When the Royals Hit
Apr 10, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Collin McHugh (31) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Lineup (2015 wOBA v. R)
SS Alcides Escobar (.263)
2B Ben Zobrist (.327)
CF Lorenzo Cain (.338)
1B Eric Hosmer (.378)
DH Kendrys Morales (.385)
LF Alex Gordon (.347)
3B Mike Moustakas (.354)
C Salvador Perez (.328)
RF Alex Rios (.290)
Opposing Pitcher (xFIP v. R/L)
RHP Collin McHugh (3.90/3.92)
I should start by noting that this is not an optimal batting order from Ned Yost. Escobar is the worst hitter he has among his starters, and should be batting ninth, not first. But Yost believes there is some magic spark to having Escobar leadoff, so we can hope he sticks to his guns. Realistically, Gordon, Zobrist or Moustakas should be in the leadoff spot, with Hosmer no lower than third.
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McHugh has used a slow curve and steady diet of cutters this year to make up for diminished fastball velocity and a slider that has been demolished. The result is he’s gone from a pitcher who was almost unhittable against right-handed hitters to a guy with no discernible platoon split. If anything, he is now more effective against lefties, of which he will see at least five dangerous options from the Royals (Zobrist, Hosmer, Morales, Gordon, and Moustakas).
If McHugh can throw his big hook for strikes early in the count, and as a put-away pitch later in counts, he will be able to get soft contact and work efficiently. If he is falling behind and trusting his fastball too much, the Royals are going to jump on him. I expect a lot of cutter/curveball at-bats and a lot of contact. McHugh has allowed a lot less hard contact in the second half (20.4% after 28.1% in the first half). He will need to continue that trend of missing the sweet spot tonight. Pay attention to the quality of his cutters to the lefties.
Player to Watch: Morales. He has feasted on right-handed pitching this year, and will get a half-dozen high leverage at-bats in this series against RHP. I would expect one or two of those to come tonight. Getting him out when high-OBP weapons (and smart baserunners) Zobrist, Cain, and Hosmer are on base is essential. I am interested to see what plan Brent Strom has for Morales.