When things are going well for the Royals, here’s how things are supposed to work.
First, the starting pitcher needs to keep the other team off the board, especially in the early innings.
That allows the Royals’ offense to use small-ball tactics to grab a lead. They can steal, bunt or hit and run as long as the score allows them to do those things. That’s when the Royals look energetic and dangerous on the base paths.
If the starting pitcher does his job, the Royals’ offense can go to work.
Kansas City base runners pressure the opposing pitcher and catcher with the threat of the stolen base. If the man on base is a threat to run, pitchers are distracted, tend to throw fastballs and have to throw those fastballs out of a slide step. That can make those fastballs stay up in the zone … and those pitches are very hittable.
The Royals have hit .254 with a .385 slugging percentage this season. Put a man on first base and those numbers go up to .281 and .408. (Thank you, Baseball Reference.)
That’s how things are supposed to work.
But if the starting pitcher gives up runs early, it limits what the offense can do. You don’t bunt down by five, and you don’t steal bases when one run isn’t going to do you much good.
If the Royals get down on the scoreboard, they have to play for a big inning ... and that means base runners standing around waiting for someone to hit a bomb that will get them back in the game.
The Royals are 14th in the league when it comes to home runs, so that approach isn’t going to work very often.
It all starts with the starting pitcher, but there are only three American League teams with fewer quality starts (three runs or less while pitching six innings or more), and all those teams have losing records, too.
Giving up runs early saps the life out of the Royals’ offense.
It forces them to play a game they’re not built to play and that’s part of why the Royals are currently two games under .500.
Dillon Gee gave the Royals five scoreless innings to start Saturday’s game. He gave his team a chance to play its kind of baseball and grab a lead, but the Royals couldn’t take advantage.
The Royals had two true base stealers in the lineup (Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain), five situational base stealers (Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Christian Colon and Paulo Orlando) and two guys who aren’t running unless a rabid Chihuahua gets loose on the field (Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez).
Now guess which two guys got on base five times. The two guys who aren’t a threat to run.
The Royals had very few base-stealing opportunities (Cain stole second in the first inning and that was it) and that allowed the Braves’ starting pitcher — Mike Foltynewicz — to throw the pitches he wanted to throw at the pace he wanted to throw them.
The Royals’ offense needs to pressure the other team’s pitcher and defense. Saturday night, they weren’t able to do .
Bad luck and fundamentals
The Royals lined out four times and the Braves also made two highlight-reel plays that saved runs. chalk that up to bad luck.
But it wasn’t all bad luck.
Eric Hosmer got picked off in the first inning, Escobar popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt and Royals pitchers were late covering first base more than once.
There are things you don’t control — like lining out or great plays by the other team — so you don’t worry about them.
But you do control your base running, bunting and hustling over to first base every time a ball is hit to your left. And the Royals need to control them.
OK, as soon as I say that this is what the Royals need to do to win, they’re sure to win in some other fashion ... but here’s what you should be looking for.
The starting pitcher needs to keep the score low enough that the Royals can play their kind of offense, and the offense needs to scratch out enough runs to grab a lead, so when the starting pitcher leaves the game, Ned Yost can go to the best relievers he has available.
Until they do that on a regular basis, the Royals are likely to scuffle.