Royals’ struggling rotation, Kennedy head east to face Cardinals

Kansas City Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy, who starts Monday night’s series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, enters the game 1-4 with a 4.98 ERA.

That makes him Kansas City’s second-best starter in terms of ERA. It helps explain why the Royals are 14-32 in the American League Central, the majors’ weakest division, with the second-worst run differential in baseball at minus-86.

Three of Kansas City’s starters sport ERAs of more than 6.00, including Danny Duffy, who at times during his career has looked like one of the best left-handers in the AL.

“Sometimes, you’re not special at something,” he said to MLB.com after absorbing an 8-3 loss Saturday night to the New York Yankees. “Right now, I’m not special at pitching. What are you going to do? Run from it with some phantom DL (stuff)? I feel great.”

With a 5-3 record and 3.51 ERA, Jakob Junis is the only starter who has posted decent stats. Combine that with a lineup that’s still trying to find its way without longtime staples Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, who left for San Diego and Milwaukee, respectively, in free agency, and what one has is a worst-case scenario.

Pitching against the Cardinals (25-19) has rarely represented anything but a worst-case situation for Kennedy. In nine career starts covering 51 innings, Kennedy is 3-6 with a 7.41 ERA, allowing a whopping 11 homers.

Kennedy yielded five runs, seven hits and three walks in a six-inning stint against Tampa Bay in his last start. He fanned six and settled for a no-decision in a 6-5 loss. It was the fourth time in six outings he allowed at least four runs.

While Kennedy has been struggling, St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (5-0, 2.63) has been excelling. Although he lasted just 4 2/3 innings Wednesday and wasn’t able to collect the win in his team’s 7-5 victory at Minnesota, Mikolas has been a revelation in his first MLB season after a three-year tour in Japan.

Pinpointing three pitches for strikes at will, Mikolas has issued just five walks in eight starts covering 51 1/3 innings. Mikolas, who will make his first career appearance against Kansas City, has ceded two runs or fewer in seven of his eight starts.

The Cardinals are coming off a split of a four-game series against Philadelphia, winning Sunday’s series finale 5-1 as rookie Jack Flaherty secured his first big-league win with a dominant outing. The right-hander whiffed 13 hitters in 7 2/3 innings and 120 pitches, allowing only two hits and a run.

Flaherty’s outing was even more impressive when one considers that St. Louis’ bullpen was thin after being taxed heavily in the series’ first three games, and that his previous career high for innings in an MLB start was six.

“What Jack pulled off was one of the best starts we’ve seen in a long time,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “We needed it as a club all the way around.”

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