MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Pittsburgh Pirates at Kansas City Royals

Date/Time: July 22, 8:10 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Charlie Morton (6-3, 4.34) vs. Edinson Volquez (8-5, 3.28)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Kansas City -130

Total: 8

If not for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates would have the two best records in baseball, just like everybody expected. It has been amazing to see two long-suffering franchises play as well as the Royals and Pirates have over the last three seasons. Their head-to-head games, albeit rare, have become must-see TV. Wednesday’s pitching matchup doesn’t exactly move the needle, as Charlie Morton opposes Edinson Volquez, but there’s so much intrigue with these two teams that it almost doesn’t matter.

The Pirates are dealing with a little bit of adversity right now. Their rotation is being put to the test with Francisco Liriano out with some neck soreness. Gerrit Cole and AJ Burnett have been everything the front office expected and then some, but without Liriano, this is a team that has a very average rotation. Injuries to Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison have weakened Pittsburgh’s infield depth, which is something that may have to be addressed with the call-up of Alen Hanson or with a trade. Every team needs adversity, though, and Pittsburgh has gone through some this season. They started 18-22 over their first 40 games before hitting the All-Star Break at 53-35.

The Royals are dealing with their fair share of adversity right now as well with star left fielder Alex Gordon on the shelf. It hasn’t fazed them one bit, but the demotion of Yordano Ventura might. Kansas City’s Opening Day starter hasn’t thrown the ball as poorly as his ERA would indicate, but the Royals right-hander had an option and the team opted to use it. Ventura has a better BB%, a similar K%, and a better xFIP, but sequencing and stretch mechanics have kept him from stranding runners at the same rate that he did last season.

(Edit: Yordano Ventura has since been recalled with the injury to Jason Vargas.)

Charlie Morton has only made 10 starts this season, but given how they have gone, that’s probably a good thing for the Pirates. After posting a respectable 3.72 ERA and FIP with a 3.78 xFIP last season over 26 starts, Morton has seen a big drop in his strikeout rate this season. Morton is an extreme ground ball pitcher, which matches up well with Pittsburgh’s defensive shifting ideology. Over 60 percent of balls in play against Morton are hit on the ground and 46 percent of those balls in play are pulled. That type of batted ball distribution is why he can be an effective starter on this Pirates team.

It’s the same thing that allowed Edinson Volquez to rectify his career. Volquez was a mess with the San Diego Padres, flashing some strikeout upside, but it was accompanied by a ghastly walk rate. He was a ground ball pitcher whose numbers were exacerbated by the walks and by balls finding holes. With the Pirates and their defensive shifting, Volquez posted a 3.04 ERA in 2014. Even if his advanced metrics painted a much uglier picture, the Royals took a gamble on Volquez and have been rewarded with a 3.28 ERA, a 3.74 FIP, and a 4.14 xFIP. With their horrible rotation, Volquez now has the best xFIP on the team, but he is clearly a guy that has been helped by the elite defense of the Royals.

MLB Prediction: Pittsburgh Pirates

This seems like a good matchup for the Pirates. Their hitters are very familiar with Volquez and Morton is facing a lot of left-handed bats that should pull balls into the shift. The over is also a good look in this game with so many balls in play and the fact that ground balls can be adept at finding holes. There won’t be a lot of support in the betting market for Morton, so waiting out this number may also be a bit more profitable.