The Philadelphia Phillies host the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals in a three game weekend series at Citizens Bank Park in South Philly.
The Royals have been really good over the last few seasons. The Phillies have been very bad in those same few years. The Royals are the world champions. The Phillies haven’t been at that level in five years. And yet, this three game weekend series at Citizens Bank Park could still prove a good one.
You would be pardoned if fans of the team are snickering at that statement. The last time that our favorite ball club was seen in South Philly, they were being swept over six games by Toronto and Arizona as part of a nine-game losing streak.
However, these Fightin’ Phils are once again showing some fight, having won five of seven coming into this series. The only two losses were a pair of hard-fought, one-run games last weekend in San Francisco against the tough Giants.
The Royals are on a bit of a World Series hangover. Just a week ago they were in the throes of a four-game losing skid which dropped them to within three games of the .500 mark.
However, KC has gotten its collective act together over the past week, winning four of their last five as they arrive in Philadelphia.
One of the biggest problems for the Royals this season has been inconsistent offensive production up and down the lineup. Their best and most consistent hitter has been veteran 1st baseman Eric Hosmer.
Pushing for his first-ever AL All-Star berth, Hosmer is one of the best in the game at his position. He has won three straight AL Gold Gloves, and is hitting for a .305/.367/.409 slash line with a dozen homers and 48 RBI, both team highs.
Catcher Salvador Perez is another of the game’s best at his position, having won three straight Gold Gloves. He is hitting .289 with a .504 slugging percentage, is tied for the team HR lead with 12, and has driven in 38 runs.
The Royals also receive some pop from DH Kendrys Morales, who has 11 home runs. However, that bat should be mostly neutralized in this series without the designated hitter position available. Morales has played just two games each in the outfield and at 1st base.
Veteran left fielder Alex Gordon returned to the lineup last week following a month on the disabled list. The 4x Gold Glover, 3x AL All-Star, and 2014 Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year is still shaking the rust off, having slashed just .205/.286/.409 since his return to the lineup.
A pair of rookies, 2nd baseman Whit Merrifield and 3rd baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, have injected some energy into the lineup. Cuthbert has seven homers and 20 RBI in only 171 plate appearances, while Merrifield is hitting .306 with 24 runs scored in 37 games since being promoted to the big leagues.
The Phils are catching KC at a good time for an injury-related reason. All-Star center fielder Lorenzo Cain, the 2014 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year, was just placed on the 15-day disabled list. Cain is hitting .290 and was second on the club with 39 runs scored.
Also out for Kansas City are injured 3rd baseman Mike Moustakas and a quartet of pitchers in starters Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, and Jason Vargas and key lefty reliever Tim Collins. That hit to the pitching depth has certainly hurt KC a bit.
As demonstrated by the multiple Gold Gloves and Defensive Player of the Year Awards won by the Royals individual players over the last few years, this has been the best defensive team in the game, and it wasn’t even close.
However, that aspect of the game has also suffered a bit. The Royals currently have just two players who rank among the Top 15 in Major League Baseball at their position based on defensive Range Factor. Cain leads center fielders, but again, he is out. Perez is 7th among catchers.
Ned Yost is now in his 7th season as the Royals’ skipper, and has a 510-505 record with the team. However, his club is 60 games over .500 in the last four seasons, with back-to-back AL Pennants.
If the Royals have a late lead and it’s time to close a game out, well, there are few better options than righty Wade Davis, who has a 1.23 ERA and 1.023 WHIP. Davis has allowed just 18 hits over 29.1 innings with a 28/12 K:BB ratio.
The Royals are just 15-25 on the road this season. During the regular season, the two teams have met just nine times, with Kansas City taking five, including three of the last four.
For fans of a certain age (mine and older), it’s hard to think of a Phillies-Royals matchup without recalling the first-ever World Series championship in Phillies history.
The Phils defeated the Royals in six games back in October of 1980 in a series highlighted by the play of Hall of Fame 3rd basemen Mike Schmidt and George Brett, and the pitching heroics of Phils’ closer Tug McGraw.
Next: ROYALS AT PHILLIES: PITCHING MATCHUPS