Judging the Royals

The Royals win a sloppy one

Updated: 2013-07-04T07:27:19Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

This game had more parts than a box of Legos. First, there was a two-and-a-half hour rain delay, then Alex Gordon got hurt, which resulted in another delay and an inside-the-park home run, then the Royals had a big inning and took the lead back, then some of the lights went out, then the Indians tied the game up, then Eric Hosmer hit a home run to take a one-run lead, then Alcides Escobar made a ninth-inning error to make sure there was some extra late-inning drama and, finally, Greg Holland struck out Michael Bourn to end the game and give the Royals a 6-5 victory.

The results were good—a win—but there was a lot that went wrong along the way.

• Once again walks were an issue. After the lights went out in the seventh inning, Jeremy Guthrie had to wait around before throwing another pitch and when the lights finally came back on, he had control problems. He walked Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes and both of them eventually scored.

• Will Smith replaced Guthrie, gave up a single and a sac fly and the game was tied. The innings between the time the starting pitcher leaves and the time Ned Yost can hand the ball to Greg Holland are now more difficult to navigate. With Kelvin Herrera trying to fix his game in Omaha, Tim Collins scuffling and Aaron Crow being somewhat inconsistent, there’s no easy path to Holland—starters need to go as deep as they can.

• When Alex Gordon got turned around on a Jason Kipnis fly ball, jumped and banged his head on a bullpen support pole, it took forever for Lorenzo Cain to come over from centerfield, pick up the ball and get it back to the infield. Three runs crossed the plate; Kipnis circled the bases and scored standing up.

• Alcides Escobar made what looked like a concentration error in the ninth inning. Esky laid back on the ball, wasn’t moving forward when the ball arrived and threw away what should have been an easy out.

• A ball thrown back into the infield after a base hit trickled between Johnny Giavotella and Alcides Escobar—neither took charge—and they were lucky runners didn’t move up on the play.

• With the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning, Giavotella hit a weak grounder to short for a fielder’s choice and a force out at the plate, David Lough did his job—he hit what should have been a sacrifice fly—but Lorenzo Cain came off third base too soon and couldn’t score an insurance run. Jarrod Dyson ended the inning with another weak grounder.

I’m sure most teams would rather play sloppy and win than play great and lose, but sloppy play is a warning sign; do the same stuff in another game and it may cost you. Sloppy defense, sloppy base running and walks at a crucial point in the game are not the signs of a team hitting on all cylinders.

The Royals beat the Indians 6-5.

Game notes

• Don’t get me wrong, lots of good stuff happened as well—like the eighth inning. When the Royals lead after eight innings their record is 29-2 (now 30-2). In other words, if they can get the ball to Greg Holland with a lead, their chances of winning are very good. Knowing that, the key to the game was probably the top of the eighth; Kansas City had a one-run lead and if Will Smith could get the ball to Holland without giving up the tying run, the Royals were in great shape. Smith did his job and had a 1-2-3 inning.

• I’m pretty much fed up with the signaling deal: I never liked the guy who just got a hit having to send semaphore messages to the dugout, but I figured I’m older than dirt and it was the next generation’s thing. But when first-base coach Rusty Kuntz is trying to talk to base runner Miguel Tejada in a crucial situation and Miggy is busy making signals to the dugout, it’s getting out of hand.

• Jeremy Guthrie sometimes uses a slight hesitation in his windup—it’s just one more way to disrupt a hitter’s timing. Guthrie used it in the second inning on Carlos Santana—it produced a fly ball to left field—and used the hesitation again in the third inning while striking out Jason Kipnis. I asked Jeremy about using the windup hesitation and if there was any pattern to when he liked to break it out. He said he hoped not: if Guthrie only uses it on breaking pitches, the other side will figure that out and use the windup hesitation against him.

• In the fifth inning David Lough tried a hard bunt to get the ball past the mound—it didn’t work and Nick Swisher picked up the ball and threw out the lead runner. But the bunt wasn’t a last-minute idea; Lough was out on the field at 3PM with several of his teammates, working on that very play.

• In the sixth inning with two runners on, Jason Kipnis hit what seemed to be a routine fly ball to left field, but the ball kept carrying. Alex Gordon, who had just made an outstanding play to keep Asdrubal Cabrera to a single, drifted back with the ball and at the last second tried to make a leaping catch against the fence. Gordon slammed his head into a support pole on the bullpen gate and went down hard, lying on the warning track for a long time. Seeing Alex hurt was kind of shocking. The guy seems indestructible—it was kind of like seeing Hercules get his butt kicked.

Really? That’s possible?

The Royals have a shortage of veteran leaders among their position players and Alex was one of the few guys left with the heft to tell a younger guy to straighten up. Gordon is not very vocal, but leads by example. One coach told a young player that if he wanted to stay in the league, he should follow Alex around and do whatever he does. During the game it was reported that Gordon had a hip contusion and a possible concussion. They need him back as soon as possible.

• In the bottom of the sixth inning the pitcher, Bryan Shaw, attempted to pickoff Miguel Tejada and the ball got away. Tejada made it to second, but not third and that cost the Royals a run when Johnny Giavotella flew out to left field for the second out of the inning.

