Judging the Royals

The Royals’ freefall continues

Updated: 2013-05-28T02:05:15Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

The Royals best pitcher was not as his best: James Shields fought his command all day, walked five and gave up six earned runs in six innings. The Royals haven’t been able to win when a pitcher gives them a great start, so the odds of pulling one out with a bad start weren’t good.

The Cardinals beat the Royals 6-3 and the near future doesn’t look a whole lot better: Kansas City has three more games with the Cardinals (they have the best record in baseball), followed by three games with the Texas Rangers (the best record in the American League).

Go 1-5 in the next week and they’re 10 games under.

Game notes

First inning: With Matt Carpenter on first base, James Shields left a changeup up and Yadier Molina hit it 409 feet. After walking Carlos Beltran, the Royals took a big step toward getting out of the inning with a 6-4-3 double play. Yesterday I waxed eloquent about Chris Getz turning a double play while being dumped by Mike Trout, Monday Elliot Johnson did the same thing: he stepped into the sliding runner, made the throw, got his weight up off his feet and got dumped by Beltran.

Same deal as Getz: plays like that win the admiration of other ballplayers.

Allen Craig misplayed a David Lough single into a David Lough double to start the bottom of the first. Alcides Escobar did his job: with nobody out he used a groundball to the right side to move Lough over to third base and Alex Gordon drove Lough in with another shattered-bat single. Gordon hesitated coming out of the box—I wondered whether the shattered bat distracted him—and the ball hit the first base bag and bounced over the first baseman, Matt Adams’ head and continued into right field. Gordon’s hesitation cost him: he was thrown out trying to stretch that single into a double. But with Gordon, teammates never question his effort—the guy is the hardest worker on the team.

Second inning: I’ve got no clue if I’m any good with a stopwatch, but I had Adam Wainwright’s delivery at 1.3 seconds. I’ve got no clue what Yadier Molina’s time is throwing the ball down to second base, but I’m guessing the two of them were just too quick to steal on. Nobody tried.

Third inning: With two outs and Gordon on first base, Billy Butler hit a soft pop-up just over the infield. Everybody except the Canadian Mounted Police converged on it, but the ball fell. Gordon went first to third and then scored on a wild pitch while Butler advance to second. Eric Hosmer hit another fly ball and it dropped, allowing Butler to score.

So what’s the deal with all the fly balls dropping in between the infield and outfield?

When we were in spring training Rusty Kuntz told me visiting outfielders come into Kauffman Stadium, look behind them, see all that empty space between them and the wall and back up. The Cardinals were playing noticeable deeper in the outfield than the Royals (count the patterns in the grass). I don’t know if they’ll keep it up, but if they do, more fly balls might drop in front of the outfielders and if they’re that deep, base runners might take extra bases.

Fourth inning: We’ve talked about veteran pitchers throwing off-speed in fastball counts whenever there’s a runner in scoring position. Alex Gordon’s at-bat was a good example: with runners on first and third and two outs, Alex got a 3-1 curveball for a called strike. I wondered if he would get a 3-2 fastball because Wainwright wouldn’t want to walk what was then the tying run into scoring position.

Nope—another curve.

Alex flew out to centerfield. If what I’ve been told is correct, the Royals should plan on seeing more off-speed stuff in fastball count whenever there’s a runner in scoring position.

Sixth inning: Jeff Francoeur has no shortage of critics and it’s not just his .220 batting average: they also say his defense isn’t that good. Last year Jeff was a finalist for a Gold Glove, so the coaches and managers of the American League don’t agree—and the throw he made in the sixth is one of the reasons why. He didn’t get Daniel Descalso at home plate, but the throw beat him there on the fly; it was just a bit too much up the line.

Columnist Sam Mellinger was at the game and after what seemed like an impossible throw almost nailed a runner, Sam came over and asked if I remembered what I’d said about Francoeur in spring training: "The best and worst thing about Frenchy is he always thinks he can make the play." I don’t remember saying it quite like that, but the sentiment is accurate: Jeff’s natural optimism can get him in trouble. He thinks he can make that throw or that catch or hit that pitch and then finds out he can’t. On the other hand, if he never made that throw or that catch or hit that pitch, he’d stop trying.

David Lough had four hits and wound up at .320, and depending on lefty-righty matchups, you’d think that buys him more playing time.

Stuff I screwed up yesterday—an incomplete list

Here’s how this stuff works: I don’t have a deadline (I try to get something posted by the next morning and that’s about it), but that gives me an advantage: I don’t have to write during the game. I watch, take notes, go to Ned Yost’s post-game press conference, then go into the clubhouse and try to find the people I need to talk to.

Certain players know the media needs them (the starting pitcher for sure and after Sunday’s game, Billy Butler), but if a player feels he isn’t needed, he may take his time in the training room, showering or eating his post-game meal. Sometimes I’m waiting to ask a guy something weird—yesterday I wanted to know if Chris Getz showed bunt in the third inning, drew in third baseman Alberto Callaspo and then tried to slap the ball past him—but Chris doesn’t know I’m waiting and may not hustle through his post-game routine. Even if he knew I was waiting I’m not sure that changes much. Would you hustle to answer that question?

