Just like players, teams go through slumps and hot streaks. A team has a big win and goes on a run—they believe they’re going to win and believing they’re going to win actually turns into wins. A team suffers a tough loss and goes into a tailspin—one loss leads to several more. Royals fans have seen this in action; Kansas City has been one streaky team.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
Saturday night the Royals suffered a tough loss; the kind of loss that can lead to several more. Sunday afternoon James Shields made sure that didn’t happen. Once in a while a starting pitcher puts a team on his back and makes sure they win; that’s what James Shields did on Sunday. Seven innings pitched, three hits, one walk, nine strikeouts, no earned runs, no unearned runs—Shields threw 112 pitches, then turned a 5-0 lead over to the bullpen. Relievers Luke Hochevar and Greg Holland faced the minimum: six up and six down.
But Shields led the way. Take the fifth inning:
With one down Rajai Davis hit a curveball into the left centerfield gap and tripled. Shields was up by five runs at that point and many pitchers would concede the run. Get two more outs somehow, someway and don’t worry about the runner on third scoring. Instead, Shields struck out Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar. The inning ended with the five-run lead and the shutout intact.
One of the reasons you go out and get starting pitching is for games like this one; if the guy on the mound can dominate, he can stop a losing streak. That’s what James Shields did.
The Royals beat the Blue Jays, 5-0.
• According to the TV guys the Royals come into this game successfully stealing bases 84% of the time they tried—and the Royals didn’t hurt that percentage in this game. Emilio Bonifacio stole two bases and Jarrod Dyson stole two more.
Bonifacio’s first stolen base turned into a run when catcher J.P. Arencibia’s throw went into centerfield. Shortstop Jose Reyes was covering second and started by straddling the base, but once the throw tailed toward right field and went over Bonifacio as he slid, Reyes backed off. Some middle infielders are willing to dive over a sliding runner to knock a throw down and keep the ball on the infield; some aren’t. Reyes’ reluctance to mix it up with a runner cost the Blue Jays a run when Bonifacio got up, made it to third base and Eric Hosmer drove him in with a groundball to second base.
• Reyes also cost Toronto another run in the third inning: Jarrod Dyson was on second base when Alcides Escobar failed to hit the ball to the right side (a lot of that going around Sunday), but Dyson took off for third base anyway. Generally speaking a runner on second cannot advance to third when a ground ball is hit to the left side of the infield; but there are exceptions. If the ball is hit so softly that the shortstop or third baseman has to charge forward to make the play, the runner can advance.
This ball was not hit softly.
It was hit directly to Jose Reyes and the Toronto shortstop made the right play; he threw the ball to third to get the advancing Dyson, but then Reyes made a mistake—he did not get out of the base path after making the throw. Third baseman Brett Lawrie was chasing Dyson back toward second and Dyson made contact with Reyes. One of the ways runners caught in a rundown can try to escape is by letting the guy with the ball get very close, change direction and get that guy to throw the ball. Once the ball is out of the infielder’s hands he can’t be in the base path, so the runner once again changes direction just as the throw is made and intentionally runs into the guy without the ball, hoping for an interference call. Dyson did not appear to do this intentionally, but that’s what happened.
• Jarrod Dyson stole a base on a pitchout and when that happens, there’s not much a defense can do to stop a guy—he’s just too fast. I’ve been told Dyson is one of the five fastest guys in the league. I’ve got no way to confirm that, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
• Bonifacio stole second base in that third inning, then scored on a single by Eric Hosmer. Emilio got a great read on the ball and may have been helped by familiarity with Toronto’s turf outfield. Hosmer’s ball hit and took a high bounce. If an outfielder has to jump up to field a ball, he’s probably not going to make much of a throw afterwards.
• In the fourth inning Alex Gordon stole 90 feet from another hitter; Edwin Encarnacion hit a ball down the line and it ricocheted off a wall toward Gordon. With most left fielders that ball is a double, but Alex played it on a short hop and got the ball into second base quickly. The Blue Jays had probably seen enough of Gordon’s arm by that point and Encarnacion shut it down after rounding first.
• Jose Reyes hit a pop up around home plate and Salvador Perez settled under it before getting run off by third baseman Mike Moustakas. The corner infielders are encouraged to take pop ups from the catcher—the catcher is looking straight up and the corner guys have a better angle on the ball as they come forward.
Catchers are taught to take off their masks, but hold onto them until they’re about to make the catch. Toss the mask too soon and the catcher might step on it as he moves to make the catch. In this case Sal’s mask was tossed toward third and almost screwed up Mike as he came forward to make the catch.
• In the sixth inning Justin Maxwell hit a groundball to third baseman Brett Lawrie and he made a high throw to first baseman Adam Lind. Lind jumped in the air, caught the ball and made the tag on Maxwell as he spun counter-clockwise. That counter-clockwise spin is important on a tag at first base—it keeps the first baseman from getting his wrist bent back as he tags the runner.
Once again it appeared an umpire missed a call—Jerry Meals again—and Maxwell was called out. This was one of the few times it would have been better for a runner to slide at first base. Runners coming down the line are supposed to watch the first baseman’s feet and if he leaves the bag, that’s when you slide to avoid a tag.
• In the seventh inning with two strikes on Rajai Davis, Salvador Perez asked for a high fastball. The count was 0-2 and Sal wanted a pitch above the strike zone. He signaled this with his bare hand, making an upward motion, then set a high target. Shields missed the spot, but still got Davis to strike out on a fastball more outside than up.
• The Royals got two leadoff doubles—Hosmer in the fifth and Escobar in the ninth—and both times the next guy failed to move the runner to third. Billy Butler got a 2-1 change and pulled it to third—that froze Hosmer in place—and Gordon popped out to third with Esky on second. The failure to move Escobar might have cost the Royals a run when Dustin McGowan threw a wild pitch. Alcides moved from second to third instead of scoring.
The failure to move the runners didn’t hurt in this game, but it’s the kind of small thing that can come back to bite you in a close game. You want to play good fundamental baseball all the time.
• Luke Hochevar continued his excellent work as a reliever, ending the day with a 1.83 ERA. I’ve been told you can consider any reliever who throws two different pitches over 90 miles an hour a badass and Luke has a fastball in the upper nineties and a cutter in the lower nineties. Guess that makes Hoch a badass.
• Greg Holland must have needed some work or maybe Ned Yost just wasn’t in a mood to screw around—either way, Greg came in to finish off the game. It’s a balancing act—if you don’t get a reliever enough work he may not be sharp when you need him; use him when you don’t need him and you may be sorry three days from now if he’s not available.
Down the stretch
It’s September and the Royals are not completely out of it; the odds are long, but they’ve still got a chance to make the playoffs. They are now 70-66 with 26 games left to play. Win 11 of them and they play .500 baseball; win 12 and they have a winning season. Have a winning season and it might save somebody’s job. Anybody who finds themselves pulling for the Royals to lose so people they don’t like will get fired, might want to ask themselves if they really are Royals fans.