• That was Gio’s second fly ball to deep left. I looked up the dimensions of Omaha’s ball field—Werner Park—and left is 310 feet away, center is 402 and right field is 315. In other words, those fly balls might have been home runs if Johnny had hit them for the Storm Chasers. Kauffman Stadium will punish hitters who hit high fly balls, but don’t get them over the fence. That’s why low line drives are stressed. You can watch a guy hitting towering shots in BP, bit if those balls are landing on the warning track, they’re just long outs.

• The record book will show that Salvador Perez allowed Michael Bourn to steal second base in the seventh inning of this game, but pitcher Will Smith didn’t give Salvy much of a chance. Will used a high leg kick and Bourn got a big jump. When you see a catcher’s record for throwing out base stealers, don’t forget to factor in the pitcher.

• In the bottom of the seventh Eric Hosmer broke a 5-5 tie when he hit a 1-0 fastball over the centerfield fence. After they came back from Minnesota I asked Hosmer if the home run he’d hit to the opposite field had been helped by the wind and he said, "C’mon, Lee, I got pop."

Yes, he does.

• The game ended after 1:00 AM, which kinda sucks because everyone has to get up early and come back out for a day game and do it all over again on July 4th. I’ll be up and out at the park by the time most of you read this.

No doubles, Part II; the infield

So where was I?

Oh, right—in Tuesday’s post Rusty Kuntz and I were talking about playing "no doubles" (a defense designed to hold the opposition to a single) and he’d pretty much explained how the outfield plays it. That’s when Mike Moustakas walked up and got involved in the conversation.

I asked Moose if the outfield was playing no doubles (backed up to keep the ball in front of them), would that mean the corner infielders would always be guarding the lines? As with most things in baseball, the answer is complicated; it depends.

Let’s back up and describe what guarding the lines means.

When a first or third baseman positions himself close to the foul line he’s "guarding the line." Let’s use third base and Mike Moustakas as an example: If Moose can stop any ball hit to his right—between him and third base—the batter will have a hard time hitting a double down the line. And as Rusty pointed out, the ball that kills you is the one that goes by third base just fair and then slices into foul territory—the bigger the slice, the further the right or leftfielder has to run to get the ball.

If a ball gets past Moose to his left, he has Alex Gordon (who Mike called the best left-fielder in the American League) to back him up. If Gordon closes quickly and gets the ball back in as soon as possible, the batter should be held to a single.

OK, there’s the basic theory, but I asked Moose to define what he means specifically by guarding the line: would he ever stand right next to third base, or would that mean half his range was in foul territory? Once again it depends on the hitter and pitcher.

Say you’ve got Luis Mendoza running two-seam sinking fastballs down and in on right-handed Albert Pujols. Pujols can hit laser beams and Mendoza’s sinker means Albert is likely to pull the ball down the left field line. That combination would mean Mike might be behind third base and right next to the foul line. Now say it’s Bruce Chen pitching and Adam Dunn at the plate; now Eric Hosmer is right on the line and Moose can play further away from third base. Dunn is a pull hitter and Bruce tops out in the upper eighties. So does that mean either Hosmer or Moustakas is on the line and the other one is playing off the line?

If you’ve been paying attention you already know the answer—it depends.

A hitter like Jamey Carroll or Alejandro De Aza will go with the pitch and might hit a ball down either line so, in that case, both Moose and Hosmer would be guarding the lines. Now make the pitcher Kelvin Herrera and the hitter Jarrod Dyson: Rusty said Jarrod was unlikely to pull 100 miles an hour, so Hosmer could be off the line (even though he’s on the pull side) and Moose might be right next to it. And a hitter like Dyson can make things complicated in another way: Mike said with a lefty that can bunt, even if MIke’s on the line, he has to play in. You’re trying to avoid having a runner in scoring position and a bunt single plus a stolen base will do the job just as well as a double. If Dyson tries to bunt and the ball goes foul, Mike can back up a bit—the bunt’s slightly less likely with one strike. If Dyson gets to two strikes, Mike can back up some more; it’s even less likely that Dyson would try a two-strike bunt.

If fans keep their eye on the infielders they can learn a lot. Their positioning can tell you what the defense believes the offense is about to try. I asked Rusty and Mike if I could tell what pitch was being thrown by keeping my eye on an infielder and they both said yes.

The middle infielders can see the catcher’s signs and they pass those signs along to the corner infielders, using whatever system they’ve devised. They have to do it while the pitcher is in the windup (do it too early and there will be time for a base coach to pass the sign along to the hitter), but that means all the infielders know whether the pitch is a fastball or off-speed. That allows them to take their first step to the pull side or toward the opposite field and that allows them to get a better jump on the ball. So if Moose has a right-handed pull hitter at the plate and Bruce Chen is throwing him a cutter in, Alcides Escobar will let him know and Mike is aware that ball is likely to come his way.

I’ve already been writing for a page and a half and barely explained the basics of the no doubles defense and guarding the lines. When you get to talk to these guys, you realize there is an amazing amount of stuff happening between two pitches. The catcher is getting signs to control the running game form the dugout, passing them along to the pitcher

So next time someone tells you baseball is slow and nothing happens, tell them you have an article for them to read.

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