Originally posted on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 6/15/12

The Thursday Takeaway
As the Royals swept the Brewers out of Kauffman Stadium, one pitcher took home two of the three victories. That pitcher is lefty reliever Tim Collins, who is rapidly developing into one of the top bullpen arms in the American League.

The 22-year-old Collins struggled to rein in his walks last season, issuing 48 free passes in 67 innings as a rookie. He was tough to hit, though, holding opposing batters to a .216 average and pitching effectively against right-handed hitters, who combined for a 582 OPS. Armed with a quality fastball and outstanding curveball, Collins flashed his potential in 2011. In 2012, he has put it all together.

After collecting two strikeouts in a scoreless top of the ninth last night, Collins now owns 46 of them in 31 innings this season, good for fourth among relievers, behind only Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Ernesto Frieri. Perhaps more importantly, he has accomplished that while handing out only nine unintentional walks. And Collins has done his best work versus righty batters, fanning 30 of the 69 he has faced.

Though the 5-foot-7, 171-pound Collins has not received nearly as much press as Chapman and Frieri, he has been impressively effective, emerging as a key cog for manager Ned Yost. Now 27-34 and six games back in the AL Central, the bullpen has been one of the few bright spots for the Royals, ranking seventh in the league with a 2.83 ERA. Collins—who has collected four of the pen’s nine victories and chipped in with a 2.03 ERA—has emerged as the staff’s ace.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched relatively well in his return from Tommy John surgery, allowing four runs in five innings to the Nationals on June 9, but collecting eight strikeouts compared to only one walk. He gets an easier test today in the series-opening Friday matinee at Wrigley Field (2:20 p.m. ET) but must contend with Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, who has pitched 15 scoreless innings to pick up his first two wins of the season in his past two starts. 
  • The Nationals have passed their interleague test with flying colors so far, breezing through their road trip to Boston and Toronto with a perfect 6-0 records. Now, they will return home to open a three-game series with their first-place counterparts, the Yankees, who have also won six in a row. Gio Gonzalez made five starts against Joe Girardi’s team while with the Athletics and had little luck, going 1-4 with a 7.27 ERA and issuing 20 walks in just 26 innings over five starts. He will try to turn that around while squaring off with Phil Hughes tonight (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Is there anything better than Vin Scully broadcasting a brilliant pitching duel? We might get precisely that in game one of the Dodgers-White Sox series in Los Angeles, where young Chris Sale will be up against the grizzled veteran, Clayton Kershaw (7:10 p.m. ET). Sale has earned a win in each of his last five trips to the mound, and Robin Ventura’s team is 7-1 in his starts dating back to May 1.
  • Carlos Beltran went to the hospital with a severe stomach virus on Wednesday night, just hours after hitting a game-winning home run. The 35-year-old outfielder took last night off, but he should return sometime during the Cardinals’ three-game weekend series against their intrastate rivals, the Royals, who were also Beltran’s first major-league team. Beltran has been hot of late, going 11-for-22 with four home runs and only one strikeout over his last six games. 
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