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MILWAUKEE BREWERS (24-43) at KANSAS CITY ROYALS (37-25)
The Kansas City Royals hope to continue playing at a very high level when they take on the Milwaukee Brewers this Thursday night.
Milwaukee has had a horrible season and they enter this battle riding a five-game losing streak. Three of those losses came at the hands of their current opponent, Kansas City, and they have put up a mere nine runs (2.3 runs per game) in that time. They are on the brink of losing four straight against the AL Central leaders after the 10-2 loss on Wednesday in which they had just six hits and were 1-for-5 with RISP. OF Carlos Gomez (.275) has not had quite as spectacular of a season as most are accustomed to, but he is starting to come around and is 13-for-42 (.310) with five runs scored in his last 10 performances. It has been another successful start to the season for the 2014 AL Champions as they come into this one riding wins in seven of their past nine contests. The recent stretch has vaulted them into first place and they now hold a 3.5-game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. This will be the fourth consecutive game against the Brewers and they have won each of the last three, capping it off on Wednesday with a big 10-2 dismantling of the last place team behind 12 hits. OF Lorenzo Cain (.291) continued his solid season with a 2-for-3 night and he is now 11-for-32 (.344) with two doubles, two homers and six RBI over his current eight-game hitting streak. The pitching matchup will feature two very different pitchers as 26-year-old RHP Jimmy Nelson (3-7, 4.60 ERA) takes on 36-year-old RHP Jeremy Guthrie (4-4, 5.79 ERA) of the host Royals. The Brewers have not performed well wherever they are playing and on the road thus far they are 13-19 as they go against this Kansas City group which is 20-11 at Kauffman Stadium. The two clubs have not played often in recent memory and these four games this year have been dominated by the Royals, winning each of the first three while outscoring Milwaukee 25-9. Trends show that the Brewers are 48-45 (.516) in road games with an on-base percentage of .300 or worse in its last 10 games over the past three seasons while Kansas City is 29-10 (.744) at home with a money line of -100 to -125 in the past two years. OF Carlos Gomez (Leg) is questionable to play in this one as OF Khris Davis (Knee) is on the DL for the visitors and the Royals will be playing with a full squad of healthy offensive players.
Nelson earned himself a spot in this rotation after a solid yet unspectacular first season of starts. In 2014, he managed 7.4 K/9 and did great with his control (2.5 BB/9) while giving up a mere 0.78 HR/9. His numbers should have been much better, though, as the opposition hit .344 BABIP while Nelson left just 66.6percent of runners on base. Hes been able to increase his strikeouts (8.0 K/9) this year, but has already allowed 10 homers in his 78.1 frames (1.15 HR/9) with balls leaving the park on 14.7percent of his fastballs. In his last four starts, he sandwiched a six-inning scoreless outing against the Pirates with three starts where he totaled 16 innings, giving up 17 runs on 18 hits while being 1-2 in that time. He has yet to take on the Royals in his short career, but needs to be careful against 3B Mike Moustakas (.323) who has jumped leaps and bounds this year and ranks fourth in the AL in batting average. On the other hand, 2B Omar Infante (.227) has struggled in his second season with Kansas City as he has struck out at his highest rate (15.3percent) since 2007. The Brewers bullpen hasnt been too bad, going 10-6 with a 3.48 ERA (1.24 WHIP) as they are 13-for-17 (76percent) in save chances. Francisco Rodriguez (1.13 ERA, 13 saves) is perfect in his 13 save attempts, allowing just 12 hits in his 24 innings on the mound.
Guthries biggest asset to his teams has been as an innings eater, pitching at least 200 innings in five of the past six seasons as a member of the Orioles and Royals. His performance hasnt been all too impressive in that time, though, as he posted a sub-4.00 ERA just once in that time and is on pace for his worst full season as a starter. Hes never been much of a strikeout pitcher, but this season is just sad as he is mowing down a meager 4.0 K/9 and has seen his control at its worst mark (2.8 BB/9) since 2011. Guthrie is also giving up a ton of homers (1.52 HR/9) and getting batters to hit the ball on the ground a putrid 35.7percent of the time. Hes actually been impressive over his last three starts, compiling 17 innings and giving up just six runs on 15 hits in that time with a 10:4 K/BB ratio. In his long career, Guthrie has faced the Brewers just once, going seven strong innings of one-run, three-hit baseball and earning a win back in 2012. Despite not seeing Milwaukee much, he has faced 1B Adam Lind plenty has done poorly with the lefty going 17-for-47 (.362) with three doubles, a triple, a homer and two RBI. On the other hand, C Jonathan Lucroy and 3B Aramis Ramirez are a combined 2-for-11 in the matchup. The Kansas City relievers have continued to be some of the best around, going 11-4 with a 1.97 ERA (1.04 WHIP) and are 19-for-28 (68percent) when attempting a save. Greg Holland (3.52 ERA, 11 saves) did horrible (0 IP, 3 ER, 4 H) in an attempt to get some work against the Brew Crew on Monday but is a solid 11-for-12 in save opportunities.
