Judging the Royals

The Royals go 8-1; their best nine-game road trip ever

Updated: 2013-08-05T15:31:49Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

If you have to choose between the best pitching staff in the American League and Wil Myers, I’ll go with the pitching staff. Sunday afternoon against the New York Mets, Ervin Santana threw six innings, gave up one run and dropped his ERA to 2.97. The bullpen threw in three more innings and gave up just a single run.

Right now, with this pitching and defense, the offense doesn’t have to do that much to bring home a W. In this game they did more than enough: eleven hits, six walks and six runs. The Royals are 13-3 since the All-Star break and now stand four games over .500. The Royals took two out of three from the Mets and eight out of nine on this road trip; their best nine-game road trip ever.

Final score: Royals 6, Mets 2.

Sun balls and scorekeepers

Anyone who thinks it’s easy to catch a fly ball in the sun hasn’t done it. The scorekeeper in this game was all over the place: Lorenzo Cain’s pop fly to second base (clearly lost in the sun) was an error, David Lough’s fly ball to right (clearly lost in the sun) was a double and Alex Gordon’s fly ball to the right-center gap (clearly lost in the sun) was another error.

Dude, pick a personality.

When a ball goes up and the fielder throws his hand or glove up, he’s shading his eyes. The trick is to block the sun with the glove or hand and wait for the ball to appear above it. If it doesn’t, you’re screwed—the ball has reached the same height as the sun and is staying there. That’s when you’ll see the fielder turn sideways; and it’s a desperation move. He’s trying to get a new background behind the ball that doesn’t include a blazing sun.

The problem here is that big league players are so good and make this play so often, some people think it’s "ordinary effort" as defined in the rulebook—it ain’t. Anyone who thinks differently needs to look straight into the sun, then have someone hit them a fly ball and see how they do.

And I know some ballplayers who will volunteer to hit you the ball.

Game notes

• Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler pounded the strike zone in the first inning, getting ahead of every Royals hitter that came to the plate. Pitcher who throws strikes won’t let you breath; you might go to the plate intending to take pitches, but if a pitcher is on the attack he screws up your game plan. Once the pitcher gets you to two strikes, then he can move to the corners and throw borderline pitches and chase pitches that wind up out of the zone.

Fortunately, Wheeler didn’t keep it up and began to fall behind hitters.

• Ned Yost brought the Kansas City infield in early in the game to cut off a run at the plate. When you see the infield playing in early, it tells you that the manager thinks the game will be low scoring and one run will be meaningful. The score ended up being 6-2, but Ned was probably going off the starting pitchers’ ERAs: Ervin Santana started the game with a 3.03, Zack Wheeler had a 3.55.

• Santana threw a 2-0 slider to Marlon Byrd in the first inning and when a pitcher does that, everyone sees. That puts it in everyone’s head; just because you’re in a fastball count, you can’t count on getting a fastball from this guy. Now that the pitcher has the hitters thinking something other than the fastball, he can throw one.

• There were times the Mets were hacking at the first hittable fastball they saw from Santana. Better to take your chances early than let Ervin get ahead and have to deal with his slider.

• Pitchers and catchers have to stay out of patterns or smart players will notice and take advantage. In the second inning Mike Moustakas got a 2-1 fastball and fouled it off. In the fourth inning Mike found himself in another 2-1 count, so what should Moose look for?

If he was guessing that he’d get another fastball, he was right. Mike got the same pitch and hammered it out of the park.

• Even though they won, the Royals had some suspect base running: Lorenzo Cain hit a pop fly to second base that dropped, but Cain only got to first. I never saw a replay that showed what Cain was doing out of the box, but it’s at least fair to ask if he should have been on second.

Maybe not.

If you’ve followed this web site from the beginning you know that first base coach Rusty Kuntz has said the game should be played at 80% until you need the other 20—that’s the only way to get through a 162-game season. Fair enough, but you still see guys not giving 80%. In the sixth inning Cain hit another pop up to second base with Alex Gordon on first; Cain never came out of the box. Had the second baseman dropped the ball—intentionally or otherwise—the Mets could have turned a double play.

Earlier in the inning Eric Hosmer made the first out at third base, another base running mistake which wound up costing the Royals a run.

Some fans believe that if their team wins everything was fine and if their team lost everything sucked. The pros tend to concentrate on the process: if we play the game the right way we have a better chance of winning and if we don’t, it’ll bite us in the butt. You might win, but play sloppy baseball and if that becomes a habit, it’ll cost you in a one-run game.

• Three times George Kottaras walked with two outs. George was hitting eighth and that allowed the Royals to clear the pitcher’s spot which set up the next inning. Kottaras was hit by a pitch to start off the eighth and that allowed Ned Yost to use Ervin Santana to bunt him over. Santana’s bunting technique was not good—he jabbed at the ball with the bat instead of extending his arms, getting the bat out in front and catching the ball with the barrel—but it worked anyway and Ervin moved Kottaras and wound up with a single.

In National League games you need to conserve players wherever you can; make too many moves too soon and you can clean out your bench in a hurry. Yost could have sent Elliot Johnson out to do the same job, but then Ned’s lost an option in the later innings.

• Alcides Escobar had a tough road trip; at least on the offensive side of the ball. Unless there’s a runner on third and less than two down, if Esky hits the ball in the air, it’s probably a bad sign. I’ve been told he needs to hit line drives and hard grounders.

• I’ve already written about John Buck and his troubles blocking pitches—one of the reasons the Royals let him go—and fans saw more of that in Sunday’s game. But don’t blame Buck for the pitch that allowed Jarrod Dyson to score; it was a fastball. Big league pitchers are not supposed to spike fastballs; it means they’re missing the target by several feet. Most pitches in the dirt are breaking pitches and many of them are thrown in the dirt intentionally. Apparently a fastball comes in so quickly catchers have no time to react—the ball either hits them and stays in front of the plate or ricochets off them in a new direction.

Coming up

The Royals start a 10-game home stand: a three-game series against Minnesota, then four against Boston, followed by three more against Miami. Boston has a winning record, the other two do not. The next 10 days will decide the importance of the four-game Detroit series starting on August 15th. Assuming they’re still within striking distance, those four games against the Tigers might define their 2013 season.

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