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The lousy Royals are the Twins kryptonite this season

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Its mainly due to their unheralded bullpen

Minnesota at Kansas City John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Kansas City Royals. Why the heck do they play the Twins so well? The 2020 Royals are, and should be, generally cellar-dwellers—except when they play the Twins.

The Twins are 14-8 this season. If you take away their games against the Royals so far, they are 12-4. That’s the difference between a winning percent of .750 against everyone else, and .333 against Kansas City. The Royals, meanwhile, have the exact opposite phenomenon. Their 9-14 (.409) record is buoyed by the fact they’ve taken four-of-six from Minnesota. Without the Twins games, their record drops to a lousier 5-12, only a .290 percentage. That would make them the third-worst team in baseball, only surpassed by the Red Sox and Pirates.

I’ve got my theories why the Royals have played the Twins so well this season, but I wanted another perspective as well, so I asked our friends over at Royals Review. Hokius, one of the editors in those parts, was kind enough to give me their opinion.

The Royals have managed to shut down Miguel Sano and inexplicably see a lot of pitches from the Twins starters. Plus Josh Donaldson is hurt and Mitch Garver isn’t hitting against anyone, so far in 2020

This all makes sense, although the Twins have played other teams, they have seen the Royals a lot, and more importantly, a lot recently. And Hokius is right about Sano—against the Royals he’s hitting .059/.238/.059 in the tiny sample that is six games. For those counting, thats a single and four walks (one intentional) in 17 at-bats. Someone more statistically inclined than I should feel free to put a breakdown of those at bats in the comments.

Donaldson being out does take a bit of thump out of the lineup as well, as does the case of Garver’s missing bat, although Alex Avila has gotten half the starts against the Royals. Plus its not just Sano and Garver who haven’t hit Kansas City well—as a team, the only opponent that the Twins have hit worse against are the Cardinals. Maybe its just teams from Missouri?

As for the Royals seeing a lot of pitches from the Twins’ starters, well, I think that is actually fairly easily explained, and mostly in two words—Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi’s first two starts this season make up one-third of the games played against the Royals. His first start was pretty rough, and his style does involve a high number of pitches per at bat anyway. The other starters have been the suddenly-struggling Jose Berrios twice, and Devin Smeltzer and Randy Dobnak each once. None of these guys are going to put away a batter on three straight heaters—Dobnak induces groundballs like crazy, Smeltzer relies on junk, and Berrios has had command issues.

My theory though, is that Mike Matheny’s bullpen is the big difference maker for the Royals. This is really the other side of the same coin that Hokius brought up though—the Royals are limiting the Twins offensive output. With the Twins hitting only .208/.278/.365 against KC this season, they are roughly 30-ish points below their season average in all three categories. This hasn’t been due to the sub-par starting performances from the Royals rotation. In the first game (August 7,) Jakob Junis gave up five hits and two runs (both on bombas) in 4.2 innings before getting the hook. The bullpen then no-hit the Twins in the second half of the game, a combined effort by four different guys.

The next day, KC did it again—after the Twins rocked Danny Duffy to the tune of four runs in as many innings, the bullpen only allowed two more runs, and the Royals secured a series win. On the ninth, the Royals swept the series with a similar performance. Rookie Brady Singer had the best start in the series, going five innings and giving up two runs—the only two of the game. Again, the bullpen shut down the Twins. In that series, Greg Holland threw in all three games and did not give up a run. Trevor Rosenthal, Scott Barlow, and Josh Staumont all had two scoreless appearances in that series.

In the current series, we have seen three of the four games played, although the first two only went seven innings each. The Twins have taken two of those three, but the same theme generally continues. In Saturday’s first game, the Twins finally scored against the Royals’ bullpen—but it was a true bullpen game, with no pitcher throwing more than two innings. Three of the Twins runs came against the lower-leverage options of Gabe Speier and Tyler Zuber. They finally got one off Holland, but Barlow still hasn’t allowed the Twins to score against him this season. The second game, which the Twins lost, in the doubleheader, was another version of the same story I’ve now told you three times—three Twins losses, three great relief performances. In this case, Danny Duffy gave up two runs in five innings, and then Josh Staumont and Trevor Rosenthal each pitched a scoreless inning. Two more guys, in addition to Barlow, who have not allowed the Twins to score in three-or-more outings against them.

Finally, in last night’s game, the Twins again put up enough offense to decide the winner against the starting pitcher. They did manage to small-ball in an insurance run against Holland, but Barlow yet again pitched a scoreless inning.

While this filthy bullpen hasn’t just existed against the Twins, Matheny has deployed his weapons well against the Central Division leaders. Overall, as relievers, the Royal’s pitching staff has a 3.51 ERA in 92 innings, versus a 4.47 ERA in 94 innings for their starters. Staumont and Rosenthal both have ERAs below 1.00 and Barlow is below 2.00, while Holland’s is barely above three. Those are the guys that Matheny has turned to when the dangerous batters of the bomba squad have been seeking to close a small gap.

Speier and Zuber both have ERAs over five, yet their appearances against the Twins have been very limited, and the Twins have punished them when they have entered a game. The entire difference maker in the six games the Twins and Royals have played has been the Royals bullpen, in my opinion. I guess we’ll see what happens tonight though.