Dominance on docket for Darvish in second season
When Yu Darvish starts for the Texas Rangers against the Astros on Saturday night in Houston, one reasonable expectation would be strikeouts. Many strikeouts. But not many Houston hits.
This is not merely a commentary on the level of competition. Darvish is striking out batters regardless of team affiliation. In fact, he is striking out batters at a record pace.
Darvish struck out 14 when he faced the Astros on April 2. But that wasn't even the most notable aspect of his performance. Darvish retired the first 26 Astros he faced, before Marwin Gonzalez singled up the middle leaving Darvish one out short of perfection.
Darvish said this week through an interpreter that that he has "completely forgotten" everything that happened in that start against the Astros.
"I'm sure their lineup has changed since I faced them," Darvish said. "So I will face them looking at it as a new challenge and a new team."
If Darvish has forgotten that outing against Houston, many other people are finding his performances to be extremely memorable. The sample size is small, but the talent is immense.
With 72 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings, Darvish is striking out 14.19 batters per nine innings. If he held that pace over an entire season, that would be the highest rate in history for a starting pitcher. The record is 13.41 by Randy Johnson in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Darvish is striking out so many hitters that his pitch counts are becoming a concern. But they are not a concern to Darvish, who says that if he had to, he could throw up to 200 pitches in a game. He is averaging 107.1 per game over his seven starts, fifth highest in the league.
"I have no plans to change my pitching style. I'm not concerned about my pitch counts," Darvish said. "I don't look for strikeouts or go for strikeouts. I know my pitching coaches are concerned about my pitch counts because of all the strikeouts. But as long as I have four days to rest, I don't care how many pitches I throw."
Rangers manager Ron Washington sees the strikeouts as inevitable, given Darvish's stuff. For the Rangers, this seems to be a happy inevitability
"He's striking out a lot of guys because he's got stuff, man," Washington said. "You've seen that video where he threw one pitch and it went five different directions. You're a hitter, you're looking for a fastball away, it comes back in. You're looking for the fastball up, it goes away. One pitch. I wonder what he calls that pitch, where he throws one and it goes five different directions.
"The pitch he struck [Boston designated hitter] David Ortiz out on, the fastball away, the ball started down the middle of the plate. David got ready to get it and the ball did that," Washington said, making a sharp veering motion with his hand. "How can you stay on that pitch? That's a pitch that's usually thrown to a right-hander and he threw it to a left-hander? How did he do it?
"He's got a good breaking ball. He's got two different ones. When it's down, that's when it's at its nastiest. He's got a little mustard on his four-seam fastball. When guys are striking out people, they're throwing a lot of pitches, but you can't stop what they do. I'd rather see him get an out with one pitch, but when you got good stuff, you strike people out. It's that simple."
Another issue with Darvish is that he works with what might gently be called deliberation. Darvish's slow pace, Washington maintains, is partly the result of pondering which of his many pitches to throw.
"Sometimes our catchers have to go through the 19,000 signs he has before he chooses one," Washington said with a smile. "I think it just depends on what he's thinking and what the catcher puts down, because he has more than three or four pitches. It takes a while.
"I just think he's got more than a couple of pitches he's got to look at the catcher for. He's got decisions he's got to make. Sometimes he might see that finger down quicker and sometimes he doesn't see that finger down quick enough. There's times he does get the ball and goes quickly because they're on the same page."
Jake Peavy, veteran starter for the White Sox, had this to say about Darvish taking his time on the mound:
"Yu Darvish, holy human rain delay. This guy is as good as anybody I've ever seen, but a minute and 20 between pitches. It puts you to sleep. But there's so much to process.
"[Rangers catcher] A.J. [Pierzynski] was telling us that [Darvish] pitches in quadrants. You'll watch the catcher call sides of the plate, correct? So you'll see Yu Darvish when he wants fastball away. He not only wants you to call it fastball away, but he wants you to call it up and away or down and away. Which is intense. I don't know if I'm good enough for that."
"Strikeout stuff" is a day at the office for Darvish. In fact, Darvish is a pitcher for whom the term "no-hit stuff" can be not a reach, but a reality. He approached perfection against the Astros to start the season, but the Houston club is far from alone in having difficulty taking the bat to the ball with Darvish pitching.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.