ER, 38 BB, 126 K)
Vargas has been hurt by the long ball in his past couple of starts, even one he didn’t allow. Two of the runners who scored on Daniel Nava’s grand slam for Boston against reliever Aaron Crow over the weekend were aboard because Vargas put them there. Vargas had already allowed a three-run homer to Xander Boegaerts in that game. And in his previous start, Vargas allowed a two-run homer to Detroit’s Rajai Davis and a solo shot to J.D. Martinez. In those two starts, Vargas has given up nine runs in 10.2 innings. But he’s been effective except for the home runs. The Tigers hit a lot of home runs. Vargas’ match-up with Verlander in Game 1 of the series will be interesting.
James Shields (14-7, 3.15 ERA, 214.1 IP, 213 H, 75 ER, 41 BB, 170 K)
Big Game James has lived up to his nickname, going 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA in his past four starts. In one of those, he allowed only two hits over seven innings to Detroit in a 3-0 Royals win. Shields struck out eight in that one. He has pitched at least seven innings in all of those four starts, but continues to struggle for run support. Which Royals pitcher doesn’t? Over 29.1 innings in these starts, Shields has walked only two and fanned 24. He’s pitching his best baseball when the Royals need it most. Scherzer, the 2013 Cy Young Award winner in the American League, has a 4.46 ERA in his past six starts.
Jeremy Guthrie (11-11, 4.35 ERA, 190.1 IP, 206 H, 92 ER, 46 BB, 116 K)
Guthrie has been on a pitching roller coaster for a while now. But he has recovered from a horrific July (1-3, 10.07 ERA) to pitch better in September. In an August 17 start vs. Minnesota, Guthrie gave up four runs in seven innings against the Twins. In his next start against Texas, Guthrie allowed just five hits and one run in eight innings. He followed up that great start with a bad one against the Twins, giving up nine hits and five runs in six innings. Then came a good outing against the Rangers in which Guthrie allowed just one earned run in seven innings. On Sept. 8, the Tigers roughed up Guthrie for 10 hits and eight runs in just 2.2 innings. But he was great the last time out against Boston, allowing just three hits and an unearned run in eight innings. Which Guthrie will the Royals get Sunday to face Porcello? They hope the good one.