If you thought the Milwaukee Brewers have had a hard time after a strong April, let me introduce you to the Kansas City Royals.
After a 15-9 April, the Royals looked like they may surprise in the AL Central. Reality has hit them hard in the face in May, though, as they’ve started the month 3-13, including an 11-game losing streak that stretch from May 2nd until last Friday, when they won the first game of a double header against Chicago.
They’re now 18-22 after splitting a four-game set with the White Sox, and they’re probably thankful to be playing someone outside of the AL Central at this point. The last time they didn’t face a division opponent was April 27-28, when they split two games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Just like everyone else in baseball, Kansas City’s offense leaves a lot to be desired so far this year. They’re in the bottom 10 in the league when it comes to on-base percentage, slugging and OPS (.305, .378 and .683), although slightly better than the Brewers (.301, .358 and .660).
Much of their production has come from just a handful of players: Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana and Salvador Perez.
Merrifield is hitting .261/.326/.405, with 10 of his 40 hits being doubles to go with 4 home runs. That’s set things up well for Perez, who leads the team in hits (44), home runs (9) and RBI (27), while Santana has proven to be a very good signing at first base (sigh) with a .261/.409/.470 line and is just behind Perez when it comes to homers (8) and RBI (26).
An offseason trade for Andrew Benintendi from Boston has also worked out when it comes to getting someone else on base for those two, even if he’s struggled to hit for power going from one of the best hitters parks in baseball to one of the worst with a .283/.346/.384 line.
The Probable Pitchers
Left-hander Kris Bubic will get the start for the Royals tonight, his first of the year after only allowing 2 runs in 12.2 innings out of the bullpen in his first 4 appearances since getting called up earlier this month. He’s been able to keep runs off the board, but he’s struggled with his command, allowing 7 walks to the 50 batters he’s faced so far. You could possibly consider him effectively wild so far, though, as he’s still managed to put up a chase rate approaching the top 25% in the league and a whiff rate in the 70th percentile of the league so far this year even without overpowering stuff. He’s already faced the Brewers once before in his career, holding them to 1 unearned run on 1 hit over 5.1 innings last September despite 4 walks in a duel against Corbin Burnes. This time, he’ll face off against Brandon Woodruff.
Burnes will go in the second game of this two-game set, though, matching up against righty Brad Keller. Like Burnes, the 25-year-old looked like he may have been breaking out in the rotation last year, putting up a 2.47 ERA and 191 ERA+ in 9 starts last year, but his first 8 starts this year have not been as kind. He comes into this week with an ERA of 6.75 and ERA+ of 66 while allowing 46 hits in 33.1 innings after allowing just 39 in 54.2 innings last year. He’s also seen his walk rates spike, and he’s averaging 4.3 walks per 9 innings in 2021. In his defense, most of the damage came in a bonkers Opening Day game against the Texas Rangers that the Royals ended up winning 14-10 despite Keller getting tagged for 6 earned runs on 9 hits while only getting 4 outs with 51 pitches. He had another short start a few weeks later in a 14-7 loss to Tampa Bay (5 earned runs on 3 hits and 3 walks while only getting 5 outs), but has been much better in his last 4 starts, with a combined 3.80 ERA in the last month.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Statcast