Judging the Royals

It’s always something

Updated: 2013-04-27T04:26:01Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

The Royals are 11-8 and in first place. So far, the starting pitching has done its job, the defense is way better than it was when I started covering the team in 2010 and the bullpen — despite a couple hiccups — looks like it’s going to be a good one.

But what about the offense? Mike Moustakas is hitting .154, Billy Butler is at .254, Jeff Francoeur is at .243 and Chris Getz is down to .228. Should fans be concerned?

James Shields, Mike Moustakas and Elliot Johnson were waiting out Friday’s rain by playing video games in the clubhouse, so I asked them this question: what’s the longest period they could remember one of their teams hitting on all cylinders? How long could a team go with the starting pitching, the bullpen, the defense and the offense playing at the top of their games?

Elliot Johnson said two weeks and James Shields immediately said that was too long; two or three series was more like it. Moose said that might have been true in Tampa Bay, but here in Kansas City those periods where absolutely everything clicked had been even shorter.

Most of the time, some part of a team’s game will be scuffling and if the team is going to win, the other parts of a team’s game have to make up for it. If you’re not hitting, the pitching and defense needs to pick up the slack. When the pitcher scuffles, the hitters need to come through. If the starting pitcher gets blown up, the pen needs to come in, stop the bleeding and give the offense a chance to come back. Or, maybe it’s the defense that needs to make some spectacular plays to save a pitcher.

Listen to ballplayers and they’ll say the periods where everything is working are incredibly brief; most of the season some part of your game will be struggling. If you’re good enough and deep enough, some other part of your game will make up for it.

So bottom line: it’s always something—get used to it.

Frenchy and the catch in right center

During Thursday’s game in Detroit a fly ball was hit between Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur. There was one down and a runner on third base. Lorenzo Cain made the catch and tried to throw the runner out at home. Eric Hosmer cut the ball and relayed the throw to Salvador Perez, but the runner was safe.

After that game I wrote that if Frenchy was able to catch the ball, Cain needed to let Jeff have it — Jeff’s got the better arm and would be making the catch on the glove side of his body which would simplify the footwork on a throw home. Friday I talked to Jeff in the clubhouse and he said he and Lorenzo have that understanding: if there’s a throw involved and Jeff can make a catch moving forward, Lorenzo will let him have the ball.

But on the play in question, Jeff said he wasn’t sure he could get there at all and if he had made the catch, Jeff would have been moving sideways — a strong throw would have been impossible. Lorenzo had some movement forward and was sure he could make the catch.

On this play, Lorenzo made the right call.

Kottaras’ walk

Alex Gordon hit a grand slam to put Thursday’s game against the Tigers out of reach, but don’t forget George Kottaras worked a bases-loaded walk to put the Royals ahead before Gordo hit his blast. I got a chance to talk to George while he was breaking in a new catcher’s glove and asked him about coming to the plate with the score tied, the bases loaded and one down in the tenth inning: what was he thinking?

No. 1: stay out of a double play. Detroit’s pitcher, Phil Coke, needed a ground ball so the Tigers could turn a double play and get out of the inning — that meant Coke was going to keep the ball down. George wanted to avoid hitting a ground ball and a double play — that meant George wanted a pitch up.

So Kottaras was looking for a pitch up in the zone he could hit to the outfield for a run-scoring sac fly — and he was ready to swing at any pitch that fit the bill — until the count went 3-0. That was the only pitch that George was taking. When the count went 3-1 George would have hacked if he’d gotten his pitch. If the count went to two strikes, then George would have to swing at a pitch down and that might mean an inning-ending double play.

As always, when you get a chance to talk to the people involved, there was always more going on than you imagined.

Scoring change

As I suspected, the error given to Alex Gordon in Boston has been changed. Alex and Lorenzo Cain were both going for a ball in the gap, miscommunicated about who was going to make the catch and the ball fell between them. Gordon never touched the ball, but was still charged with an error. Joe Torre, MLB’s executive VP of baseball operations, saw the play differently than the guy scoring at Fenway and changed it to a triple.

(Friday night’s game was postponed by the rain. The Royals will now play a split-double header on Sunday.)

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