Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Miguel Cabrera: best hitter on the planet

08/18/2013 10:55 AM

08/18/2013 11:37 AM

Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter on the planet and he’s having another very good year. The guy could get hit by a bus on the way to Comerica Park this morning and still

have numbers any other ballplayer would envy: a .358 batting average, 39 home runs and 117 RBIs. And he’s still got six weeks of baseball left.

Prince Fielder is

not

the best hitter on the planet, just a very good one. Fielder is hitting .260, 19 home runs and 85 RBIs.

Aaron Crow can be a very good reliever—an ERA of 3.20—but at times tends to struggle with the first hitter or two he faces. Coming into the game Crow also had very good numbers against Miguel Cabrera, but the sample size was not overwhelming.

So what do you do in the ninth inning?

The game was tied and Cabrera was leading off the inning. Crow threw Cabrera two sliders, the count was 1-1 and then followed those sliders with three straight fastballs. Throw the best hitter on the planet the same pitch three times in a row and don’t be surprised if he gets the third one; a 3-1 fastball in a fastball count. Cabrera hit that pitch out of the park to win the game.

Afterwards the Royals talked about it being a good pitch, but Salvador Perez had his mitt set up at the knees and it moved slightly up—to about mid-thigh—and away; out over the plate. When they hit ‘em out of the park, it ain’t that good a pitch. It’s one thing to decide to pitch to Miguel Cabrera, it’s another to continue pitching to him when the count is 3-1 and you’re planning on throwing a fastball. Prince Fielder is no day at the beach, but once you fall behind, you might be better off throwing a pitch off the plate to Cabrera and starting over with Fielder. Neither plan is great, but a whole lot of ballplayers will tell you—don’t let the best hitter on the planet beat you.

The Royals lose to the Tigers, 6-5.

Game notes

• Thursday night Salvador Perez swung at a first pitch when he probably should have been taking; Saturday night Perez took a pitch when he probably should have been swinging.

Here’s the thinking: Thursday night Perez came to the plate in the ninth inning with the Royals down 4-1. No matter how far Perez hit the ball, he could not tie the game, so the thinking is take a pitch; see if the pitcher will walk himself into trouble—find a way to get the tying run to the plate. If you’re not the tying run, keep the line moving.

Saturday night Perez came to the plate in the first inning with two down and two runs in scoring position. Now the thinking changes: get a hit and you’re up by two runs early. Mike Moustakas was on deck. Mike is hitting .238 and it was his first game back since injuring his calf. There are times hitters need to be patient and times hitters need to be aggressive; veteran hitters know the difference. Once you have runs that matter in scoring position, a whole lot of veteran ballplayers will tell you it’s time to be aggressive.

Perez wasn’t.

Catcher Brayan Pena set up inside, but Doug Fister missed and threw a fastball down the middle. Perez took it, Pena went back inside and this time Fister hit the target. Perez swung and grounded out to third—just like the Tigers hoped he would. Perez let the mistake pitch go and then swung at the pitcher’s pitch.

• In his first four plate appearances Eric Hosmer ran the count to 2-0 and each time got a 2-0 changeup. Hosmer swung at the pitch the first time, but after that took if for a called strike. Good hitters pay attention to patterns and four 2-0 changeups in a row is a pretty strong pattern. Once a hitter sees the pattern he can sit on the pitch and plan to hit the changeup, or spit on the pitch and plan to take it. After his first at-bat Hosmer spit on the pitch and went one for two with two walks. His fifth time up he was walked intentionally. We’ve seen pitchers getting into a fastball count and then going off-speed on young Royals hitters all summer. Nice to see a young Royals hitter make an adjustment.

• Mike Moustakas hit a ball out in front of home plate in his first at-bat and catcher Brayan Pena came out, grabbed the ball, spun around and threw wildly. Pena missed first base by a wide margin and the ball had to be picked up by Detroit’s right fielder. When a guy makes a throwing error it’s not always his arm that’s at fault; sometimes it’s his feet. Pena did not have his feet set and that’s where the trouble started. We see guys like Alcides Escobar do 360 spins and throw accurately—appreciate those plays; they’re harder than they look. Just ask Brayan Pena.

• Mike was on second when Chris Getz hit the ball back to the mound and Moose was trapped off base. Both runners then did the right thing: Mike stayed in a rundown long enough for Getz to get to second base and that’s when Moose gave himself up. They went about it in a way that could have backfired, but in the end the Royals were better off; because they did things correctly after screwing something up, they had a faster runner in scoring position.

• In the bottom of the second inning with Omar Infante on first base, Wade Davis spiked a cutter in the dirt. Salvador Perez tried to glove the ball and it didn’t work; the ball went off Perez, Infante moved to second and then Brayan Pena did his job—he hit the ball to the right side and moved Infante over to third. With Jose Iglesias at the plate, the Tigers put on a squeeze play and it worked.

