Friday night the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 7-2. That’s nine losses in their last ten games and 20 losses in their last 25. The Royals have gone 8-20 this month and moved from first to last place. (I’d like to take a moment to thank Star beat writer Bob Dutton for putting all that in his story so I didn’t have to look it up at 1:26 AM Saturday morning.)
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
I’m not sure what effect hiring George Brett as their hitting instructor will have, but I figured at the very least it was a great PR move: the public’s attention would be on George for a while and that would buy the Royals a couple weeks to straighten things out, win a few games and stop the talk about Ned Yost’s job security.
They may have bought themselves less time than I thought.
First inning: Veteran ballplayers will tell young hitters to pick a similar hitter in the lineup, watch how they pitch him, and assume they’ll pitch you the same way—pitchers do not have nine different game plans for nine different hitters.
At the start of the game the Royals had three lefties in their lineup: Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Chris Getz. In Alex Gordon’s first at-bat Derek Holland threw him three sinkers. In Eric Hosmer’s first at-bat Derek Holland threw him three sinkers. In Chris Getz first at-bat Derek Holland threw him—you guessed it—three sinkers.
Pitchers often like to change things up with each new trip through the order. In Alex Gordon’s second at-bat Derek Holland threw him a first-pitch slider. In Eric Hosmer’s second at-bat Derek Holland threw him a first-pitch slider and Chris Getz’ second at-bat Derek Holland threw him—well, I’m sure you can guess. In their third at-bat Derek Holland switched it up again and threw each of them a first-pitch sinker. If hitters will pay attention they can find patterns like these and use them to their advantage: they might find a pitch they want to hit or realize they’re about to get a pitch they should spit on.
In the bottom of the first inning, the importance of getting ahead was demonstrated when Elvis Andrus and David Murphy got basically the same pitch back-to-back. The ball was diving out of the zone and Andrus had to chase his because he had two strikes and couldn’t afford to let a close pitch go by. Because the count was 0-0, David Murphy could spit on the same pitch. Same pitch, different counts, different results.
Lance Berkman came to the plate and even though it’s meaningless in terms of what happened in the game, it reminded me that his nickname on the Houston Astros was "Fat Elvis." Ballplayers are pretty funny—mean, but pretty funny.
Second inning: Apparently Billy Butler has said his troubles are due to pitch selection, which seems likely. Billy can’t chase numbers; he may want hits and RBIs, but swinging at pitches out of the zone won’t help. Butler needs to take his walks and count on whoever is hitting fifth—in this case Eric Hosmer—to do some damage afterwards. If Hosmer does not hit, Butler will not getting anything to hit—chasing pitches won’t make anything better.
Home plate umpire CB Bucknor has a reputation for being one of the worst ball-strike umpires in the big leagues—he did nothing to hurt that reputation Friday night.
Third inning: With runners at second and third and one out, Lorenzo Cain needed to hit a ball in the air to the outfield to plate another run. Cain let a high changeup—a good pitch to hit for a fly ball—go by and swung at a low slider—a bad pitch to hit for a fly ball. Cain hit a weak chopper back to the mound for the second out and the Royals did not score in the inning. Bad situational hitting has been hurting the Royals.
In the bottom of the third, Wade Davis got two outs and then had trouble. Getting the first two outs, then struggling to finish off an inning, can be a concentration problem; pitchers relax because the inning is almost over, then find themselves in trouble. Davis gave up two-out hits in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings. In the sixth he got in trouble right away.
Back to the third: with two down and a runner on first, Chris Getz was playing out on the grass—part of a left-handed shift being used against Lance Berkman. Lance hit the ball to Getz, Chris bobbled it and Berkman was safe. Bottom line: Chris needs to make that play. Coming into this season many people thought the Royals had Gold Glove candidates at third, short, first, catcher, left field and possibly right field—defense should have been a strength. I don’t know what the numbers are now, but as of last Monday, Kansas City was second-to-last in fielding percentage among American League clubs.
After Getz could not make the play on Berkman, Adrian Beltre singled and Nelson Cruz homered. Each guy that got a hit for the Rangers in the third inning got a fastball in a fastball count: David Murphy got a 2-1 fastball, Lance Berkman got a 1-0 fastball, Adrian Beltre got a 0-0 fastball and Cruz hit a 3-1 fastball 419 feet and that put the game out of reach.
If the Royals hitters continue to get off-speed pitches in fastball counts and their opponents get fastballs in fastball counts, it’s going to be a long summer. Big-league pitchers need to be able to throw their secondary pitches in fastball counts.
Sixth inning: Down 4-1 with two outs, Billy Butler doubled, turned to the dugout and made a "You can’t see me" hand gesture. When the hand signaling stuff first came up I asked Jeff Francoeur about it and he said it built team unity, but if it ever became inappropriate, he’d tell his teammates to cool it.
Frenchy? It’s time.
Why ballplayers use clichés
"If we don’t know you or like you, all you’re going to get are clichés." That’s what former big-league ballplayer and Boston Red Sox bench coach, Tim Bogar, told me about dealing with the media. When I first started this job I asked Bogar how to deal with players and, frankly, after listening to what he had to say, I think the guy ought to be teaching a sports journalism class somewhere. (Actually, he’s currently managing Double A ball in the Angels system—but the MU Journalism Dept. ought to give him a call.)
"It was a tough loss, but that’s baseball."
"The breaks aren’t going our way right now, but we could start a winning streak tomorrow."
"Tip your cap, that’s a good team over there."
Clichés are safe; nobody is going to get into trouble with answers like that. People like to make fun of athletes for speaking that way, but consider the alternative:
"Man, this team is going down the drain."
"I don’t know what our manager was thinking—this is all going to get worse before it gets better."
"I don’t know how we lost to those guys; they suck worse than we do."
Everyone once in a while an athlete loses it and says what he really thinks in front of the cameras, but most of the time what they say depends on who they’re talking to. One-on-one, with someone they trust, they might reveal what’s really on their mind, but if there’s a crowd around; it’s cliché city—and it should be. Talk-radio and the internet will try to blow up even the mildest opinions into a controversy and players don’t want to give them the incendiary materials they’re looking for. And even when a player trusts a reporter enough to be honest, the reporter has to realize that he’s getting just one point of view: a guy who’s lost playing time might think one thing, a guy who’s getting extra at-bats might think another.
So how does this apply to the current situation?
Even if a guy is letting his social life affect his play, or not doing his pregame prep, or not working out the way he should; his teammates are not going to "throw him under the bus." They’re not going to criticize him publicly unless they’ve had it, say to hell with it and let loose publicly. If someone is being critical of his teammates—and it’s fair to wonder if the Royals have a veteran comfortable offering that kind of criticism—that will be kept inside the clubhouse. So the Royals are probably going to continue to say the right thing for public consumption. We’ll never know what’s being said behind the scenes—and we shouldn’t. Teams are a family and sometimes they’re a family that’s not getting along.
So whatever the Royals say publicly, you can probably assume a team doesn’t go into a nosedive like this without some behind-the-scenes conflict. Things are being said and done that the public will never be allowed to hear or see. A team might say a guy isn’t hurt on Tuesday and then announce he’s on the DL on Thursday. A team might say they’re not going to panic at the beginning of the week and announce a press conference to introduce the new manager at the end of the week. That’s just the way it is.
Meanwhile, enjoy the clichés.