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Rays vs Royals Preview: Facing the new Worst Team in Baseball

The Jays are no longer in last place thanks to the Rays

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

With the Toronto Blue Jays taking two out of three against the Rays over the weekend, the Jays moved out of the American League cellar, a distinction that the Kansas City Royals now own. The 2015 World Series champs have fallen off greatly in 2017, with their offense, in particular, falling off a cliff so far this season.

Monday’s game (7:10 p.m. EST) will be the first in a four-game set between the Royals and Rays, who despite both being below .500, own the two best ERAs from their starting pitchers in baseball this season. The Rays (3.26) have a slight edge on the Royals in that regard (3.28), and they are hoping to have a slight edge on the Royals in all regards when the two take the field.

Probable Starters

Blake Snell

Snell is coming off one of his best starts of the season, as he collected nine strikeouts over five, two-run innings in a no decision against the Marlins his last time out. The nine strikeouts were a season high, and it was (somewhat terrifyingly) only the second time he struck out more batters than he walked in a game in 2017.

That control (or, at times, lack thereof) is always something to watch with Snell. His last start was a step in the right direction, but Snell still owns the seventh-worst K-BB% among pitchers with at least 30 innings this season, with his walks per nine being the highest among that same group.

The good news is the Royals have been allergic to walks for the better part of the past 30 years and 2017 is no exception. Their 7.1 percent walk rate ranks 27th in the majors this season. It’s not just in drawing walks where the Royals have struggled this season, it’s been their offense as a whole. Their 82 runs are dead last in baseball by more than 20 runs. Their wRC+ of 63 is also 30th in baseball for the season. The news only gets better for Snell, as the Royals have (somehow) been even worse against lefties, with a mind-melting wRC+ of 40 against southpaws this season.

If Snell is simply in attack mode on Monday, the results should be there, and, honestly, even if he isn’t he shouldn’t be in too much trouble, as the Royals also sport the highest swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone this season. To say they have been a dreadful offense in 2017 is offensive to both the word dreadful and offense.

Nate Karns

Although the Royals’ starting pitchers have the second-best ERA in baseball this season, Karns has not been great at suppressing runs in his own 2017 season. Karns - an ex-Ray, of course - has a 1-2 record with a 4.97 ERA, but he comes across a little better if we dig a little deeper. Karns has a 3.97 xFIP, and he has been burned by a bit of bad luck on fly balls, with 24.0 percent of the fly balls he has allowed this season leaving the yard, despite allowing just 28.6 percent hard contact on his balls in play.

Karns has actually been a master of inducing ground balls this season, with a 59.0 percent ground ball rate that ranks in the top ten among pitchers with as many innings. His 10.8 percent line drive rate allowed ranks third in that same group, and if it wasn’t for those pesky long balls, he’d be having a much better 2017.

It hasn’t been the offspeed and breaking balls that have been doing Karns in (he has a .250 and .239 slugging percentage allowed on his changeup and curveball, respectively), but hitters have been able to get around on his fastball and sinker, leading to a .500+ slugging percentage against each pitch, per Brooks Baseball. Given that Karns lives around 93 mph with those two pitches, it’s not too surprising that hitters have been able to have some success against those two offerings, then again, there are plenty of pitchers who can thrive in that velocity band.

Karns, like Snell, is coming off his best start of the season, and it was (maybe coincidentally, maybe not) the game in which he used his curveball most this season. It will be interesting to see how curveball-heavy Karns goes, especially with the Rays handling curveballs pretty well this season.

Starting Lineups

Today's Lineups

Kansas City Royals Tampa Bay Rays
Kansas City Royals Tampa Bay Rays
Alcides Escobar - SS Corey Dickerson - DH
Lorenzo Cain - CF Brad Miller - 2B
Eric Hosmer - 1B Evan Logoria - 3B
Salvador Perez - DH Logan Morrison - 1B
Jorge Soler - RF Steven Souza - RF
Whit Merrifield - 2B Colby Rasmus - LF
Cheslor Cuthbert - 3B Tim Beckham - SS
Alex Gordon - LF Kevin Kiermaier - CF
Drew Butera - C Derek Norris - C
Nate Karns - RHP Blake Snell - LHP