Without the wild pitch the inning plays out differently and perhaps the Tigers don’t score. An 89-MPH cutter is on the verge of what can be blocked—some fastball just get there too quickly for the catcher to move into position—but you’d like to see Perez

try

to get there instead of reaching with his mitt.

• In the fourth inning the Royals got a break when Fister bounced a pitch and it hit Alcides Escobar’s bat after it hit the dirt. Brayan Pena saw that and turned to the umpire to ask for a new ball. But the umpire, Mike Muchlinski, missed the fact that the ball hit Escobar’s bat and that allowed Chris Getz to go first to third on what was ruled a wild pitch.

Jim Leyland briefly came out to argue, went back to the dugout and one pitch later was back on the field—this time arguing with a vengeance. They now have TVs right outside the dugouts so guys will go back in, check the replay and then come back out to argue once they’re convinced the umpire got the call wrong. Leyland was ejected, Escobar doubled, drove in Getz and then Pena was ejected—not a smart move. In a tie game, the Tigers had to go to Bryan Holaday, their third-string catcher. No matter how mad he gets, a player has to remember what’s at stake and stay under control.

On the other hand; if you’re in last place and six runs down, argue like hell and get your money’s worth.

• With Escobar now on second, David Lough got a 2-1 changeup and popped the ball up to Prince Fielder—going soft in a fastball count worked again. Hosmer walked and Billy Butler swung at the first pitch he saw; an 83-MPH cutter down in the zone. One more time: it’s OK to swing at the first pitch when you have a run that matters in scoring position, but you want to swing at

your

pitch. Pick a spot and if the pitch you’re looking for is there, turn on the fan.

Butler did not want to swing at a ball down in the zone, but that’s just what he did. The result was an inning-ending double play. I need to ask someone smarter than me (shouldn’t be too hard to find a guy who fits that description) but there are times it appears Billy expands his zone with a runner in scoring position.

• In the fourth inning the Royals chose to pitch to Miguel Cabrera with two outs and a runner on third. Wade Davis got the count to 1-2 and Salvador Perez signaled for a high fastball. Davis didn’t get it quite high enough and Cabrera—have I mentioned he’s the best hitter on the planet?—doubled in the run. Cabrera has hit .353 off Davis and the on-deck hitter, Prince Fielder, has hit .143.In any case, Cabrera beat the Royals with a runner in scoring position and Ned Yost then brought in the left-handed Will Smith to get the left-handed Prince Fielder—that move worked, but in his next at-bat Smith left a 2-1 slider up to Prince and Fielder homered.

• In the seventh inning Victor Martinez hit a 90-MPH fastball sideways, directly into the crowd. I never saw what happened, but from the players and fans reaction, it wasn’t pretty. This is what worries so many ballplayers; fans want to be close to the action, but then don’t pay attention. They put their heads down and play with their cell phones. Spend enough money and you can be closer to home plate than the third baseman. He’s paying attention, wearing a glove and is one of the best third basemen in the world—it’s called the hot corner for a reason.

When you’re at a game, pay attention—especially if you have kids with you. Keep yourself between them and home plate.

• In the top of the eighth inning Emilio Bonifacio stole a base with an assist from Chris Getz. Bonifacio took off from first on what appeared to be a hit and run. The pitch was high, Getz swung and missed, but then "fell" across home plate. It’s not the first time Getz has used this trick: he made the catcher, Bryan Holaday, throw over him and Holaday bounced the ball into centerfield. That allowed Bonifacio to go all the way to third. Getz then drove him in. Chris later tried a drag bunt for another RBI in the ninth inning that almost worked; get the ball down a foot to the left and the run would have scored.

• The Royals aren’t the only ones who make mistakes; the Royals put on a hit and run in the eighth and the Tigers had two guys covering second base. Chris Getz took off from first base and the shortstop, Jose Iglesias, moved to cover the bag, but so did the second baseman, Ramon Santiago. That opened a hole and Alcides Escobar singled to the right side. With a runner on first base, the two middle infielders will cover their mouths with their gloves and signal coverage. Open mouth means "you" cover the bag, close mouth means "me"—I’ll cover the bag. Santiago was in the game as a defensive replacement and was probably the guy who screwed up the coverage.

It’s always good to remember than the game is hard and nobody plays it perfectly—not even the Detroit Tigers. But you still shouldn’t screw this one up.

Sunday’s game

The Royals have split this series 2-2 so far and shown they can play with the Detroit Tigers, but the point isn’t to play with them, the point is to beat them. The Royals have not been in this position for a long time; they’re playing meaningful games in August.

When you’re in a pennant race everything matters. You’re not 20 games out playing for your own numbers; your team has a shot at doing something special. Failing to block pitches, making bad decisions at the plate or base-running mistakes can knock you out of contention. The Royals have little margin for error and need to play smart baseball the rest of the way. Especially this afternoon: it’s Max Scherzer—a Cy Young candidate—against Bruce Chen, a mound magician.

Enjoy the game.

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