Anyway, it’s considered impolite to just keep hanging in the clubhouse after a game—everybody wants to go home and the club officials that handle the media can’t leave until the last reporter walks out. So you hang as long as you can without holding them up, then go. The end result is you don’t get to talk to every player, every day. Fortunately, the format of this thing allows me to come back the next day—I’ll be looking for Getzie—and ask my question. I’m assuming fans are interested in the game within the game and what they learn 24 hours later is still valuable.

(I talked to Chris Monday morning: he was off-balance on the hit and run swing and fell across the plate on purpose—he didn’t know if it would impede the catcher’s throw, but he figured it wouldn’t help—and he did try to bring Callaspo in by showing bunt and then tried to slap the ball past him.)

After I finish in the clubhouse, I drive home and write there. It takes about 20 minutes to get home and it gives me time to think (so if you’ve ever wondered why I don’t post more quickly, there’s your answer). I DVR the game so if there’s a play I’d like to see one more time I can do that, but last night my son was watching the Miami Heat game—he loves sports, don’t know where he gets it—so I didn’t get to see the David Lough play until this morning. (Got a lot of excuses, don’t I?)

Anyway, I said Lough got deked by Erick Aybar in the eighth inning Sunday, but after watching the play again, I don’t think he did. Lough was running on the pitch and Elliot Johnson hit the ball just to the right-field side of second base. Aybar came across the bag with his glove out—I thought he was deking—but he appeared to be going after the ball. If he’d caught it, David should have stopped at second, as he did—temporarily.

The second thing I screwed up is saying Billy Butler could not get thrown out of Sunday’s game—he had two more at-bats coming—and not making the same point about Chris Getz the day before. Billy plays a bigger role on the team—he’s been their best hitter for a long time—and has more responsibility, but if Getz is in the lineup that means Ned Yost thinks he gives the Royals the best chance to win that day, so even if he’s got a smaller role, he still has a responsibility to stay on the field. The only other difference I can see is that Billy has a bit of a history of complaining about ball-strike calls and Getz is so laid back that when he protests you figure the umpire’s really screwed up.

P.S. I also failed to mention Elliot Johnson made an incredible play from his knees—one of those "no way" plays—and got the runner at first.

And speaking of screw-ups: there are old-school players who will tell you both Chris and Billy screwed up by getting thrown out and not coming out of the dugout to get their money’s worth—you’re already getting fined, go tell the umpire what you really think. One of the first things a player is likely to say goes like this: "You think these people came here today to see you?" Judging from some of the theatrics umpires indulge in, they seem to. Umpire Marty Foster deprived 24,475 Royals fans of seeing the team’s best hitter come to the plate twice with the game on the line. I may have screwed up yesterday, but at least I didn’t do that.

A reader’s question and my response

Attended game yesterday. Butler getting tossed, Cain not getting Hosmer to third where he would have scored on Lough's out, Yost not having someone ready to go after Hamilton's home run in 7th. Looks to me like it's time for a change. Curious as to what Lee thinks, if he'll say.

I have no inside information on Ned Yost's job security. I can say that every time I've talked managing strategy with Ned, he knew several things I didn't. He ought to—he a big-league manager. Although people like to say it when things don't work out, I don't think Ned’s an idiot.

And I don't know that Yost didn't have someone available after Hamilton hit the home run Sunday. In fact, once they reach a certain point of the game, the appropriate relievers get up, stretch and do everything they have to do to be ready to go in five or six pitches.

Wade Davis threw well for six innings and Hamilton’s home run was the first run the Angels put on the board. If I counted right, Wade’s pitch count was still in the low nineties at that point and I’m guessing—I haven’t talked to Ned about it—he wanted to get Wade through the seventh, then hand the ball to Aaron Crow for the eighth and Greg Holland for the ninth. Wade walked two, his command seemed to desert him and Ned was then forced to go to Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar.

Like I said, as far as in-game strategy goes, Ned seems OK to my amateur eye. (And let’s emphasize "amateur" which means you should take that opinion with a grain of salt.) The other parts of a manager’s job, the parts that we don’t get to see—handling the clubhouse, front office relations, having an appropriate work schedule, etc.—I couldn’t tell you about that stuff, it happens behind the scenes. A guy may be an OK game manager and bad at the other parts of his job—sometimes it’s the exact opposite.

I will say that even good game managers—guys who have done nothing wrong—still get fired. It buys a team time; fans and the media back off to see what the new guy will do. But it can also change the atmosphere in a clubhouse—and that’s a very real thing. If guys need an attitude adjustment or a wakeup call, a change in leadership might accomplish that. It can send a message that things need to change or bad things will start to happen—guys will lose jobs or get benched or be reminded what it’s like to ride a bus for four hours at a time.

I’ve got no clue as to whether the Royals are anywhere close to that kind of action.

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