MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Pittsburgh Pirates at Kansas City Royals

Date/Time: July 20, 8:10 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: AJ Burnett (7-3, 2.11) vs. Yordano Ventura (4-6, 4.73)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Kansas City -135

Total: 7.5

The loss of Alex Gordon seemed like it would be the thing that would slow the Kansas City Royals down. Instead, they won the night that Gordon got hurt and have rattled off six wins in eight games without their star left fielder. The Pittsburgh Pirates are hoping to cool them off when they visit Kauffman Stadium for interleague play this week. Monday’s series opener features AJ Burnett against Yordano Ventura and the Royals as a comfortable favorite in the -135 range.

The Royals show no signs of slowing down. They are 20 games over .500 at 55-35 and have won eight of their last 10. The Pirates were one of the hottest teams in baseball until the Milwaukee Brewers swept them coming out of the All-Star Break. That game featured some fireworks as Jordy Mercer was injured on a very questionable slide by Carlos Gomez. Mercer had to be carted off the field and it looks like he will miss some time, something that the Pirates could ill afford with Josh Harrison already on the disabled list. The Pirates are very thin on infield depth right now as they enter a tough series against the American League’s top team.

This is a huge spot for AJ Burnett. Burnett, who was against the Pirates’ radical ideology of defensive shifting during his first stint with the team in 2012-13, took less money to come back to Pittsburgh. So far, he has been a great addition to the rotation. Burnett is 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA, a 2.75 FIP, and a 3.31 xFIP. His strikeout rate is down, but his walk rate is tied with the career-best that he set in 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Burnett attempted to pitch through a sports hernia last season with the Philadelphia Phillies and things did not go very well. This season, he has an interesting stat profile, because there are signs of regression in some areas and signs of improvement in others. He has an 81.7 percent strand rate, which should regress in a negative way given the drop in strikeouts. On the other hand, right-handed hitters have a .356 BABIP against him, over 60 points above his career average. In some respects, those numbers cancel each other out, but you can see from the ERA to xFIP difference that Burnett could run into a string of bad starts soon.

Yordano Ventura was activated from the disabled list on July 9 after missing time with a nerve problem in his elbow. It was certainly the best diagnosis that the Royals could have asked for after Ventura left a start with the always-concering “forearm tightness”. Ventura hasn’t been able to replicate the success of past seasons because of bad sequencing luck. Ventura has a 4.73 ERA, but his 3.88 FIP and 3.82 xFIP are in similar ranges to last season. The biggest difference is that Ventura stranded 77.3 percent of baserunners last season and has stranded just 67.3 percent this season.

It’s entirely possible that last season’s enormous workload caught up the right-hander. He’s small for a right-handed starter at six feet tall and just 180 pounds. Ventura was never really stretched out in the minor leagues and threw 183 innings last season in his first full year in the bigs. His velocity is down over one full mile per hour this season, which has affected his ability to miss bats.

MLB Prediction: Pittsburgh Pirates

Yordano Ventura has been a bit of a mixed bag this season. The Pirates should match up well defensively with the Royals, who are rather left-handed heavy one through nine. They had some major struggles against the Brewers and the addition of an extra hitter to the lineup isn’t as appealing as it otherwise would be with the injury issues, but the line on this game is too high. There are a lot of negative perceptions about AJ Burnett against American League teams, but those aren’t all that predictive.