MLB: Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

Around the AL Central: Royals’ starters strike guys out now?

Throughout the 2016 season, BP South Side will be posting updates on the ups and downs of the White Sox American League Central rivals. In each edition, we will spotlight one team that did something interesting, and give a roundup of the state of the rest of the division.

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Kansas City Royals (8-4)
Last week: 4-3 (3-1 @Houston; 1-2 @Oakland)

While the White Sox have defied expectations with their 8-4 start despite an offense that has been less-than-stellar to date, Kansas City has done mostly the same. The Royals ended the second week of the season with the same record as the Sox, and have done so by getting just enough offense to aid a pitching staff that has gotten exceptional returns in the early going.

The Royals haven’t scored more than seven runs in a game this season, and during their 4-3 week, only one game was decided by more than two runs.

But their starting staff has gotten great results early on, even if the peripherals don’t match up for everyone. Take Chris Young and his predictable terribleness out of the equation and the other four pitchers have combined to allow just 11 earned runs in nine starts, and even if you add Young and his 12 earned runs allowed in 13.2 innings, their starting rotation’s ERA is only 3.09 at this early point in the season.

One of the reasons for this success is that the Royals’ rotation is striking out more hitters than we’re used to thus far. A year ago, Royals’ pitchers struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings, and early on this season (small sample size alert), they’re whiffing 9.5 hitters per nine innings. And while some of that can be attributed to their lights-out bullpen, if you just count the five starters, they’re still striking out 8.6 per nine.

What makes it a bit strange is the fact that the Royals’ staff is also walking many more hitters in the early going than they did last season. A year ago, Royals pitchers walked three batters per nine innings, while this season they’re currently at 4.4, and Ian Kennedy’s three walks in 13.2 innings is the best rate of any of the starters.

The pitching staff has been the primary reason for the Royal’s 8-4 start, as the offense is off to a .258/.304/.387 slash line through 12 games. It will be interesting to see going forward if the staff can keep it going once some of their struggling hitters (Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez are all OPSing below .700 the far) start to get going.

Elsewhere around the division

Detroit Tigers (7-4)
Last week: 4-3 (3-1 vs. Pittsburgh; 1-2 @Houston)

The Tigers started their week with a two-home/two-away series against the Pirates. What started with a terrible loss in which Justin Verlander was obliterated ended with an impressive stretch of Detroit taking three-straight against one of the top teams in the National League. After Monday’s loss in which Verlander allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs in just 4.1 innings, the Tigers outscored Pittsburgh 22-9 the rest of the way, with Jordan Zimmermann putting the cap on an impressive series win by out-dueling Gerrit Cole, throwing six shutout innings in a 7-4 victory.

The old guys on the offense just keep hitting, with Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez all sporting an OBP above .350. J.D. Martinez continues to mash, and even Nick Castellanos sports a .920 OPS despite failing to draw a walk in his first 42 at-bats. The team’s offensive prize, Justin Upton, went 4-for-5 with a home run in an 8-2 win against Pittsburgh, but currently sports a .240/.255/.360 slash line and has 20 strikeouts and one walk in 50 at-bats.

The Tigers have scored the most runs in the AL Central by a long shot thus far (the Royals have the second most and 15 less than Detroit, which tells you how good ALC offenses have been), and also have the best run differential at this early point at plus-15.

Cleveland Indians (5-5)
Last week: 3-3 (2-1 @Tampa Bay; 1-2 vs. NY Mets)

The Indians continue their incredibly mediocre start, but the most noteworthy aspect of their 3-3 week is the fact that ace Corey Kluber hasn’t yet pitched like an ace. He ran into some bad luck and an unhittable Noah Syndergaard in last Monday’s loss to the Mets, as he allowed three earned runs and struck out six in 7.2 innings, but was roughed up in Sunday’s rematch with New York, as he allowed six earned runs on nine hits in six innings of work. Granted, his K/BB is still solid (19 strikeouts and just five walks in 19 innings of work), and the Indians scored a grand total of one run in his two starts this week.

Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar have both been effective in the early going, and Cleveland has to be pleased with Jason Kipnis’ .297/.372/.486 line to start the season, but we’ve yet to see a consistently good Indians team thus far.

Minnesota Twins (3-9)
Last week: 3-3 (0-3 vs. White Sox; 3-0 vs. LA Angels)

The Twins have dug themselves into an early hole that will be incredibly difficult to pull themselves out of — particularly when you couple it with the solid starts by Kansas City, Detroit and the White Sox — but the Twins have to be relieved to rebound from their 0-9 start with a home sweep of the Angels that included a pair of one run victories (one in extra innings).

Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe have been just fine offensively, but Brian Dozier is off to a 7-for-42 start and the youngsters Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Byung-Ho Park continue to struggle early on. All four, in fact, have more strikeouts than total bases on the season.

Top Photo Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

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