It’s Monday morning and the Royals and Blue Jays — the two best teams in the American League — now face elimination.
That’s playoff baseball for you.
You don’t need to be the best team in the postseason; you just need to be the hottest one.
Right now, the Astros are hot, but all it takes is one good pitching performance to cool a team down. For a while on Sunday it looked like Edinson Volquez was going to get the job done.
Volquez threw four and a third scoreless innings, then walked Luis Valbuena with some help from Mike Everitt, the home plate umpire. Everitt’s zone had everyone a bit confused on Sunday and Valbuena got the benefit of the doubt on at least two pitches that registered as strikes on MLB.com.
Chris Carter doubled and then with the count 1-2 on Jason Castro, Volquez threw a changeup that stayed around the knees. Castro hit a ground ball up the middle and singled. With the count 1-2 that changeup could have been down around the ankles and Castro would have still swung; Everitt was calling low pitches most of the day.
But as someone once said — I’m pretty sure it was me — if wishes were fishes we could all have lunch. (On second thought, that doesn’t sound like me at all.)
Two runs scored on the Castro single and the Astros tacked on another run in the sixth and a fourth run in the seventh. Those four runs were enough and the Astros took a 2-1 lead in the five game series.
If either Kansas City or Toronto gets eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, it doesn’t mean either team had a bad season, far from it. They just didn’t get hot over a short series. In Major League Baseball, that’s enough to get sent home.
Why did Danny Duffy face Chris Carter?
In the sixth inning Ned Yost pulled starter Edinson Volquez and brought Danny Duffy in to face left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena. Duffy had never faced Valbuena, the other lefty in the Royals bullpen — Franklin Morales — had pitched to Valbuena five times and gotten him out five times, which is just about as good as you can do.
(On the other hand, if four of those outs were screaming line drives, I’ll stand corrected.)
Those matchup numbers didn’t make much difference because the Astros pinch hit for Valbuena ... switch-hitting Marwin Gonzalez was sent to the plate instead. Look his numbers up on Baseball Reference and you see he hits Duffy at a .375 clip and is 0-for-1 off Morales. (We are talking incredibly small sample sizes here, so keep that in mind.) This season Marwin has hit lefties better than righties, so toss that in your metrics Cuisinart as well.
Anyway, despite the matchup numbers, Duffy got Marwin to pop up and the sixth inning was over. But that’s not where this particular story ends.
The Royals had a day off on Saturday and, if they win on Monday, get a day off on Tuesday and that means everybody in their bullpen should be available. It’s not the regular season. You don’t have to save your best relievers for the right situation. It’s October. Every game is the right situation.
Danny Duffy came back out to start the seventh inning.
The first guy he saw was Chris Carter and Carter was already having a good day. He hit a line drive to left field in his first at bat, but then made the mistake of running on Alex Gordon’s arm and was cut down. In his second at bat, Carter hit another line drive to left; this time down into the corner for a double.
So with Carter hot and the entire Royals bullpen available, Danny Duffy went back out to pitch to him. Look at Baseball Reference once again and you see Carter has faced Duffy 10 times, walked three times and has two hits. Both home runs.
Carter is 0-for-4 off Luke Hochevar, 0-for-3 off Ryan Madson and 0-for-4 off Kelvin Herrera; all pitchers who seemed to be available. Hochevar eventually replaced Duffy in that seventh inning, but only after Carter homered.
If you feel like it you can make this scenario even more complicated; was Ned Yost thinking Duffy could somehow squeeze past Carter and get to left-handed hitting Jason Castro? And once you start digging into matchup numbers from the Royals bullpen and the Astros bench, your head can start spinning.
So let’s keep it simple:
If Ryan Madson and Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are your seventh, eighth and ninth-inning guys and they’re rested, why did Danny Duffy face Chris Carter? His home run made the score 4-1 and gave the Astros a cushion in the ninth inning.
I’ll accept the possibility that there’s something I haven’t considered—but from my couch at home I couldn’t figure out why you wouldn’t use your best relievers when they’re rested and have another day off on Tuesday. And if you don’t win today, they’ll have a lot of days off.
Royals fans should hope their team wins today so someone on the Royals coaching staff can tell me why I’m wrong on Wednesday.
On Sunday the Astros closer struggled
If there’s any bright spot to yesterday’s game—and it isn’t much of one—Luke Gregerson came in to close the game and scuffled.
The first batter he saw in the ninth inning—Alex Gordon—homered. Then Alex Rios hit a deep drive to left center that was caught. Alcides Escobar singled and Ben Zobrist hit a sharp groundball. The game ended when Gregerson struck out Lorenzo Cain, but he did it with a hanging slider that Lorenzo somehow missed.
I’ve got no idea whether that performance will carry over to today—neither does Gregerson—but if the Astros have a lead in the ninth and use Gregerson, Royals fans can always hope he has another tough outing.
Today’s game and Yordano Ventura’s secondary pitches
In Yordano Ventura’s last start he threw two innings and 42 pitches and not one of those pitches was a changeup. Pitchers sometimes like to save a third pitch for later at bats, but the playoffs are different: managers aren’t going to let you go deep in the game if you’re pitching poorly, so you might as well break out that third pitch early.
The Royals bullpen is rested and ready, so Ventura does not need to go particularly deep into today’s game.
As always: watch for Ventura’s fastball location (does he hit the mitt?) and does he throw his secondary pitches for strikes? If Yordano is throwing curves and changeups for strikes the Houston hitters can’t just sit on the fastball.
If Yordano doesn’t throw his secondary pitches for strikes, watch out for counts like 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1; the Astros will look for fastballs in those counts and swing from their heels if they get one. And they might do the same on the first pitch of an at bat. If Ventura has to throw a fastball to get ahead in the count, the Astros will try to ambush him.
That’s what you might see in today’s game and if you’re at work and can’t watch today’s game, you really need to get your priorities in order.
Blow off work and enjoy the game.