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Orioles @ Royals series preview: April 22-24

The Orioles had a short three-game homestand and are back on the road tonight against the Royals. Will Kauffman Stadium contain their dingers?

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Orioles start a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals tonight, formerly a group of loveable losers and currently a group of dislikable defending world champions.

The Royals have gotten off to a fast start this season, jockeying with the surprising Chicago White Sox for first place in the A.L. Central. So far they have been performing like a very well-rounded good team. Their pitching staff as a whole has been good, with a team ERA of just 3.12. Their starters have been surprisingly effective outside of old man Chris Young.

Ian Kennedy, who signed what I thought was a laughable five-year contract in the off season, has put up a 1.35 ERA in three starts. And somehow Kris Medlen and Yordano Ventura, both of whom are starting this series, have gotten good results to this point despite walking anyone who will stand still long enough.

You've heard about the Royals bullpen, of course, as it is regularly pointed to as the key to the renaissance of baseball in Kansas City. The trio of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Luke Hochevar have been as good as you might think, and in fact neither Davis nor Herrera has allowed a run on the season. The quality of their 'pen drops after that, but if their starters can get it to those three guys then the opposing team is in trouble.

On offense so far, the Royals have had a few outstanding performers (namely Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas), but their offense overall shakes out to be about league average. They are scoring an average of 3.79 runs per game, which is just below the American League average of 3.81 and quite a bit behind the Orioles, who have scored 5.15. Their OPS+ is 99, which is basically the definition of average.

Most people, myself included, would take the back end of the Royals bullpen over the O's, but it's close enough that you can reasonably expect the Orioles will be able to shut down the other team when they have a lead late in the game. For that reason I don't think that either bullpen will be the biggest factor in this series. If one team gets to the late innings with a lead, that team will probably win.

So it's all going to come down to the starting pitching and the offense. The Orioles outshine the Royals easily on offense as the lead the American League in both on-base percentage and slugging. They are averaging over five runs per game and are capable of putting the ball out of the park in any stadium, including Kauffman. But their starting pitching has been suspect and could turn even the Royals middle-of-the-road offense into mashers. And while the Royals starters have question marks, they have been getting the job done thus far. Maybe they'll also keep the O's offense down.

Game 1: Yovani Gallardo (RHP) vs. Chris Young (RHP)
Friday, April 22nd, 8:15 EDT
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That stuff that I said above about the Royals having pretty good pitching does not apply to Chris Young. Young is 37 years old and probably reaching the end of the line. He split time between starting and relieving with the Royals last year with moderate success, but this year has been a big old mess so far. If the Orioles can't get to him big it'll be a big disappointment.

Yovani Gallardo's last start would have turned out a lot better if Buck Showalter hadn't sent him back out for the seventh inning, where he recorded no outs and was charged with two additional runs. So far Gallardo's ERA has gone up after each of his starts. Hopefully he can reverse that trend tonight. He doesn't have much experience against the Royals with just two games pitched against them, and no current Royal has more than a handful of plate appearances against him.

Game 2: TBD vs. Kris Medlen (RHP)
Saturday, April 23rd, 7:15 EDT
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Kris Medlen's first two starts of the season produced good results as he gave up just two runs in each. In his first start of the year he threw 97 pitches in five innings thanks in part to four walks. That's positively Ubaldo-esque. He also walked four in his second start, but pitched into the seventh inning making it number more palatable.

If the Orioles can stick with their new found patience and work this guy for the 6.4 walks per nine innings that he pitched to over the first two starts, they could be in a good position to take this game. Medlen's walk rate has been much lower over the rest of his career, though, so I'd expect that to get straightened out eventually. But maybe not in time for this game!

TBD is back for another start for the Orioles. My best guess is that it'll be Vance Worley, though he has been warming up in the bullpen over the last few days. It could also be Tyler Wilson, of course. Or, shudder to think, Brian Matusz! Whoever it is, I say hurry back Kevin Gausman.

Game 3: Mike Wright (RHP) vs. Yordano Ventura (RHP)
Sunday, April 24th, 2:15 EDT
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Like Medlen, Yordano Ventura has struggled with walks so far this season. He gave six free passes in his first start and three each in the next two. He has thrown just about 100 pitches in each of his three starts, going five innings twice and six innings once.

Ventura has handled the Orioles pretty well in his four career starts, though Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and J.J. Hardy have all hit well against him in limited action. He's always struck out a lot of Orioles and this year so far he's striking out more than ever before, so that could be trouble.

Mike Wright gutted out a six inning, three run performance against the Blue Jays earlier this week, and hopefully he'll be able to do at least that against the Royals. The Jays are better hitters than the Royals and Wright has to be happy to see them in the rear mirror.

Stats included do not include games on Thursday, April 21st.