After hitting our first MLB Series Pick of the season at +170 odds with the Pirates knocking off the Nationals in two of three from Washington, let’s get right back to it and look to extract some more value out of the three-game set between the Royals and White Sox from Chicago.
Let’s take a look at the probable starters for this series, as per MLB.com, before breaking down each matchup and adding a few notes before making the pick.
- Monday: Heath Fillmyer (KC) vs. Ervin Santana (CWS)
- Tuesday: Jorge Lopez (KC) vs. Reynaldo Lopez (CWS)
- Wednesday: Brad Keller (KC) vs. Lucas Giolito (CWS)
Now let’s break down each pitching matchup and see if either team has an advantage on a game-by-game basis based on each game’s starters.
Monday: Fillmyer (0-0, 15.00 ERA) vs. Santana (0-1, 17.18 ERA)
This one could be a high-scoring affair.
Fillmyer has made just one start this season and is came against the hot-hitting Mariners who have been the best offense the American League has had to offer to this point. Unsurprisingly, the start was a rough one for the 24-year-old right-hander as he allowed five earned runs on six hits and two walks across just three innings of work.
Looking for positives? Fillmyer at least kept the ball in the yard as he didn’t allow a home run to a Mariners offense that has hit the most home runs in baseball this season with 39.
Fillmyer was serviceable in 13 starts and 17 appearances with the Royals last season, putting together a decent 4.26 ERA, but also outpitched his peripheral numbers in the form of a 4.75 FIP and 4.60 xFIP.
While Fillmyer could struggle, Santana has actually been worse in the early sample sizes. He pitched just 24.2 innings at the big league level in 2018 with the Twins and produced an ugly 8.03 ERA and 7.94 FIP.
Things haven’t been any better so far in just one start this season as he was touched up for seven earned runs on seven hits including three home runs with three walks in just 3.2 innings of work against the Rays. Tampa Bay is a tough offense, but boy was that a rough return outing for the veteran right-hander.
Based on Santana’s brutal first start to the season and his work in limited big league action in 2018, I don’t see any reason to have much faith that he can keep crooked numbers off the board in this one.
Advantage: Fairly even, slight advantage to Royals.
Tuesday: J. Lopez (0-1, 3.71 ERA) vs. R. Lopez (0-2, 12.15 ERA)
A couple of Lopez’s get together for game two of this series on Tuesday and it’s been Kansas City’s Lopez that has been the better of the two in the early going this season.
Lopez came to the Royals in the Mike Moustakas trade at the deadline last season and pitched to a 6.35 ERA across seven starts with Kansas City after producing a nice 2.75 ERA across 10 bullpen appearances with Milwaukee.
He’s been solid this season with that 3.71 ERA, although he also owns a 4.98 ERA and 4.96 xFIP. That said, most of those not-so-good peripheral ERA indicators stem from his first start of the season when he allowed four runs and two home runs against these White Sox. Since then, he’s pitched 12 innings of three-run ball, allowing eight hits and one home run in that time.
He most recently impressed with six innings of two-run ball while allowing just three hits to that red-hot (at the time) Mariners offense.
Chicago’s Lopez, however, has struggled mightily in each of his three starts to this point in the season, especially in his last two. His season-opening start came against these Royals and he lasted just four innings while giving up four earned runs on six hits and four walks. Since then, he’s pitched just 9.1 innings across two starts, allowing a whopping 14 earned runs on 16 hits including six homers run and eight walks against the Mariners and Rays.
Lopez was solid in the White Sox rotation last year, taking the ball for 32 starts and pitching to a 3.91 ERA, however, he also owned a 4.63 FIP and 5.22 xFIP. Perhaps some of that fortunate luck from last season is evening out early this time around.
Wednesday: Keller (2-1, 2.45 ERA) vs. Giolito (2-1, 6.19 ERA)
The Royals will send their ace to the hill for the series finale as Brad Keller is coming off a lights-out start over the Cleveland Indians his last time out.
The Indians have mostly struggled on offense so far this season, but Keller was dominant in hurling 6.2 innings of one-run ball to go along with a whopping 10 strikeouts. He did walk five in the outing, and walks have been an issue so far this season as he owns a 4.56 BB/9 rate, but his high ground ball rate combined with a strikeout-happy Indians offense ensured runs stayed off the board.
Keller is one of the most underrated pitchers in the game, likely because he is a ground-ball pitcher as opposed to a high-strikeout arm. He posted a 54.4% ground-ball rate last season but also just a 6.16 K/9 clip. However, he posted a 3.08 ERA and 3.55 FIP last season. Keller also limits the home run ball with the best of em’ as he has produced a tiny 0.43 HR./9 rate over the first 24 starts and 45 appearances of his big league career.
Lucas Giolito had a 2018 to forget. Among qualified starters in 2018, Giolito’s 6.13 ERA was by far the worst in baseball with Dylan Bundy’s 5.45 mark standing as the second-worst mark.
Things haven’t been much better in the early going in 2019, especially in his last two starts. He did shut down these Royals for 6.2 innings of scoreless ball while striking out eight in his first start of the season, but has since yielded nine earned runs on 12 shits, two homers and eight walks across his last 9.1 frames. That would explain the high ERA once again this season.
His peripheral numbers are much better than that ERa figure with a 4.21 FIP and 3.86 xFIP, however, he’s handing out free passes at a high rate again this season with a 5.06 BB/9 rate. Once a top prospect that was acquired from the Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade prior to the 2017 season, Giolito has certainly struggled to put it together at the big league level to this point in his young career.
Royals vs. White Sox MLB Series Pick
Looking at the offenses of each club, we have a pair of bottom-half offenses to this point and there isn’t much reason to believe that either will improve a whole lot as the season progresses.
Kansas City holds the slight edge so far with the bats as their 17th-ranked wOBA at .320 is out-dueling the White Sox’ 19th-ranked offense with a team wOBA of just .307. They have each hit 17 home runs to this point, although the Royals hold a power advantage with a real nice .182 team ISO with the White Sox sporting a .160 mark.
One area where the offenses separate is in the strikeout department. Chicago struggled with the punchouts last season and that is the case again this season as their 27% strikeout rate ranks 28th in the bigs while Kansas City’s 20.3% clip ranks them seventh. Fewer empty at-bats with this Royals club.
Neither bullpen has been any good, so I’m considering this aspect a wash. The White Sox rank 24th with a 5.55 bullpen ERA while the Royals rank 28th with a 6.93 mark. I suppose you could give the White Sox a slight advantage in this area, but the bottom line is neither has been any good and it’s tough to give either team the advantage here as a result.
I simply like the Royals’ starters the most in this series. While the first matchup between Fillmyer and Santana is a vastly unpredictable one that could yield plenty of offense for both teams, I like the starting pitching advantage the Royals have in the final two games of the series. I also like the fact we get their ace Brad Keller on the mound in the series finale. I’d feel really confident if that game was the rubber match.
I also like the 1-2 punch the Royals have atop their lineup with Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi. Both have power and both have elite speed and can create plenty of noise against subpar starting pitching.
One further aspect to this revolves around said speed. The Royals are tied for first in baseball with 19 steals on the young season. White Sox catcher Welington Castillo, while quite good at catching potential base stealers in his career, is 0 for 6 this season. He was an excellent 49% in 2017, but that fell to 30% in 2018 and obviously hasn’t nailed a runner trying to steal yet in 2019. The Royals could use their speed to generate offense in this series to be sure.
As a result, I like the Royals as road underdogs to win this series. They have won three in a row entering the series and while they are 0-3 on the road, the White Sox are just 1-5 at home this season. I like the value we are getting with this one.