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New York Yankees vs. Kansas City Royals: Series Preview

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The Yankees look refreshed coming off two series wins and an off-day. They look to keep it rolling with a three-game set against the Royals.

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It’s amazing the difference a week can make. Just last Sunday, the Yankees had lost 13 of their previous 18 games, which saw them fall to fourth in the division and 8.5 games back. Now, they’ve won five of their last six, clawing their way back to within striking distance of the division lead. Next they face the Royals who, after a 15-9 April that saw them shock leaders of the AL Central, have crashed back to earth with a 17-29 record since then. Let’s preview the probable starting pitchers for this three-game set.

Tuesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Brady Singer, 7:05 PM ET

The Yankees will look to get the series started on the right foot, handing their ace the ball for his 15th start of the year. Gerrit Cole (along with many other pitchers) has seen a decline in his spin rates ever since the league announced they would be cracking down on foreign substances; however, his performances were already beginning to wane in several starts preceding the announcement.

After giving up only three home runs while striking out almost ten per start in his first eight, Cole has surrendered seven home runs in his last six while averaging fewer than seven K’s per start. That said, he has still been plenty effective, even if he has regressed slightly from the stratospheric heights he set. On the season, Cole is 8-3 with a 2.31 ERA, 2.44 FIP, and 117 strikeouts in 89.2 innings.

Opposite Cole on the bump will be former top prospect Brady Singer. The right-hander was drafted by the Royals in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft and climbed rapidly through the minors to carve out a full-time spot in the big league starting rotation in 2020. He’s mainly a sinker-slider guy, and while he won’t whiff a ton, he misses the barrel with the best of them. In 14 starts, Singer is 3-5 with a 4.76 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 71 strikeouts in 68 innings.

Wednesday: Michael King vs. TBD, 7:05 PM ET

Michael King gets the ball for the middle game as he continues his extended run in the rotation. King has looked distinctly pedestrian as a starter — averaging fewer than four innings per start — though did show some promising signs in his previous start against the Blue Jays. He is due for some positive regression, as his 54.7-percent strand rate is unsustainably low while his FIP sits a full two runs below his ERA as a starter. That said, his effectiveness is hard-capped as long as he keeps allowing baserunners at a 1.600 WHIP clip. In 11 appearances (four starts), King is 0-3 with a 4.08 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 29 strikeouts in 35.1 innings.

The Royals have yet to announce a starter for Wednesday night’s game, although signs point to Kris Bubic, who last threw 50 pitches in a long relief appearance against Boston last Friday. Bubic was the Royals’ next selection after Singer, and also made his big league debut last year. He sits in the bottom quartile of nearly every Statcast pitching metric, and his overall numbers were propped up by an unsustainably lucky May. The Yankees could be catching him at the right time, considering that Bubic has given up 17 runs in 15.2 innings in June. In eleven games (six starts) the young lefty is 2-2 with a 4.17 ERA, 5.49 FIP, and 39 strikeouts in 45.1 innings.

Thursday: Jameson Taillon vs. Brad Keller, 1:05 PM ET

Jameson Taillon will wrap up the series on Thursday. Acknowledging that this is his first season after a lengthy injury layoff, Taillon has nonetheless been a disappointment, posing the worst results among regular Yankees starters. I know we’ve mentioned it many times, but until there is improvement it bears repeating: Taillon is just not putting guys away once he reaches two strikes. In 13 starts, he is 1-4 with a 5.59 ERA, 4.55 FIP, and 63 strikeouts in 58 innings.

There could be runs aplenty in this one, with Brad Keller going toe-to-toe with Taillon. He had a stellar 2020 for the Royals, with a 2.47 ERA in nine starts, but 2021 has been anything but. Keller sits in the second percentile in expected batting average, expected ERA, and expected wOBA, and has given up at least five earned runs in each of his last three starts. He throws a fastball more than 60 percent of the time despite hitters slugging north of .500 against it. In 15 starts, Keller is 6-7 with a 6.34 ERA, 4.76 FIP, and 64 strikeouts in 71 innings.