After a tough series loss against a team fighting for a playoff spot, the schedule for the Colorado Rockies doesn’t lighten up this week. The Rockies will face a Kansas City Royals team just a game and a half out in the American League Wild Card race. The Rockies currently sit a game ahead of the Diamondbacks for the top Wild Card spot in the National League as the D-backs were swept over the weekend by the Twins in embarrassing fashion. Behind the D-backs however, the Brewers and Cardinals both lurk within five games of the Rockies. Every series is important from here on out but the Rockies need to finish August strong as they will have to play both the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks seven times each in the season’s final month.
The Royals have come a long way from the season’s opening month when they looked like a bottom five team in the league. They entered May at 7-16, the worst record in the American League. Since, they’ve compiled a 55-45 record and transformed from sellers to buyers at the trade deadline. After strengthening their pitching staff with Brendon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, and Trevor Cahill from the Padres, the Royals bolstered their outfield by acquiring Melky Cabrera in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. This team wants to win now and they went all in on July 31 to get this group into the playoffs.
The addition of Melky Cabrera has filled a huge hole in right field for the Royals. The combination of Jorge Bonafacio, Paolo Orlando, and Jorge Soler produced an uninspiring 81 wRC+ in right field. The only two teams worse? The Giants and (gasp) the Rockies. Since the acquisition of Cabrera, the Royals have produced a wRC+ of 132 in right field, eighth highest in the league, albeit in a small sample size. As a team, the Royals have the league’s second highest line drive rate, fourth highest fly ball rate, and third lowest ground ball rate. The Royals as a team have an aggressive approach; they rarely walk and they rarely strikeout. It’s a tough lineup to navigate and will be a challenge for the Rockies staff.
Starting Pitching Notes
The Rockies will face Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and Jake Junis in this series. Duffy was sensational a season ago for the Royals, earning a five-year, $65-million extension this past offseason. He missed all of June with an injury and his fastball is down a couple ticks from a season ago. He has also compiled an ugly 6.35 ERA so far in August so the Rockies may be catching him at the right time. You may remember Kennedy from his time with the Diamondbacks and Padres. Since his days in the NL West, Kennedy has struggled to replicate the moderate success he had there and has been consistently inconsistent. Junis is a rookie making his ninth start for the Royals. He is a control over stuff type and won’t blow many guys away but does have good command of his arsenal.
The Royals bullpen has been mediocre all season, which is why they made a deal at the trade deadline to acquire Maurer and Buchter from the Padres. Since coming over, Maurer has compiled a 5.02 xFIP with a 2.34 WHIP while Buchter owns a 5.48 xFIP and has given up three homeruns in his eleven appearances. That’s probably not what the Royals had in mind. Elsewhere in the Kansas City bullpen, both Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria hit the DL last week. Soria had been their best reliever on the year so that is a big hit for them. They have also gotten good production from former Atlanta Brave Mike Minor, who has quietly put together a 1.5 WAR season in a low-leverage role. Closer Kelvin Herrera has had his share of struggles on the year but remains entrenched in the role and has allowed just two runs in his last eleven appearances.
The Royals have committed the fewest errors in the league this year but have put together a mediocre -12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). The disparity tells us that the Royals make the routine plays but cost themselves in other areas. According to DRS, the above average defenders on the team are center fielder Lorenzo Cain, catcher Salvador Perez, second baseman Whit Merrifield, and left fielder Alex Gordon. At the other four positions, the Royals have excellent fielding percentages but their starters have failed to perform better than the average player at their respective positions. Although the Royals defenders are not likely to botch an easy play, they’re not likely to make a spectacular one either.
On Wednesday, Antonio Senzatela will rejoin the rotation in place of the recently demoted Jeff Hoffman. The Rockies offense has struggled lately, as evidenced by their 2-for-14 mark with runners in scoring position against the Brewers. Unfortunately, they have been almost as bad in those situations on the road in the second half, compiling just a .218 average and a .333 slugging percentage. Greg Holland will hope to turn things around this week as he has allowed nine earned runs in his last four and a third innings, by far his worst stretch in a Rockies uniform.
The Royals are a good team fighting for a playoff spot and it won’t be easy for a struggling Rockies team to take two of three in this one. The Rockies will have to get the bats going in Kansas City and fortunately, they have a couple favorable matchups on Wednesday and Thursday. From a pitching perspective, the Rockies will look to Jon Gray, Senzatela, and German Marquez to help shut down a dangerous lineup. If the Rockies can get to a struggling bullpen early in games, they have a good chance to pull out a series win. But if they let the Royals starters hold them down, it will be a tough few days.
Probable Pitchers and Schedule (All times MT)
Tuesday, August 22 @ 6:15 p.m. (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Jon Gray (5-2, 4.74 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (7-8, 3.82 ERA)
Wednesday, August 23 @ 6:15 p.m. (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Antonio Senzatela (10-4, 4.56 ERA) vs. Ian Kennedy (4-9, 5.06 ERA)
Thursday, August 24 @ 12:15 p.m. (No TV, 850KOA/94.1)
German Marquez (10-5, 4.24 ERA) vs. Jake Junis (5-2, 4.99 ERA)