Most of us in the media like a simple narrative. We have limited time and space to tell a story. It’s easier to say Alex Gordon hit a home run on the day they gave away his bobble head than to explain counts, slide steps and arm slots that result in hung sliders. So we tend to look for simple explanations that may or may not be accurate. But the story of any team is not simple.
I’ve been covering the Royals for five years now and every time they have stumbled, hit a losing streak or anything bad has happened, someone is sure to say they’re the "same old Royals". The same old Royals have a very good starting rotation. The same old Royals have one of if not the best bullpen in baseball. The same old Royals have three Gold Glove winners and a couple more guys who should get consideration. The same old Royals have one of the most athletic teams in the game. The same old Royals have won 88 games. And now the same old Royals are going to the playoffs.
Hitting coach Dale Sveum came in preaching the merits of getting a pitch up in the zone and yet you still see some of the Royals chase pitches down before they have to. So what goes wrong with pitch selection?
Sinkers and off-speed pitches down in the zone; that’s what opposition pitchers have been throwing Billy Butler for much of the season. They want Billy to pull the ball and hit it on the ground; that’s how you get Billy Butler to hit into a double play. In the eighth inning with one down and the score tied, Butler came to the plate with runners on first and third. Reliever Jake Petricka knew just what he wanted to do; get Billy Butler to hit a double play groundball—and that’s just what happened.
Wednesday night against the Cleveland Indians, the Royals’ pitchers walked six batters, hit one, and three of them scored. Kansas City lost by two runs. Baseball requires you to control what you can: walks and errors. If you don’t do that, you might pay the price. Wednesday night, the Royals did.
Tuesday night, Ventura spread four hits over seven innings and didn’t give up a single run. The Royals’ offense supplied seven runs, and that meant manager Ned Yost did not have to call on relievers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis or Greg Holland. For the Royals to get a win and for those guys to get a night off is a big deal. It sets the bullpen up for at least the next two nights.
The main thing any hitter does is make outs, so it makes sense to make some productive ones. A productive out is an out that advances a base runner 90 feet and in the fifth inning, that’s just what Mike Moustaskas did.
It’s pretty simple: Get a lead and give the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. As you watch the rest of the season, pay attention to what happens in the sixth inning. Thats might be when the ballgame is decided. The Royals are now 61-5 when they have a lead after six innings. Sunday afternoon, the Royals’ formula success worked once again, and they beat the Detroit Tigers 5-2.
It’s pretty confusing even for someone who was there, witnessed the play and talked to the people involved, but here is what happened in the sixth inning when the Royals had the go-ahead run taken off the board. Maybe.
How hard will the Kansas City hitters make the Detroit starting pitchers work? If the Royals start swinging away, they better get some hits; otherwise the Tigers starting pitchers will be getting outs and keep their pitch count low. And if the Detroit starting pitchers keep their pitch count low, the Detroit bullpen does not get exposed.
On Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, Royals manager Ned Yost did not bring relievers Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis into the game and got roasted for it. On Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox, he did and the move didn’t work. Now ask yourself: What would have happened if Yost had once again refused to pitch Herrera or Davis out of their accustomed roles in that Tuesday game and the Royals lost? He would have been hammered by fans and the media.
Remember when Ned Yost was criticized for refusing to bring Kelvin Herrera into a game in the sixth inning? Well, since that game, Yost has changed his policy. He brought both Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis into Tuesday night’s game earlier than usual … and it didn’t work. Herrera and Davis gave up three runs and the Royals’ 5-4 lead and the Chicago White Sox beat Kansas City 7-5.
With one down in the ninth inning and the Royals down by one run, Mike Moustakas came to the plate facing a left-handed shift. Mike—who has said he intends to hit the ball through or over the shift—took a 94-MPH fastball to the opposite field and doubled. That’s how the Royals rally started. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for Moustakas and that’s when speed changed the game.
When you’ve got Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland in your bullpen, the goal is to get through six innings with a lead. If you do that, your odds of winning are very good … 59-3 good. The Royals were one out away from giving the ball to Kelvin Herrera in the seventh inning with a lead, but Boston’s Daniel Nava hit a grand slam, the Red Sox took a 7-4 lead and the Royals never got the ball to Herrera.
Ned Yost used a new lineup Saturday; one that put speed at the top of the lineup. Alcides Escobar hit first, Nori Aoki was second and Lorenzo Cain was hitting third. The speed lineup paid off immediately. The Royals’ speed put pressure on the Red Sox defense and the Red Sox defense didn’t handle it very well. When you’re not hitting playing station-to-station baseball isn’t a great idea; swinging away isn’t working. When you’re not hitting, run the bases more aggressively.
Friday night the Royals faced a pitcher who came into the game with an ERA over 6.00. The pitcher with the bad ERA was pitching for a last place team. This is the kind of game good teams have to win, but the Red Sox beat the Royals 4-2. Until the Royals start hitting, the pitching and defense need to be almost perfect. Too many mistakes and not enough offense led to another Royals loss.