Jun 7, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals Sluggerrr celebrates at the end of the game against the New York Yankees at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Kansas City Royals (44-40) @ Cleveland Indians (41-43)

Royals Visit Progressive Field in a Huge Series for Indians

The Kansas City Royals arrive in Cleveland to celebrate the Fourth of July on the shores of Lake Erie on Friday, having won 15 of their last 23 games, including six of their last eight series. We recently profiled the Royals in our Halfway Home series at Wahoo’s on First, but you’ll still learn what you need to know here.

Jun 17, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals have been struggling all season offensively, as both Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler have under-performed this season, combining for just six home runs and 70 RBI over 715 plate appearances while slashing at just .262/.312/.349. Fortunately for K.C., both Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon are producing, while center fielder Lorenzo Cain has been very solid in a limited role. With Omar Infante not living up to free agent expectations and Mike Moustakas continuing to look as lost as a nun on a honeymoon, the Royals have been quite fortunate to have the pitching step up in 2014.

Sure, James Shields hasn’t looked like James Shields this season (3.93 ERA, 4.04 FIP), but that doesn’t matter much when Jason Vargas (3.32 ERA, 4.11 FIP), Jeremy Guthrie (3.69 ERA, 4.68 FIP), Yordano Ventura (3.26 ERA, 3.29 FIP), and Danny Duffy (2.60 ERA, 3.80 FIP) have pitched so well early this season. Beyond the starting rotation, the Royals feature a lights-out, dominant group in the bullpen. Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, and Wade Davis all feature plus-plus fastballs and could, and likely will, close games in the future in Kansas City or elsewhere. While all are right-handed and could have trouble against left-handed heavy Cleveland lineups, the electricity in their stuff and ability to locate evens out whatever split advantage one may consider for the Indians.

The pitching is helped by the Royals tremendous defense, led by Gordon in left, who is the 3rd most valuable player in baseball (based on FanGraphs WAR) behind the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, largely due to his incredible outfield skills. Shortstop Alcides Escobar has a solid glove (though, not as good as in years past) and good speed to present some value for the club, as well.

Overall, the Royals are ahead of the Indians largely due to their pitching, and it’s fair to wonder how long that could last with Guthrie highly outperforming his FIP, and the inconsistency that travels with young pitching that could alter the numbers of Ventura and Duffy. However, you’d think that they could get more offensive production from many players, specifically Hosmer, Butler, and Infante, which would make this team a bigger factor in the AL Central than they already are.

“The Indians need this series due to being behind the Royals in the standings.” – Captain Obvious

The Indians are 23-15 at home and the Royals are 23-18 on the road. It’s a Battle Royale and something has to give!

Jun 17, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (8) hits a solo home run during the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

David Murphy appears to have his swing back after a horrific stretch from June 11 through June 30 (2-for-49, .041/.161/.041), and the Indians have Corey Kluber going on Sunday. If the Indians can get a win out of Tomlin or House going into the series finale, they will be in good shape for a potential series win. Tomlin will look to duplicate his tremendous start from last Saturday night in Seattle, and House could be pitching for his rotation spot from this point forward with Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar pitching well in Triple-A Columbus. Terry Francona has to get the Indians heading in the right direction with the trade deadline looming and the Tribe hovering between the buyer and seller label like a baseball purgatory. He can do that with continued production out of Carlos Santana (we told you he would rebound), Michael Brantley (vote HERE) and Lonnie Chisenhall (who should qualify for the batting title run with his plate appearances this weekend), and the arrival of Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher to the 2014 season at some point would be greatly appreciated…thanks.

Pitching Match-ups

Friday, July 4: Royals RHP Yordano Ventura (5-7, 3.26 ERA) vs. Indians RHP Josh Tomlin (5-5, 3.78 ERA)

Saturday, July 5: Royals RHP Jeremy Guthrie (5-6, 3.69 ERA) vs. Indians LHP T.J. House (0-2, 4.28 ERA)

Sunday, July 6: Royals LHP Danny Duffy (5-7, 2.60 ERA) vs. Indians RHP Corey Kluber (7-6, 2.99 ERA)

Tags: Cleveland Indians Kansas City Royals Series Preview