That’s right, when the Royals score four runs or more, they’re 17-5. The general interpretation of this number is that with this pitching staff, you don’t need a ton of runs to win—but you do need some. Wednesday night they got some and beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1.
You might credit the new lineup: this one was suggested by the stat guys the Royals employ. Apparently Ned Yost made a minor tweak to what they gave him, but then went with Alex Gordon leading off, Eric Hosmer hitting second, Salvador Perez in the third spot, Billy Butler hitting fourth, Mike Moustakas fifth followed by Lorenzo Cain, David Lough, Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar.
Some credit ought to go to Salvador Perez returning (two hits, two runs, a walk and an RBI) and Billy Butler returning to form (three hits, a run, a walk and an RBI). David Lough also chipped in: a two-run double and another single. I don’t know if Ned Yost will keep this lineup or do some more tinkering, but the goal is pretty clear—find a way to score four runs on a regular basis.
First inning: With one down and Josh Willingham at the plate, Eduardo Escobar went in motion on a 3-2 count and never stopped—he scored from first base on a single. Right fielder David Lough got an extremely late break on the ball and if you were wondering why, here’s the answer:
After the game I ran into outfield coach Rusty Kuntz and asked him what happened to Lough. Turns out Escobar ran right into Lough’s line of vision as Willingham made contact—David never saw the ball until it was in the outfield. Lough then fired it home and hit cutoff man Eric Hosmer in the middle of the infield. Hosmer caught the ball—appeared to have a chance to throw out Willingham advancing to second on the throw—but Hos looked home and by the time he looked back at second, Willingham was in safely. Later I found Eric by his locker and asked if anyone had called the play for him. Someone—usually the catcher—will yell "Let it go" or "Cut three" or "Cut four" or "Cut two" depending on where they want the ball directed. Eric said it gets so loud when the crowd starts cheering that you can’t always hear what’s being said. Hosmer saw Escobar hesitate going around third—Eduardo’s back was to the play and he didn’t see what happened to Lough and was probably surprised to be sent home—so Eric thought he had a play at the plate. By the time he checked and saw he didn’t, it was too late to throw out Willingham.
With the bases loaded, two outs and disaster just around the corner, Hosmer went into the stands to catch a pop fly and end the inning. A fan almost prevented it from happening: he was reaching for the ball at the same time Hosmer was and almost knocked Eric’s glove aside. The guy was wearing blue and appeared to be a Royals fan and seemed slightly shocked when he realized what he’d almost done. Court awareness people: if it’s your team trying to make a catch in the stands, make room. If it’s the other team trying to make the same catch, fight for the ball.
After the game Ned Yost said Jeremy Guthrie threw 39 pitches in the first inning. Remember that number; it will come up again.
In the bottom of the first Hosmer reached second base on an error and Salvador Perez got one of those fastballs in a fastball count and roped it. Hos scored and the game was tied. Billy Butler walked, Mike Moustakas flew out, Perez advanced to third on Mike’s fly ball, Lorenzo Cain walked and the bases were loaded for David Lough. He hit a ball in the left-center gap and the Twins outfield depth (they play deep which means a long run to the ball) came back to haunt them. Billy was able to score from second and Lough was able to get to second on a ball that wasn’t hit all that deep.
Third inning: With one down and runners at first and second, Chris Getz made a huge play (Ned Yost’s description not mine). Ryan Doumit hit a rocket and Getz dove to keep it on the infield—that alone probably saved a run. But Getz also threw out Justin Morneau as he was trying to advance to second. Getzie launched the throw while falling down and somehow kept the ball on target. That was the second out of the inning which ended one batter later on a pop up.
In the bottom of the inning Salvador Perez got a 2-0 changeup, fouled it off and then rifled a 2-1 slider past the third baseman. It didn’t change much, but if I’m going to point out when the Royals don’t hit off-speed pitches in fastball counts, I should also point out when they do.
Fourth inning: Lough singled to lead off the inning and the Twin pitcher tried to pick him off—sort of. The real point of the pickoff was to see If Chris Getz—the man at the plate—would show bunt. Getz didn’t show it and the game proceeded. Once the count went to 2-1 on Getz, the Twins tried another pickoff; sometimes a manager will give a hitter one strike to move the runner swinging the bat and if that doesn’t work, they will then ask the hitter to bunt. Chris wasn’t bunting—he hit a hard groundball for a 4-6-3 double play—and that cost the Royals a run when Alcides Escobar tripled with two outs.
