The past couple of years have not been kind for the Kansas City Royals against the Chicago White Sox.
A couple of years ago, a feud between the Royals and White Sox started to brew, mostly stemming from a spat between Brad Keller and White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. Granted, the Royals ended up having the last laugh over the White Sox that season. Even though the White Sox finished higher in the standings, the Royals won the season series against the South Siders 10-9.
However, last year’s performance against the White Sox was rough not only for the Royals, but first-year Royals manager Mike Matheny. While the Royals did decently against the rest of the division, including the Central champion Minnesota Twins, and playoff participant Cleveland (they went 10-10 against those two teams combined), they tanked against the White Sox in 2020, as the Royals lost 9 out of their 10 contests against Chicago.
Even Matheny recognized that the White Sox had their number, and he mentioned that explicitly in a Q&A with the Athletic’s Alec Lewis this Winter. Here is what Matheny said in the piece about the Royals’ performance against Chicago’s South Side team in 2020:
That’s the one team I don’t think ever saw us. We never showed the kind of team we were. I think most of the other teams in our division walked away, saying, “Wow.” Regardless of how the series turned out, they knew they had their hands full. But not against the White Sox. I can’t wait to show them something else.“Mike Matheny talks Royals’ roster, offseason moves and facing Tony La Russa” by Alec Lewis; The Athletic
After winning their series against the Rangers, and splitting their first road series in Cleveland earlier this week, the Royals were riding high going into Thursday’s contest in Chicago, hoping that they would start off their 2021 series with their division rival on a much better note than 2020.
Unfortunately for Kansas City, not only did the Royals see a two-hour rain delay, but they also got absolutely thumped by the White Sox on Chicago’s home Opening Day, as the Royals lost 6-0, which was highlighted by new White Sox acquisition, Lance Lynn, throwing his second career shut out:
And thus, two questions remain: Will the White Sox have their number for a second straight season? Or can the Royals turn around their fortunes against the Sox and put the ghosts of 2020 behind them?
Because what they do against the Sox could have a big impact on whether the Royals are contenders or pretenders this season in the American League Central.
There are some things that could favor the Royals in their matchup against the White Sox this season, especially early on in the first month of play. Eloy Jimenez will miss a majority of the season due to injury. Tim Anderson is already on the IL, as he missed today’s contest (a major bummer for Sox fans, especially with Keller on the hill). Dylan Cease continues to look like Dylan Cease (enticing and promising, but ultimately disappointing).
The White Sox were expected to be heavy favorites in the AL Central going into Spring Training, or at the very least, duke it out with the Twins up at the top. However, that prediction seems to be in jeopardy after the White Sox’s recent string of bad luck injury-wise to two of their key players.
Nonetheless, the White Sox have seemed to rebound or at the very least, weather the storm initially from such roster losses. Needing someone to replace Jimenez’s production in the lineup, Minor League journeyman Yermin Mercedes has filled in swimmingly, as he not only has gotten on an insane hot streak at the plate, but he also took Keller deep and set the tone against the Royals in Thursday evening’s contest.
Mercedes was far from the only one who torched Royals pitching. Nine hole hitter Danny Mendick, filling in for Tim Anderson, went 3-for-3, and added a walk to his stat line for good measure. Nick Madrigal, batting in the eight hole, scored twice. Adam Eaton, in his return to Chicago, brought up bad memories for Royals fans, as he had two RBI as well as two hits against the Royals on Thursday.
It wasn’t Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, or Luis Robert doing the damage against the Royals on Thursday. And that’s a scary thing to think about it. Those three had “ho-hum” at-bats against the Royals in a bad weather game (only one hit between the three of them). What could they do against Royals pitching in a sunny game at Guaranteed Rate Field or Kauffman Stadium, especially if those down-in-the-order hitters produce again?
The Royals have had “mediocre” White Sox hitters break out against them before. After all, Royals fans will always be haunted by Matt Davidson and his “ownership” of Royals pitchers in 2018.
To make matters worse, the White Sox, much like the Rangers on Opening Day, exposed Keller in another short-lived start for the Royals ace. Keller only went 3.1 IP and allowed four runs on six hits and three walks. While he did strike out three batters (three more than his Opening Day start at the K), he also gave up five hard hits and two home runs on only 69 pitches.
In addition to the home run to Mercedes, Keller also gave up this bomb to Moncada, as evidenced below:
After two rough starts, things don’t look good for Keller, especially considering the Royals “bumped” his start from Wednesday to Thursday for “unclear” reasons. The extra time didn’t do him any good, as Royals fans saw Thursday. And according to Savant, his percentile rankings for the season don’t look too promising either:
In order to compete, the Royals will need an effective Keller in 2021. That being said, Keller can’t fully take the blame for this tough loss.
After a decent appearance on Opening Day, Carlos Hernandez struggled, as he only lasted 0.1 IP, and gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. And the Royals lineup? They not only were shutout, but only posted a xBA of .134 and accumulated five hits total against Lynn.
The biggest Royals offenders in the opening game of the series? The heart of the Royals lineup. Carlos Santana, Salvador Perez, Jorge Soler, and Hunter Dozier, the 3-6 hitters in the Royals batting order, went a combined 2-14 today against Lynn with four strikeouts. Furthermore, both hits were only singles. The Royals will need to see more from that group of hitters not only in the rest of this White Sox series, but over the course of the year if they want to make a modicum of gain on the White Sox in the standings in 2021.
Unfortunately, Thursday’s game was not a good start for those four Royals power hitters, and consequently, the Royals overall.
It’s only one game, so the Royals will have roughly 18 more games to prove themselves against the White Sox over the course of the 2021 season. That being said, Thursday’s game exposed some deep problems for the Royals, especially against this White Sox squad: the susceptibility of Keller; the swing and miss issues of the heart of their lineup; their lack of ability to do any damage against “one” of the White Sox’s three aces (Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel won’t be any easier).
With Anderson and Jimenez out, this should be a series that the Royals can steal, which in turn would build some much needed momentum for Kansas City over the course of the 2021 season, not only against the White Sox, but the entire AL Central as well.
After all, if they can steal this initial series against the White Sox on the road in Chicago, that will show the Central that the Royals can compete against one of the favorites in the division, which in turn, will show the rest of the Central that the Royals need to be taken seriously.
The Royals weren’t able to accomplish that goal on Thursday. The White Sox faithful were able to enjoy a cold, but winning Opening Day at the expense of the Royals. That being said, there are still two games left in the series, so a series win is not out of the realm of possibility for Kansas City.
Let’s hope Matheny can get the Royals focused on the off-day on Friday, and inspire this team to give a better effort and performance on Saturday and Sunday.
Because if they don’t…well, it will not only be another long season against the White Sox in 2021…but perhaps a long season for the Royals and Royals fans in general as well.
Photo Credit: NBC Sports Chicago