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Series Preview: KC Royals vs Rays

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

To say the Tampa Bay Rays are on fire is a massive understatement. The Rays have won 11 in a row by a combined score of 95-37. The Rays have made it to the top of the American League East with a 30-19 record.

The Kansas City Royals have crawled back to within one game of .500 at 22-23. They have won six of their last nine.

Matchups:

Tuesday 7:10 PM: Brad Keller vs Rich HIll
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Mike Minor vs Tyler Glasnow
Thursday 3:10 PM: Brady Singer vs Shane McClanahan

Brad Keller has been a good MLB pitcher from 2018-20, but 2021 things haven’t gone as planned for the right hander. In 2021 he has a 6.52 ERA/5.01 FIP/4.52 xFIP through 38.2 innings. Most of the damage has been done in two starts where he wasn’t able to get out of the second inning and gave up five and six runs. Most of his other starts has been of the more respectable 2-3 runs allowed in 5-6 inning variety.

Keller experienced a drop in velocity in 2020 but he’s back to his career norms this year, averaging 94.2 mph on his four-seam and with his sinker averaging 93.7 mph. Both those numbers are up about 1.5 mph from last year’s numbers and more in line with his 2018-19 averages. He splits his fastball use evenly between the four-seam and sinker that combine for almost 70% of his pitches. His primary breaking ball is a 86.4 mph slider that he throws nearly 30% of the time. He’ll throw it to batters from both sides of the plate equally. He will very occasionally throw a 89.6 mph changeup. He throws it more frequently to left handed batters though it’s still thrown less than 10% of the time.

Mike Minor had a strong 2019 with the Texas Rangers, but struggled in 2020. He was still able to secure a 2 year $18MM deal with the Royals last winter. This year he’s posted a 5.14 ERA/4.31 FIP/4.29 xFIP over 49.0 innings. Minor has seen a small increase in velocity in 2021. His four-seam averages 91.2 mph while his slider averages 86.0 mph. He also throws a 85.1 mph changeup and 80.5 mph curveball. He mixes all four pitches fairly equally with the four-seamer being his most used pitch right at 35%.

Brady Singer is a central Florida native who attended Eustis High School (Eustis, FL) and the University of Florida. The former first round draft pick has had a solid start to his Major League career with a 4.03 ERA/3.79 FIP/4.03 xFIP over 109.1 innings. In 2021 he has a 4.00 ERA/3.37 FIP/4.01 xFIP over 45.0 innings. Singer is a two-pitch pitcher. He throws his primary pitch, is a 93.8 mph sinker, nearly 65% of the time. His second pitch is a 85.1 mph slider that he throws over 30% of the time. He will very rarely throw a 88.1 mph changeup but hasn’t thrown one to a right handed batter this year.

The Royals have had one of the worst bullpens in the league this year putting up a 4.33 ERA/4.34 FIP/4.48 xFIP over 170.1 innings. The biggest problem has been a very high 12.3% walk rate. Scott Barlow, Kyle Zimmer, and Josh Staumont lead the way with ERAs below 3.00. The veterans Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Jesse Hahn have really struggled.

The Royals offense has not been good

The Royals have hit .235/.304/.375 and put up a 85 wRC+. This has led to 187 runs (4.15 runs per game). The team is bottom ten in the majors on nearly every hitting metric (other than batting average).

Carlos Santana has been a big addition. He has hit .257/.396/.461 and put up a 140 wRC+. He is tied for the team lead with nine homers and continues to be an on base machine.

Salvador Perez has hit .280/.310/.491 and put up a 119 wRC+. That’s great production for a catcher.

The problem is that Santana and Perez haven’t had much help. Andrew Benintendi (108 wRC+), Whit Merrifield (93 wRC+), and Michael Taylor (91 wRC+) have been the most productive regulars.

Jorge Soler has struggled hitting .182/.263/.331 and a 65 wRC+. He can always come out with a huge power surge as he did earlier this year with a homer and a double against the Rays.

Nicky Lopez (78 wRC+) and Hunter Dozier (46 wRC+) have not performed up to expectations offensively as regulars.

Aldaberto Mondesi hasn’t played a game in the majors this year, but has started to play in the minors on rehab assignment last week. He could be making his season debut soon.

Rays got great fan support in Dunedin

The support the Rays received on the road last weekend versus the Toronto Blue Jays was great to see. Everything from the Ji-Man Choi chants to the rally cheers were fun for those in attendance and apparent to those watching on television. Yeah, it was technically a road game but last we checked Dunedin is in Pinellas County — so it’s Rays country, and the fans made that clear.

The Rays are playing great baseball right now. The offense is firing on all cylinders and have now tied the major league lead in runs scored with the Boston Red Sox. The pitching is keeping them in most games even when the offense isn’t putting up big run totals.

Another series victory wouldn’t be a bad outcome, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if we head into the Friday off day with a 14 game winning streak.