Red Sox vs. Royals: Series preview


The Red Sox squandered the opportunity to play spoiler against the division leading Orioles, getting swept in the three-game series. This weekend, the Sox have another chance to spoil some playoff dreams – dreams that could end a 29-year nightmare for Royals fans. After defeating the Tigers last night, the Royals have a one-game lead in the division as they seek their first playoff berth since 1985, by far the longest drought in MLB and American professional sports (the Blue Jays have the second-longest drought, at 21 years). Dave Hill of Kings of Kauffman spoke to BSI about the state of Royals Nation during this exciting time.

BSI: Can you describe the vibe in KC right now, given that the Royals are closer to making the playoffs than they have been in years? Even though the NFL has started, is there still a significant amount of fan buzz surrounding the Royals?

KOK: Although I’m not in Kansas City, the message boards and various team pages seem to be filled with a lot of excitement. You can feel the electricity that the crowds in Kauffman Stadium bring each night. Keep in mind, for a generation of fans, they have never been in this situation, as it has been 28 years since the Royals were leading their division in September. It’s definitely an exciting time to be a Royals fan.

BSI: What would you peg as the largest reason for the Royals’ increased success over the past couple of seasons, and in particular this season?

KOK: Confidence. The Royals went on a great run in the second half last season, and did the same once again, coming from eight games behind the Tigers to take the division lead. Having veterans like James Shields and Raul Ibanez, guys who have been through the playoff chase and know what it takes to succeed, has helped a still young Royals team hold steady during the month of September.

BSI: In terms of youth and contract situations, are the Royals set up to be contenders for years to come? Related to this, do you think the Royals will (or should) seriously push to re-sign James Shields?

KOK: They could be if they play their cards, and contract extensions, right. Salvador Perez is already locked up through the rest of the decade, and the Royals may be starting to look at players like Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura as possible extension candidates as well. If they can lock in their young nucleus, and have the prospects come up and supplement the core, they could be in contention for quite some time.

In regards to Shields, I think it will be very difficult for the Royals to keep him after the season. While I expect they will extend the qualifying offer to him, teams like the Red Sox and Yankees are in desperate need of starting pitching. As both teams would likely be willing to back a Brinks truck up to Shields’ front door, I doubt that the Royals will be able to match those kinds of offers.

BSI: With the division race in a dead heat right now, what is your prediction for the Royals’ finish? Division title, wild card, or just missing the playoffs?

KOK: I still think the Royals win the division. Cleveland may be too far back at this point, despite their own surge lately. The Tigers bullpen is a train wreck, and they have the second worst defense in baseball. As long as the Royals keep doing their part, and winning some of the easier series they have upcoming, they should still take the division.

On the Red Sox side, here are a few things to watch in this series:

1)    The resurgence (finally!) of Xander Bogaerts. Xander’s week-long concussion break has worked wonders for his swing. In ten games in September, he’s batting .375, and slugging .700 with three homers (surpassing his July/August combined total) and four doubles. If he can keep this up through the rest of the season, it will give him great momentum going into, what will hopefully be, a far more productive sophomore campaign.

2)    How good is Matt Barnes? The Sox have called up the long-touted prospect to pitch out of the bullpen. Once the most highly regarded pitcher in the farm system, Barnes has had a rocky road through the minors, but he has compiled a very solid season in Pawtucket, capped off by seven shutout innings in an International League playoff game last week. In his first appearance with the Sox on Tuesday, he pitched three shutout innings.

3)    Mookie Betts moving to the infield. With Pedroia undergoing season-ending surgery, the Sox now have a Mookie-sized hole in the middle of their infield. Rusney Castillo will likely be called up from Pawtucket sometime in the next week, so it makes sense to move Mookie to second base. If he continues to hit well out of the leadoff spot (.304 in six games) and showcases some solid infield defense, Mookie will continue to increase his trade value for both the Red Sox and potential trade partners.

Here are the probable pitching matchups:

Thursday, September 11, 8:10 PM EST: Clay Buchholz v. Liam Hendriks

Friday, September 12, 8:10 PM EST: Allen Webster v. Yordano Ventura

Saturday, September 13, 7:10 PM EST: Rubby De La Rosa v. Jeremy Guthrie

Sunday, September 14, 2:10 PM EST: Joe Kelly v. Jason Vargas