No matter how well you plan or execute those plans, luck still plays a role; just look at Wednesday night’s 7-4 to the Tigers. The Royals bad luck started early: in the top of the first inning Detroit’s leadoff hitter Anthony Gose singled, but Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez got the next batter — Jose Iglesias — to hit a tailor-made double play ball back to the mound.
Volquez turned to look at second base and what he saw was umpire Joe West. The rather hefty — and I’m being generous here — West was blocking Edinson’s throwing lane. West tried to waddle out of the way, but time was wasting; Volquez tried to throw around the Wide Wide West and that made the throw off-line.
Like Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler, I thought Volquez had mixed up his coverage; it looked like he was trying to throw the ball to Omar Infante when it was actually Alcides Escobar covering the bag — but that wasn’t the case. After the game Edinson told me it was West being in the way that caused his throw to be offline, so I went back to watch the replay and Edinson was right.
Instead of a double play, the Royals wound up with nobody out and runners on first and second — and one of those runners scored later in the inning.
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The bad luck continues in the eighth
The Royals definitely caused some of their own problems — I’ll get to that shortly — but let’s stick to the “bad luck” theme for now. Going into the top of the eighth the Royals were up 4-2, Volquez was still on the mound, but pitching well. Edinson had his sinker working and was getting groundball outs.
Volquez got yet another groundball to start the eighth, but James McCann hit it in-between Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar. You want the third baseman to make any play to his left — he’s heading toward first base and the shortstop is moving away — but in this case Moose dove and deflected the ball away from Esky. It looked Alcides was in a position to make the play if Mike couldn’t, but the ball wound up in left field.
Next Anthony Gose walked and the tying run was on first base, the go-ahead run was at the plate. Ned Yost did not pull Volquez — that’s the part I’ll get to shortly — and that meant Jose Iglesias got to bat. Iglesias took a healthy cut and hit the ball about 40 feet. Even though Mike Moustakas was playing in, the ball was hit so softly Moose did not have a play. Volquez had made two pitches good enough to get two outs and yet the bases were loaded with nobody out — that’s some bad luck.
Ian Kinsler stepped to the plate, Volquez made another pitch that produced a groundball, but Kinsler hit it down the third base line and two runs scored; the game was tied.
That’s when Yost pulled Volquez and brought in Kelvin Herrera. Kelvin got a shallow fly ball out, so shallow nobody tried to advance. Herrera then got another groundball that should have produced an out, but the infield was in and it somehow got past Escobar while the go-ahead run scored.
I don’t know if Esky looked up to see if the runner was trying to score — I didn’t see Alcides after the game — but whatever the reason was, the go-ahead run did score and the Tigers added another one on groundball to Eric Hosmer. Eric made the throw home, Drew Butera’s tag was late and the Tigers had a lead they’d never give back.
OK, enough of this bad luck jazz, here’s how the Royals caused some of their own problems
If you’re a Royals fan and you’ve paid attention to how Ned Yost manages, you might have been surprised when Edinson Volquez came back out for the eighth inning. Volquez was at 85 pitches, but he only had a two-run lead. Wade Davis was not available, but Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland were.
When he can, Ned likes to give a reliever a clean inning; so he could have gone to Herrera to start the eighth. If a reliever knows he’s starting the eighth he can time his warm-ups so he’s hot and ready to go at the right time. Bring a reliever into the middle of an inning and he might not be all the way warmed up. And he might have no room for error; one mistake and a ball game can be lost.
After the game Ned said he thought Volquez was pitching great and his pitch count was low enough for him to make it through the eighth, but it didn’t turn out that way.
The other time an attentive fan might have thought Volquez would get yanked was after the walk to Gose. If his starting pitcher has thrown well, Yost does not like to put him in a position to lose a game. But by leaving Volquez into face Iglesisas, that’s what Ned did — if the go-ahead run got on and scored, Volquez could lose the game. Yost was hoping Volquez could get a double play groundball with that heavy sinker, but instead that heavy sinker produced a swinging bunt from Iglesias to load the bases.
With the bases loaded and Ian Kinsler at the plate, once again a Royals fan might have thought Yost would go get Volquez. I sent out a Tweet that said Kinsler was hitting .444 off Volquez and .200 off Herrera—but that was a bit unfair to Ned because those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Those were the numbers coming into the game, but Volquez had gotten Kinsler three times before the eighth inning, so maybe Ned thought Edinson could get Kinsler’s a fourth time — but he didn’t.
Kinsler hit the grounder that Yost was hoping for, but Ian hit it down the third-base line for a double—and that brings us to Mike Moustakas. Moose was not guarding the line and that allowed the ball to shoot past him. If Mike was closer to the line and the ball went past him to his left, that’s a single; off the line and the ball goes past him to his right, that’s a double.
OK, one more thing before we leave the eighth inning:
The play at the plate
Tyler Collins hit a groundball to Eric Hosmer and Hosmer threw the ball to home plate, trying to cut down Ian Kinsler befor he could score. These days nobody seems to know what a catcher can and can’t do on a play at the plate. Before Buster Posey got busted up, catchers would plant their left foot on the third base line and point their right foot toward the guy throwing a baseball at them.
Catchers having their left foot on the line meant the runner had someplace to go: the back half of the plate. That meant runners did not have to bulldoze catchers to score and catchers knew where the runner was going to be. The catcher would receive the ball and then turn to make the tag. It was a system that worked pretty damn well until a star player got hurt by an overzealous baserunner and baseball likes to protect its star players — they put butts in the seats and make everyone money.
Now we’ve got catchers coming well out in front of the plate to receive the throw and that means they have a longer tag to make. That’s what happened to Butera and Kinsler scored; if Butera had his foot on the line Kinsler might not have scored.
So back to the original question
Did the Royals lose Wednesday night because of bad luck? Well, luck and an umpire certainly played a role, but the Royals compounded it with some unusual decision-making in the eighth inning.
By the way
It’s amazing how fast we get spoiled. Even after last night’s loss the Royals are 68-45 and 11 games up in the American League Central. Even so, after only two innings of Wednesday night’s game there were people on Twitter losing their minds. One asked what was wrong with the team, another one wanted to know if the Royals had stopped caring. After six outs another fan bleated that the Royals were getting no-hit and no one seemed to be doing anything about it.
Guys: this is baseball, it’s a pretty sure bet the Royals are going to lose 60 games no matter how well they play.
If it were me, I’d chill out and enjoy the games they win.