Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

If you want to win, grab a lead before the seventh inning

06/28/2014 9:33 PM

06/28/2014 9:53 PM

Here are a few numbers to think about: when the Kansas City Royals trail after six innings, their record is 6-27. When they trail after seven innings it’s 3-31. And when they trail after eight innings it’s 1-33. You can talk all you want about heart and a never-say-die attitude, but if you let the other team take a lead and get to the back end of their bullpen, your chances of winning go way down.

After six innings the Royals were behind the Angels 6-2 and the odds were against Kansas City making a comeback. Saturday afternoon and evening — there was a long rain delay — the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beat the Kansas City Royals by a final score of 6-2.

Game notes

First inning: Both Mike Trout and Albert Pujols are power hitters and both came up in the first inning. Guys who hit for power generally like to extend their arms, so pitchers will often try to jam those hitters. One problem; go inside to a power hitter and miss your spot and that ball can be hit a long way.

Take Trout’s home run on Friday; the ball was on the outer half of the plate and Trout hooked it. Originally the Royals said the ball traveled 445 feet, but Saturday morning they amended that to 455 feet. By Sunday morning I expect to hear the ball was hit even further. I’m not sure any home run estimate is totally accurate — hence the word "estimate".

Apparently the distance on Trout’s home run has generated intense interest, but as someone remarked; Omar Infante’s grand slam traveled 100 feet less than Trout’s homer, but was still worth four times as much on the scoreboard.

Which home run was more significant?

Bottom of the first: Billy Butler singled and Angels first baseman C.J. Cron did not hold him on the bag. More and more teams are playing their first basemen behind Butler; his lack of foot speed means first baseman can come up behind him, pop the glove to make him aware they’re there and then back up as the pitch is delivered. Backing up gives first basemen better range and they can get away with that as long as they believe Butler won’t try to steal second.

Third inning: Mike Trout has game-changing speed and he showed that in the top of the third. The phrase game-changing means exactly what it sounds like; a guy is so fast he changes the way the game is played. With two down Trout turned a routine out into an infield single and that got Albert Pujols to the plate. Pujols singled and drove in the game’s first run.

Third inning: Alcides Escobar singled, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Lorenzo Cain was at the plate and, with a runner on second and nobody out in a 1-0 game, needed to hit the ball to the right side and move Esky to third — it didn’t happen.

Cain struck out and that meant Eric Hosmer’s fly ball to centerfield did not drive in a run. (Hosmer’s fly ball was fairly shallow, so no guarantee Escobar scores; but you’d like to have the chance.

Fourth inning: Same thing — lead-off double by Alex Gordon and this time Salvador Perez fails to move the runner. Two excellent chances to score and the Royals got nothing.

In the bottom of the same inning Howie Kendrick pulled a pitch down into the left field corner, doubled and later came around to score. When a hitter pulls a ball right down the line check the radar gun reading; it’ll often show you the pitch was something off-speed that hung.

Outfielders are positioned to play the fastball — it’s the most common pitch — so when Yordano Ventura’s 76-mph curveball got hit, the ball went between Alex Gordon and the left field line.

OK, if you want to know what’s it like to cover baseball, wait 3 hours and 58 minutes and then read the rest of this post. That’s was the length of Saturday’s rain delay.

Sixth inning: After the rain delay Bruce Chen came out of the Royals pen to finish the game and cruised through the fifth, but gave up four runs in the sixth — and that was pretty much the ballgame. Ned Yost attributed the four-run sixth to Chen’s lack of fastball command.

With David Freese on second, Kole Calhoun singled to Alex Gordon. Royals fans then saw an unusual sight: a third base coach waving a runner home when Alex Gordon is charging forward and in good shape to make a throw to the plate.

So why send Freese?

Watch for base runners and coaches to be more aggressive after a rain delay. If the ball gets down in the grass it will get wet and that makes throws more difficult. In this case, Gordon two-hopped Salvador Perez, but still beat the runner with his throw. It appeared Perez lifted his head before catching the ball and missed it.

Later in the same inning Albert Pujols drove in another run with a single to center, but Mike Trout made the third out at third base when Lorenzo Cain threw him out. Either Trout made a base-running mistake — you don’t make the third out at third base—or he was pushing the envelope because of the wet conditions.

Bottom of the sixth: The Royals did manage two runs, but Billy Butler could not score from second on a Salvador Perez flare to right center. Mike Trout was in deep left center and the ball was hit to shallow right center — but Billy did not break right away.

If you see a coach point at his eyes, then swirl a finger in the air he’s telling base runners to look around. If a base runner knows where the outfielders are positioned before the ball is hit, they don’t always have to wait to see the ball drop — they can leave right away.

Butler hesitated on a ball that seemed destined to drop, only made it to third, but later scored on a sac fly.

Holly and the splitter

It seemed like I hadn’t seen Greg Holland throw his splitter much lately and Saturday morning I asked him about; was he throwing his splitter less often?

Greg said no, he was throwing it about the same as usual — which was not very much. Holland said he can make his slider do two or three different things and didn’t feel much need to throw the splitter. But if hitters want to think his slider was a splitter that was fine with him. According to Holland, if you call a slider a splitter it suddenly becomes a lot harder to hit.

Same with a cutter: if hitters think of it as a real tight slider it’s more hittable — call it a cutter and hitters might get intimidated. Greg said if hitters would think of curveballs as real loose sliders those would also become easier to hit.

Bottom line: Greg Holland does not throw his splitter that much, but if you want to think he throws it all the time, that’s fine with him.

Random stuff heard around the ballpark

•Watch a hitter’s hands: if they extend away from his body as he swings that hitter can be pitched inside. That hitter will want a pitch out over the plate. If a hitter knows how to swing the bat and pull his hands in close to his body while doing so, he’ll be able to get the bat head to an inside pitch and keep the ball fair.

•Also watch first basemen: they have signs they use to tell the pitcher they want the ball. Say a first baseman hears the base coach say some unusual to the runner; something’s up, the first baseman just don’t know what it is. If that’s the case, they might signal the pitcher to attempt a pickoff. Pay attention to first baseman and if you see them do something different and then the pitcher attempts a pickoff, you may have spotted the first baseman’s sign for a pickoff.

•Baseball gloves have laces holding them together and the laces go through eyelets. In the old days those eyelets were made of metal, now they’re not. That’s because players figured out they could bend the edge of an eyelet up and it made a perfect tool for cutting the surface on a ball. The pitcher might do it, but in some cases it might be the first baseman or catcher. The pitcher would have a signal—cut this one for me—then throw a pickoff or deliver the ball home. As the first baseman or catcher took the ball out of his mitt, he could slice it across the metal eyelet. Removing the metal eyelets made it harder — but not impossible — to cheat.

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