Fifth inning: With Billy Butler on first base after an infield single (See? He can run.) Mike Moustakas ran the count to 3-2, but appeared to chase several pitches out of the zone before grounding out to first base.
Sixth inning: Chris Getz walked with two outs, but Twins starting pitcher P.J. Walters was getting the ball to home plate too quickly—under 1.3 seconds by my stopwatch—for Chris to steal.
Seventh inning: Remember those 39 pitches Jeremy Guthrie threw in the first inning? Well, 15 pitches per inning is about average—or so I’m told—so Jeremy went through over two innings worth of pitches to start the game. That meant he was at 102 pitches after six innings and three walks and a hit batter meant the Twins were about to see him for the fourth time. Ned Yost decided to pull the trigger and bring in Tim Collins.
It got dicey. Collins left with two outs and the bases loaded and Aaron Crow came in and bailed him out by getting a groundout to short.
In the bottom of the seventh Alex Gordon walked and was doubled off when Eric Hosmer hit a line shot to the first baseman, Justin Morneau. Nothing Alex could do—Morneau was closer to the bag than he was when it happened. (After the game Ned Yost said Hosmer pulling the ball that sharply was a good sign.) After that Salvador Perez walked, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Billy Butler’s third hit of the game.
Billy Butler can flat hit.
(OK, during batting practice Billy gave me a hard time about my article saying pitchers weren’t afraid to walk him because he clogs the bases. I said the next time he did something good I’d make sure to write about that too, so here it is: Billy Butler can flat hit—but he’s still slow.)
After the game Billy and I talked about the need for patience: if he tries to get his numbers up too fast by chasing pitches out of the zone, those numbers will head the opposite direction. He’s got to take his walks and swing when he gets a hittable pitch; then he’ll end up with Billy Butler-like numbers.
Eighth and ninth innings: Kelvin Herrera’s back in town and did his job: he went 1-2-3 in the eighth. Make of it what you will—Jeff Francoeur came out as a defensive replacement for David Lough in the ninth—and Greg Holland allowed the tying run to reach the plate, but then struck out the side.
While Billy Butler was giving me a hard time about my saying he clogged the bases, Jarrod Dyson was listening in. I turned to him and asked; "Dice, is Billy slow?" Jarrod said he would refuse to say anything bad about a teammate.
Jarrod then asked: "Lee, did I look fast?" Two things: 1.) I would have bet money Jarrod did not know my name and 2.) Yeah, he did. He was out running the bases earlier and I happened to be watching. But what I actually said was: "Dice, I’m old and white— everybody looks fast." (As you may have surmised, political correctness is not a prime objective in baseball humor.) But—when Jarrod is healthy, the Royals will face a choice: what happens to Jeff Francoeur? Do they keep three left-handed outfielders—Gordon, Dyson and Lough? I’ve got no clue when it comes to front office issues, but when Jarrod’s ready to some back you’d think someone has to go.
Tinkering with the lineup
When you’re losing, nothing you do is right. If a losing team is having fistfights in the clubhouse, it’s dysfunctional. If it’s the Oakland A’s back in the days of Reggie Jackson and Billy North and you’re winning championships, the team’s colorful. If Mike Moustakas isn’t using video and he’s hitting .180, he’s making a huge mistake. If Mike Moustakas isn’t using video and he’s hitting .320, he’s got his own way of doing things. As Clint Hurdle once of a New York Mets pitcher: "Sid Fernandez is only fat when he loses."
My son is a big Miami Heat fan. The Heat finished their first playoff round early and had to wait for their second-round opponents to be determined. I told my son to pay attention to the media: if the Heat won the first game of the second round, the media would say they were well-rested. If the Heat lost the first game of the second round, the media would say they were rusty. (Turns out they were well-rested.)
So how does this pertain to making out a lineup?
If Ned Yost tinkers with lineups while his team is losing, it can be seen as a sign of panic: he doesn’t know what else to do, so he rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic. But if Ned Yost doesn’t tinker with lineups while his team is losing, that can also be interpreted as a sign of panic: the guy’s gone catatonic—he’s like a deer frozen in the headlights.
It works the other way, too.
If the Royals were winning and Ned was tinkering with the lineup he’d be a genius; he’d be getting the best out of his players by pushing the right buttons. If the Royals were winning and Ned didn’t tinker with the lineup, he’d also be a genius: he’s smart enough to just let them play. Whatever Ned Yost or Mike Moustakas or the Miami Heat does will be interpreted through the results they get.
When you’re losing, you just can’t win.
(The Royals won Wednesday night, so the latest lineup tinkering will probably be seen in a more favorable light.)