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Orioles-Royals series preview: Two rebuilding teams play out the string

Fresh off their stunning series win in Yankee Stadium, the Orioles hope to carry that momentum back to Baltimore against a fellow rebuilding club.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles are headed back to Baltimore. All hail the conquering heroes.

Maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But their delightfully unexpected series win at Yankee Stadium this weekend sure couldn’t hurt the confidence of a young club that’s trying to avoid the worst record in baseball. Now the O’s face another club in rebuilding mode, the 61-75 Kansas City Royals.

The Royals have been a tough team to figure out. They started the year hot, sitting in first place after the season’s first month, then lost 11 games in a row, then crawled their way back above .500 in June, only to suffer losing streaks of five, six, and nine games within one calendar month. They’re now well under .500 but, like the Orioles, they’re coming off a series win against a far superior team, the White Sox.

The Royals don’t do anything particularly well. Their starting rotation has some interesting young arms who are going through some growing pains. Their bullpen is nothing special. And their offense, with one notable exception, has been across-the-board lousy, as almost every hitter is posting a below-average season by OPS+. The Royals do have mega-prospect Bobby Witt Jr. waiting in the wings at Triple-A — as you may recall, he was selected with the #2 pick after the Birds chose Adley Rutschman in the 2019 draft — but the 21-year-old almost certainly won’t be called up this year despite his .950 OPS, 28 homers, and 85 RBIs across two minor league levels.

Until Witt arrives, there’s just one reason to watch the Royals: Salvador Perez. At age 31, the veteran backstop is enjoying his best season ever, posting an .867 OPS — more than 100 points higher than his career mark — and crushing 41 home runs, making him the first catcher to reach the 40-dinger mark since Javy Lopez in 2003 (the year before the Orioles signed him). Perez has also set a career best with 102 RBIs. The guy doesn’t take a walk — he has only 22 in 555 plate appearances this year — but when you’re slugging like that, you can get away with it.

This is a winnable series for the Orioles if they can manage not to let Perez beat them. The Birds took two out of three from Kansas City coming out of the All-Star break in July, holding Perez homerless.

Game 1: Monday, 1:05 PM

LHP Kris Bubic (4-6, 5.16) vs. LHP Zac Lowther (0-1, 10.80)

With a rotation hole to fill for their Labor Day afternoon game, the Orioles opted for Lowther instead of fellow rookie southpaw Alexander Wells or Triple-A right-hander Michael Baumann, who’s been on a tear of late. This will be just the second major league start for Lowther; his first one, back on May 8, was a disaster. Lowther was racked for seven runs and seven hits by the Red Sox. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 7 and just finished rehabbing a shoulder strain that kept him sidelined from minor league action for more than a month. He started five days ago for Triple-A Norfolk, giving up three runs in 5.2 innings.

Lowther will face another rookie left-hander, Bubic, who has bounced between the rotation and bullpen and been wildly erratic while doing so. Of Bubic’s five outings in August, two were quality starts, while two saw him cough up five or more runs without getting through the fifth. A first round pick in the 2018 draft, the 24-year-old has struggled with control, issuing at least one walk in each of his 15 starts this year. He faced the Orioles in that July series and did excellent work in long relief, giving up just one run in six innings in a losing cause.

Game 2: Tuesday, 7:05 PM

RHP Jackson Kowar (0-2, 9.82) vs. TBD

Kowar, ranked the Royals’ #5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is lauded for his “plus-plus changeup” that induces a lot of swings and misses. The 24-year-old, like Bubic a 2018 first-rounder, is coming off his best outing as a big leaguer, a six-inning, two-run quality start against Cleveland in which he fanned six.

As of this writing, the Orioles haven’t announced any of their starters besides Lowther, but Matt Harvey would be lined up to pitch this one. Harvey stymied his former team with six shutout innings July 18, the first of three straight starts in which Harvey tossed six scoreless frames. Harvey has a 6.52 ERA in six outings since then, so perhaps another matchup against the Royals’ punchless offense can jump start him.

Game 3: Wednesday, 7:05 PM

LHP Mike Minor (8-12, 5.25) vs. TBD

The veteran Minor was an All-Star for the Rangers two years ago but has been much less effective since, mainly serving as a durable placeholder in an otherwise young Royals rotation. He’s tied for the AL lead with 27 starts, but only eight of them have been quality starts. He last faced the Orioles in 2019, allowing just two runs in 13.2 innings over two starts.

If the Birds’ recent rotation holds, this start would fall to John Means, who would be making his third career appearance against his hometown team. He last faced them Aug. 30, 2019, working seven strong innings in Kansas City with nearly 200 friends and family members in attendance. Means has a 5.21 ERA since returning from the injured list in late July but is trending in the right direction, with two quality starts in his last three outings. The Royals have fared a bit better against lefties than against righties this year, with a team OPS 50 points higher.

Game 4: Thursday, 7:05 PM

RHP Carlos Hernandez (5-1, 3.57) vs. TBD

Hernandez, who spent the first three months as a reliever, shifted to the rotation in July, with his first start coming against the Orioles on July 18. He went four innings and gave up two runs, taking the loss, but pitched well enough that he’s remained in the rotation since. He’s rattled off several strong outings of late, with three quality starts in his last four starts. The rookie right-hander was a amateur signing out of Venezuela in 2016.

Again, the O’s haven’t announced their starter but it would be Chris Ellis’ turn. The Royals have some familiarity with him. They selected Ellis in the Rule 5 draft from the Cardinals in 2018 and he made their 2019 Opening Day roster, but he pitched just one game — a scoreless inning against the White Sox on March 31 — before they returned him to St. Louis. Ellis eventually made his way to the Rays and now to the Orioles two years later. In his most recent start for the O’s, Ellis threw five scoreless, hitless innings at Yankee Stadium, earning himself a longer audition in the rotation.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    4 (Orioles will sweep!)
    (6 votes)
  • 27%
    3
    (19 votes)
  • 49%
    2
    (34 votes)
  • 13%
    1
    (9 votes)
  • 1%
    0 (Orioles will get swept)
    (1 vote)
69 votes total Vote Now