Minnesota Twins vs. Kansas City Royals Series Preview

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports /

Kansas City: “Reeling on the Road” is a headline that aptly describes Kansas City’s season thus far. They have dropped 11 of their first 13 on the road thus far, including all seven on their recent road trip. They’re happy to be home, winners of five of their last six at Kauffman Stadium.

They are also happy to see the Twins, the season-opening series notwithstanding. Since their ascension a few years ago, they have dominated the Twins, including last year – with Minnesota winning only four games out of the 19 the two teams played.

But this Royals team is but a shadow of the one that appeared in two straight World Series, winning one, just two years ago. The dominant bullpen has been broken apart. The offense, so far, has been non-existent.

They are also a team at a crossroads. Many of their stars from their recent postseason glory days are free agents after this season. If the Royals are not in contention come July, expect many of them to be traded as Kansas City looks to reload.

They made an attempt at one last “keep the band together” by trying to get younger at some positions over the offseason. They traded expensive closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for promising young Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.

They also signed free agent pitcher Jason Hammel, last with the Cubs, after their starter Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident over the winter.

But Soler has yet to suit up for Kansas City, starting the year on the disabled list after straining his oblique in the last week of Spring Training. Originally, the idea was for Soler to be activated today in time for this weekend’s series, but he will instead continue to rehab at AAA Omaha until at least May 10.

Pitching: With the loss of Ventura, the Royals were thin in the starting rotation. Danny Duffy was coming off a stellar season, but Jason Vargas hadn’t pitched much of the past two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The loss of their closer, Davis, has led to a breakdown in how the Royals approached games. They were pitching from the ninth inning backwards, just trying to get their starter to the sixth or seventh inning with a lead or have them within range.

From there, three fireballers would shut down the opposing offense and close out a Kansas City win, or allow for the Royals to attempt one of their patented comebacks.

While their two best relievers are pitching well, neither Joakim Soria or Kelvin Herrera have been in many games with the Royals ahead or tied. The Royals have been unable to hit (team .203 avg) or score runs (only 54 in 21 games).

Player to Watch: Ian Kennedy. The Royals had hoped with a change of scenery to a winning team that Kennedy would revert to his Arizona Diamondbacks form, when he won 36 games in 2011-12. While only going 11-11 last year in his first season with Kansas City, Kennedy has pitched much better this season.

It’s just that his win-loss record won’t reflect that. While K.C. has been struggling on offense, no pitcher has been as hard-luck as Kennedy. Though he’s winless this season (0-2), the Royals have scored only a total of three runs in Kennedy’s four starts – and they won one of his starts 1-0.

Not many Twins batters have more than 10 at-bats against Kennedy, but look for manager Paul Molitor to possibly sit Joe Mauer (3-17) and have Miguel Sano play first base to get Eduardo Escobar into the game (7-16).

Hitting: The Royals have the worst batting average in MLB and are 27th in taking walks. However, the Texas Rangers were also mired near K.C. in batting average until they got healthier against the Twins’ bullpen.

While the Royals don’t strike out much, they aren’t hitting line drives either, attributing to their low batting average on balls in play (BABIP). They have just two regulars with a .250+ BABIP, while the Twins have 10 such players. Byron Buxton (.265) would be second on the Royals’ team. Second… let that soak in for a moment.

The lack of line drives also accounts for a low number of extra base hits. The Royals are last in that category as well, with just 39 XBH, compared to 56 for the Twins (21st) and 91 for the league-leading Milwaukee Brewers.

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

Player to Watch: Lorenzo Cain. A free-agent-to-be, Cain may be soon playing for another team. The Royals would love to keep one of their postseason heroes such as Cain, but he would also bring back one of the biggest hauls in return if traded.

He and Mike Moustakas have been the only consistent hitters for the Royals, accounting for 33 percent of their runs, 36 percent of their XBH, and 35 percent of Kansas City’s home runs between just the two of them.

But don’t look for the Twins to pitch around Cain in the first two games. While Cain has had plenty of success over the years against Minnesota, he’s hitting just 6-37 (.162) combined versus the first two starters he’ll face in Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes.

Minnesota: Finally able to right the ship against the Rangers after a horrible homestand, the Twins can’t feel too happy despite winning two of three in Texas. Not after getting kicked around during Wednesday’s finale.

They will also be short-handed for the first game in the bullpen, with so many arms pitching in relief during the 14-3 shellacking. After Santiago pitched five innings, accumulating 104 pitches, Minnesota relievers threw an additional 88 pitches in just three innings of relief. Uffda.

In the slimmest of silver linings, the Twins will catch a small break with the recall of Buddy Boshers to replace Hector Santiago, who had to leave the team on bereavement for the death of his grandmother.

Buxton was finally able to put together some good at-bats for an entire series versus the Rangers. Buxton’s line for the three games: 7 AB / 3 H / 2 R / 5 BB / 1 K / 1 RBI – his first RBI of the year, and just his second and third runs scored on the season. But the biggest number was one – just one strikeout in the three-game series.

Kennys Vargas also had a good series in Texas, going 4-12 with a home run. Unfortunately for Vargas, Danny Duffy will not be pitching in this series. While to most Twins batters this is a relief, Vargas has seven of his 11 career hits against the Royals off Duffy (7-15, .467 avg). Against all other Royals pitchers, he’s 4-25, an average of just .160.

Next: Twins' Ryan O'Rourke to Have TJ Surgery

Notes: J.T. Chargois was not an option to be recalled, as he is going on the disabled list with “right elbow impingement.” The Twins want to err on the side of caution with Chargois, as he missed two seasons of development with a torn ligament in that same elbow.