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Series Preview: Rays and Royals battle for starters ERA lead.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays head into a four game set against the Kansas City Royals (10-20), the team with the fewest wins in the majors. They have won three of their last seven after dropping nine in a row.

The Royals have allowed just 121 runs (4.03 per game), but they have only scored 82 runs (2.73 per game). That’s how you end up ten games under this far into the season. It is mostly deserved as the pythagorean win percentage puts them at 10-20 and they’re only under performing BaseRuns by two wins.

The Matchups:

Monday 7:10 PM: Nate Karns vs Blake Snell

Tuesday 7:10 PM: TBD vs Matt Andriese

Wednesday 7:10 PM: Jason Hammel vs Chris Archer

Thursday 1:10 PM: Jason Vargas vs Jake Odorizzi

The Royals starting rotation has been quite good.

The Royals starting rotation comes in with the second best ERA from starters at 3.28. The Royals have the lead in FIP at 3.71 compared to the Rays 4.21 due to a league leading 8.4% HR/FB rate.

Nate Karns gets the ball to face his former team for the second time since he was traded away. Last year he made one start versus the Rays with Seattle, going five innings and allowing two runs. In six appearances, five starts, this season Karns has a 4.97 ERA and 5.03 FIP. Apparently he is the one member of the Royals rotation who didn’t get the memo to stop giving up homers. He’s allowed six homers and a 24.0% HR/FB rate.

Tuesday’s starter has not been announced. Ian Kennedy was placed on the ten day disabled list after straining his right hamstring in his start on Thursday.

On Wednesday the Royals are scheduled to throw another former Ray, Jason Hammel. Hammel has been much wilder than he has typically been with a 11.5% walk rate compared to his 7.5% career rate. He has posted a 5.53 ERA and 3.97 FIP. The FIP is lowered by a 5.9% HR/FB rate. In six starts he has only thrown 27.2 innings. He’s coming off his best start of the year in which he allowed one run in six innings against the Cleveland Indians.

Jason Vargas has been dominant in his first full season back from the Tommy John Surgery he had in July 2015. In six starts he has thrown 37.2 innings of 1.19 ERA and 2.12 FIP baseball. He striking out batters at a career best rate, 23.8%, and limiting walks to 4.8% of batters faced. He’s allowing a 2.8% HR/FB rate. Vargas is third in MLB in fWAR behind Chris Sale and James Paxton.

The bullpen hasn’t been their reliable lock down selves.

The Royals bullpen was expected to take a step back after they traded Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs, and their 4.88 ERA and 4.08 FIP suggest this has been the case.

Kelvin Herrera has been an elite arm over the last few years, and so far this season he has a 3.75 ERA and 6.33 FIP through 12 innings. His strikeouts are down to 19.6% from a career best 30.4% rate last year. He’s carried over the walk rate at 4.4%. He’s given up four homers and a 33.3% HR/FB rate.

Joakim Soria has had a bounce back season coming off a forgettable 2016. Soria has posted a 2.63 ERA and 1.61 FIP. The strikeouts have soared to 35.1% after being in the mid 20s the previous few years. It has come with an uptick in walks to 12.3%.

Mike Minor has been the other reliable arm in the pen. The left handed pitcher has posted a 2.93 ERA and 2.15 FIP. It’s Minor’s first season back in the majors since 2014. Minor missed over two years due to Tommy John Surgery followed by surgery to repair a torn labrum.

The Royals offense has been a complete disaster.

Their rotation has put up very good results. The bullpen hasn’t been good, but far from a disaster. The offense or lack thereof is the reason for the Royals having the worst record in baseball.

The Royals are hitting .208/.270/.329 and have put up a 63 wRC+. For comparison this is equivalent to what the Rays catchers have done since 2013. Rays catchers have hit .211/.268/.329 and put up a 68 wRC+. Imagine watching Jose Molina, Jesus Sucre and Luke Maile bat 27 times a night. That’s the Royals offense.

Lorenzo Cain has been one of the few bright spots. Cain is hitting .267/.387/.375 and put up a 119 wRC+ to lead the team. Mike Moustakas is the only other batter above 100 wRC+. Moustakas is batting .250/.283/.491 and 109 wRC+ including seven homers.

Eric Hosmer (98 wRC+), Salvador Perez (94 wRC+), and Jorge Bonifacio (85 wRC+) are the only other batters hitting above 60 wRC+.

The Royals continue to bring good defense. 9 DRS puts them at ninth in the league. 8.5 UZR ranks them third.

Something has to give.

The Rays have an opportunity to put together a string of wins against a struggling club. They keep getting to .500, but haven’t been able to push through that barrier since a couple of weeks into the season. Four games against the Royals could give them a chance to gain some traction.