Five Points To Consider As Royals Come To Trop

The Rays will see the Kansas City Royals come to Tropicana Field for the only time in 2017 starting Monday for a four-game series, and here's a handful of points that will likely be discussed throughout the week.

1. Karns and Hammel Return to Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay has used an MLB-fewest 29 starting pitchers since the start of the 2008 season, but two of them will be on the opposing mound for this series.  Jason Hammel played his first three seasons with the Devil Rays/Rays from 2006-08, going 7-15 with an ERA of nearly six, but only started five games his final year, appearing 35 times out of the bullpen as Tampa Bay ended up in the World Series.  

Karns joined the Rays before the start of 2014 from the Washington Nationals in exchange for catcher Jose Lobaton and reliever Felipe Rivero, seeing a pair of starts that year before making 26 starts and going 7-5 in his only full season in Tampa Bay before being dealt to Seattle in the deal that brought Brad Miller and Logan Morrison to the American League East.

2. Royals Have Had the Rays Number as of Late 

Kansas City may be 10-20 and languishing in the cellar of the American League Central, but this is a team that has always found opportunities to beat up on the Rays as of late.  From 2008-2011, the series was heavily in favor of Tampa Bay, as the Rays went 23-10, winning the season series in 2008 (5-3), 2009 (9-1), and 2011 (5-2), while splitting the series in 2010 (4-4).  However, starting in 2012, the series swung firmly in favor of the Royals, as Tampa Bay won just eight of 33 matchups, losing the season series every year.

2012: 2-4

2013: 1-6

2014: 2-4

2015: 1-6

2016: 2-5  

3. The "Resurgance" of Jason Vargas is Yet To Be Believed

After making just twelve starts in 2015 and 2016 combined due to Tommy John Sugery, the 34-year-old starter, who signed a four-year deal in 2014, is off to a fantastic start in his final year of the deal.  Vargas is 4-1 with a 1.19 ERA after six starts in 2017, and Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star explained in late April what could be the cause of his success post-surgery: his changeup.

From 84 change-ups this season, Vargas has gotten 26(!) swinging strikes, while allowing three hits, which all have been singles. As a whole, the league is hitting .103 with a .103 slugging percentage against that pitch, a line that equates to being 137 percent worse than league average.

According to Pitchf/x’s weighted run values, Vargas’ change-up is not only the best in baseball, but as of last Thursday, it also was the third-best pitch of any in the majors, behind only James Paxton’s two-seam fastball and Ervin Santana’s curve.

However, other baseball pundits, like the New York Post's fantasy baseball writer Jarad Wilk, said around the same time that the numbers are deceiving when it comes to the right-hander.

Though Vargas’ FIP (0.97) and xFIP (1.97) show he has gotten only slightly lucky, it still is hard to believe this is anything more than an incredible early season run. His 93.8 percent strand rate is unsustainable, especially considering it has been 72.9 percent for his career. His groundball rate (53.1 percent) is well above his career average (37.6), just as his flyball rate (26.5) is well below his career average (42.6).

4. KC Offense on the Ropes

The Royals offense has struggled to score runs this year, scoring just a single run or less in 11 of the 30 games they've played.  Kansas City's bats have also two runs in a game four other times, so in half of the games this season, their pitchers have gotten less than three runs of support.  They are 2-13 in those games.  However, the team looks to be getting healthier and warmer at the plate.  

Jorge Soler, who the Royals traded closer (and former Ray) Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for, was activated from the disabled list Saturday after missing the start of the season with an oblique injury suffered in spring training, and first baseman Eric Hosmer just saw his ten-game hitting streak end Sunday with a 1-0 loss at home to the Indians, but has 16 hits in his last 11 games.  Couple those two with catcher and perennial Rays-killer Salvador Perez, centerfielder Lorenzo Cain and a now-healthy Mike Moustakas (who has now played in more games this year - 28 - than he did all of 2016 - 27), and the Royals offense could certainly be turned around quickly.

5. Royals Awful Away from Kauffman Stadium

As much as the Rays have struggled when they leave the friendly indoor confines of Tropicana Field, the Royals amazingly have been even worse.  In 13 games on the road, Kansas City has won just twice, and lost each of their last eight away games since the Houston Astros walked off with a 5-4, 12-inning decision on April 9 at Minute Maid Park.  In addition, the Royals have scored just 34 runs on the road (averaging 2.62 a game), while allowing 71 runs to score (an average of 5.69).  Also, while the Royals' bats struggle at home (they hit .224/.286/.343 at Kauffman Stadium), they are even worse on the road.  As a team, Kansas City is hitting .187/.251/.313 away from home, and have only two players hitting better than .250 on the road -- Moustakas and Jorge Bonifacio.

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