Manager: Ned Yost (7th year)
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: 1B Eric Hosmer (.333/.374/.538 with 4 HR, 9 RBIs), 3B Mike Moustakas (7 HR,11 RBIs), C Salvador Perez (14 RBIs), RHP Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34 ERA), RHP Wade Davis (8 saves, 0.00 ERA), RHP Kelvin Herrera (0.00 ERA, 17 Ks in 12 1/3 IP)
Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (1-2 in 2013)
Inside the Royals:
When the numbers wizards at PECOTA crunched their computer algorithms in the offseason and came up with a total of 76 wins, good for last place in the American League Central, more than a few eyebrows were raised in confusion. The Royals? The defending World Series champions? Last place? Well, after the past week, PECOTA looks a lot smarter than those who blindly figured the world champs were on their way to a third straight appearance in the Fall Classic. Kansas City won Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak and is hovering around .500 in the middle of the divisional pack after being swept by the Angels and losing two of three versus the Mariners (against whom they were scoreless for the first 27 innings of the weekend series) on a disastrous road trip. Maybe returning to the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium will be the cure to their ills after a head-scratching 1-5 road trip.
The Royals can’t blame first baseman Eric Hosmer for the recent struggles. Hosmer had an 18-game hitting streak snapped Saturday night at Safeco Field and hit .366 during the burst, though at .333 he’s the only regular with a batting average above .300. Third baseman Mike Moustakas’ seven home runs lead the Royals, but he’s knocked in an amazingly low 11 runs for the season. Catcher Salvador Perez is the leading run-producer with 14 RBIs. Right fielder Jarrod Dyson recently returned from a stint on the disabled list with an oblique strain that he sustained in spring training, and he’s helped out with a .278 average, his speed adding a different dimension to a lineup that likes to force the action by running. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain has only two extra-base hits all season, and left fielder Alex Gordon (.213) and designated hitter Kendrys Morales (.216) are also struggling.
None of the three starting pitchers the Royals will throw at the Nationals during this interleague series are unfamiliar, each having a spent a majority of his career in the National League. Before joining the K.C. rotation in 2015, Monday’s starter Edinson Volquez pitched the previous seven seasons in the NL. The righty has given the Royals some length, going at least six innings in three of his five starts, and is 2-2 with a 4.68 ERA in six career starts against the Nats. Tuesday starter Chris Young was in camp with Washington in 2013, pitched at Triple-A Syracuse that season and re-signed with the Nats in the offseason only to get his release before signing with the Mariners, where the right-hander revitalized his career. At 6-foot-11, he’s a control specialist in a power pitcher’s body, relying on guile and placement over velocity. He was winless until fanning 10 in a 4-2 victory over the Orioles on April 22, but dropped his most recent outing on April 27 at Anaheim against the Angels. Young, who has surrendered at least a home run in each of his five starts this season, is 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA in nine lifetime starts against the Nats. Wednesday brings righty Kris Medlen, a two-time Tommy John survivor who the Nats remember from his days with the Braves. Medlen is 7-4 with a 4.23 ERA for the Royals since coming back from his second reconstructive procedure and he’s been largely effective this year (if you ignore the seven runs on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings he coughed up to the Orioles on April 23). Medlen has appeared in 14 games (four starts) against the Nationals in his career, going 3-3 with a 2.45 ERA.
Kansas City’s rotation may not seem imposing, but a strong bullpen allows the Royals to shorten games to five innings and then trot out a succession of power relief arms. Kansas City’s bullpen ERA of 2.50 is the third-best mark in the majors. Neither closer Wade Davis, who has nailed down all eight of his save opportunities, nor setup man Kelvin Herrera, who averages 12.41 strikeouts per nine innings, have yielded an earned run this year. Righty Luke Hochevar, who boasts an 0.87 WHIP and 2.61 ERA, is an important bridge to the back end tandem. The Royals also feature former Nat Chien-Ming Wang, who is trying to reinvent himself as a multiple-inning reliever.