Series Preview #7: Kansas City Royals (9-8) at Cleveland Indians (8-10)
Bob Toth | On 21, Apr 2014
The American League Central Division is more up for grabs this season than any time in recent history and both the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals know it. After finishing two and three in the division behind the Detroit Tigers last season, each is hoping to stay in the thick of things early in the 2014 campaign in hopes that they can lay claim to the crown at season’s end.
Kansas City (9-8) comes to town for the first time this season for a four-game weekday series. They took two of three from the Minnesota Twins over the weekend. Jason Vargas pitched seven shutout innings and Mike Moustakas hit a two-run homer on Friday as the Royals blanked the Twins, 5-0. A five-run fourth inning on Saturday propelled the Royals to a fifth straight victory, a 5-4 final. Alex Gordon had three of their ten hits on the game. A rough outing on Sunday from rookie Yordano Ventura ended their win streak as they lost 8-3.
Cleveland (8-10) dropped two of three to the Toronto Blue Jays. They lost a heartbreaker on Friday night, 3-2, after loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but a liner by Michael Brantley was blocked by first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who recovered to end the game. The Indians dropped their third straight game, their second such streak this season, in a 5-0 loss at the hands of Mark Buehrle on Saturday. The Tribe recovered on Sunday to claim a 6-4 come-from-behind victory, courtesy in large part to a two-out, three-run double by David Murphy in the sixth.
Zach McAllister (2-0, 2.04 ERA) will make the series’ first pitch Monday night at 7:05 PM ET. He allowed one run on four hits in six innings against the Tigers in last Wednesday’s win. Former Indians pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (2-0, 4.34) will return to the Progressive Field mound for the Royals. He allowed four earned runs in six innings in a no-decision against Houston on Wednesday.
Danny Salazar (0-2, 7.71) will go for his first win of the season at 7:05 PM ET on Tuesday. He has allowed five earned runs in each of his last two starts and has been unable to complete the fifth inning in each. Big Game James Shields (1-2, 2.00) will counter for Ned Yost’s squad. He won his first decision of the year on Thursday, striking out 12 and allowing just one earned run in eight innings against the Astros.
On Wednesday, Justin Masterson (0-0, 4.98) will look to build off of a solid effort his last time out. He struck out a season-high nine in six and one-third innings of his fourth straight no-decision to start the season. Left-hander Jason Vargas (2-0, 1.24) will oppose for Kansas City. The Royals free agent acquisition this offseason has completed seven innings in each of his first four starts with KC. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM ET.
Corey Kluber (1-2, 5.40) will wrap up the series in Thursday’s 12:05 PM ET afternoon matinee. He will look to have a second consecutive start not negatively affected by the weather after his first three were postponed or delayed. Lefty Bruce Chen (1-1, 6.60) will take the bump for the Royals. Chen’s seven wins in his career against Cleveland are tied for his most against any one opponent (Chicago White Sox). He had a 1-0 record in five games, two starts, last season against the Tribe with a 1.04 ERA.
All four games will be aired on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio. Each of the first three games will also be broadcast on Fox Sports Kansas City. Radio broadcasts of each game will air on the Cleveland Indians Radio Network, KCSP 610, and the Royals Radio Network.
TRANSACTIONS and INJURIES
A pair of Kansas City relievers are eligible to come off of the disabled list during the series. Left-handers Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno were both placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 7th. Collins has been dealing with a strained left elbow. Bueno has been out with a sprained left pinkie finger.
Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was activated from the bereavement list prior to Monday’s game. The team optioned left-handed pitcher Justin Marks to Triple-A Omaha. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain was placed on the 15-day DL with a left groin strain on April 17th.
Reliever Luke Hochevar will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery during spring training.
Jason Giambi was activated Monday from the 15-day disabled list and will bat seventh in the series opener after missing the first few weeks of the season with a fractured rib. Reliever Blake Wood was optioned to Triple-A Columbus to make room for Giambi on the 25-man roster.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Royals batters have hit .188 against McAllister in 53 plate appearances. Shortstop Alcides Escobar and catcher Salvador Perez have been the best of the bunch. Escobar has two hits in four at bats with a solo home run. Perez has three singles and an RBI in eight at bats.
Escobar is hitting .394 in his last ten games, including five multi-hit efforts. He homered and had two RBI in Sunday’s game.
Designated hitter Billy Butler is off to a slow start. He has just 13 hits in 61 at bats (.213) with just one extra base hit and five runs batted in. He is hitting just .103 on the road and is batting .160 in night games. He has struck out five times in 15 plate appearances against Kluber with a .143 batting average.
The Royals as a team have hit just six home runs, the fewest of all 30 teams in baseball. They have also struck out just 91 times, the fewest in all of baseball. The Indians, by comparison, have struck out 127 times, the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the MLB.
Indians hitters have combined to hit .304 against Guthrie in their careers. Nick Swisher has hit .350 with two home runs and nine RBI. Jason Kipnis is 6-for-11 (.545) with a homer and four runs batted in. Lonnie Chisenhall is 5-for-10 (.500) with a double and home run with four RBI.
Swisher has not had that same success against Shields. He has nine hits in 50 at bats against him (.180) with 16 strikeouts. Four of his nine hits, however, have been for extra bases, including three home runs and ten runs batted in.
Brantley has ten hits in 19 at bats (.526) off of Chen.
The RBI production by Brantley (16) and Murphy (15) is good for third and fourth best in the AL, respectively.
Cleveland leads the all-time series between the Indians and Royals, 313-297. The Indians edged out the Royals 10-9 last season, including a 6-3 record at Progressive Field. Eight of the last ten games between the two clubs were decided by three runs or less.
CLEVELAND-KANSAS CITY CONNECTIONS
Eighty different players have suited up as members of both the Indians and Royals over the course of their careers.
Some of the more notable names include current Tampa Bay Rays TV analyst Brian Anderson, Cincinnati Reds bench coach Jay Bell, San Diego Padres manager Bud Black, Fox Sports SportsSouth’s Paul Byrd, Detroit Tigers third base coach Dave Clark, Oakland A’s outfielder Coco Crisp, retired outfielders Johnny Damon and Juan Gonzalez, legendary manager Lou Piniella, and current Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Pat Tabler.
Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry spent four years with Cleveland from 1972 to 1975 and later pitched in 14 games for Kansas City in 1983 in the final games of his 22-year career.
Just six players have played exclusively with the two franchises in their careers. One of those players is current reliever in the Indians organization Wood, who pitched in 106 games for the Royals in 2010 and 2011 and has logged nine appearances so far between the 2013 and 2014 seasons in Cleveland.
PROGRESSIVELY BETTER AT PROGRESSIVE
The Indians announced Monday morning their partnership with Verizon Wireless to provide a better overall fan experience. A new Wi-Fi network and a Distributed Antenna System have been rolled out to help fans have more reliable access to the internet and other elements of social media and applications.
The Royals will continue their road trip Friday with a three-game series at Orioles Park at Camden Yard in Baltimore. The Indians will head back to the west coast after getaway day on Thursday to begin a six-game road trip on Friday, starting in San Francisco with the Giants.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images