After taking Game 1 of their series with Boston on Monday, the Royals have now won eight out of nine. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have lost three out of five. They look to their ace Chris Sale Tuesday to help them bounce back.
The Royals have turned their season around thanks especially to a boost in offensive production. In six of their last eight wins, they have scored seven or more runs, whereas they average just 3.96 runs per game on the season. Two of the Royals’ hottest batters have been first baseman Eric Hosmer and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. Cain is 9-for-19 with 4 RBIs in his last five games, while Hosmer hit a two-run home run Monday. Both have, out of current Royals batters, also done the most damage historically against Boston's power southpaw fly-ball pitcher Chris Sale: Cain is 18-for-52 (.346) with five doubles and three home runs. Hosmer is 18-for-49 (.367) with a double and three home runs. For Boston, Xander Bogaerts has gone 5-for-9 and produced half of his team’s runs in their past two games with 4 RBIs. Boston’s active lineup has collected only five career at-bats against Royals pitcher Matt Strahm.
Sale’s (8-3 2.82 ERA) difficulties against the Royals have come largely in his former club Chicago White Sox’s ballpark, which is a nightmare for fly-ball pitchers because its dimensions favor power hitters. Last season, Sale faced the Royals in consecutive outings. In Chicago, he gave up two earned runs in eight innings, both home runs. In Kansas City, he gave up two earned runs in nine innings, zero home runs. His FIP (this is like ERA, but factors out luck) in Chicago was 4.15 while in Kansas City it was a stellar 1.26. Sale, as a fly-ball pitcher, matches up optimally well in Kansas City’s ballpark, which, contrary to that of the White Sox is a dream for fly-ball pitchers. But regardless of venue, Sale is in dominant form, producing an FIP of 1.13 or less in his last three starts.
Strahm (2-3 3.67 ERA), a left-handed power fly-ball pitcher, counters for the Royals. He makes his second career start after earning a win against the Angels last week. Strahm was impressive, allowing just three hits and zero earned runs in five innings. Strahm had been criticized for his struggles with command. But against the Angels, who have been slumping, he walked only one batter.
However, the Red Sox may present a different beast. Consider that the Angels are sixth-to-last with 2.89 walks drawn at home, while the Red Sox are eighth with 3.51 walks per game. The Red Sox have mixed results against power fly-ball pitchers. Against Detroit's Justin Verlander, who has been struggling with his command all season, they scored three runs in only five innings while drawing four walks. Philly's Nick Pivetta, on the other hand, enjoyed his best career start against the Red Sox, giving up zero runs in seven innings, walking only two batters. Strahm will encounter a more difficult obstacle in Boston batters who are more patient at the plate and better at drawing walks than the Angels’ batters. If Strahm struggles with his command, he could face the kind of damage that even the Padres, who especially struggle against southpaws and power pitchers, dealt him as a reliever.
In choosing between a hot pitcher like Sale and a hot lineup that has done well against him, like that of Kansas City, I let the venue be the deciding factor. There is a reason why Kansas City stocks up on fly-ball pitchers like Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. A lot of fly balls that would have been home runs in Chicago become outs in Kansas City, which is why Sale has historically performed well in Kansas City; he can be more confident in his stuff in a venue where he is less vulnerable to giving up home runs.
While history should repeat itself for Sale, the Red Sox will also have their best relievers ready: Joe Kelly, Robby Scott and Craig Kimbrel pitched on Sunday but got the day off Monday. Between them, they should be able to shut down Kansas City’s offense. Strahm is an inconsistent rookie who showed his potential to do well last week against the Angels, but also to get dominated by less prolific offenses with fewer matchup advantages than the Red Sox. I generally don’t like betting on inconsistent rookies because they are normally less predictable, so I am backing what I think is the surest MLB pick.Free MLB Pick: Royals TT 'Under' 3 (+105)Best Line Offered: Pinnacle