The Royals lost again; this time the Cards beat them 4-1. That’s 10 home losses in a row, seven in a row overall and 18 of their last 20. This time a kid named Tyler Lyons beat them, giving up a total of one run and two hits, both to Billy Butler.
Afterward, Ned Yost was asked what the team was doing to hold struggling hitters "accountable," and Ned asked what he should do; take off his belt and spank them? Yost said they work hard every day, talk to them about their approach and do everything they can to prepare to win a game that night.
Even so, Yost acknowledged that: "This can’t continue." Sooner or later the Royals are going to have to start winning games or do something dramatic. Stay tuned.
First inning: Six pitches into the game the Royals were down 2-0. Ervin Santana gave up a single to Matt Carpenter, then tried to throw a "back-foot slider" to Carlos Beltran. Back-foot sliders (so called because they’re thrown at the hitter’s back foot) are thrown from right-handed pitchers to left-handed batters and vice versa. When the ball breaks down it spends very little time in a hittable position. This slider didn’t break down enough and Beltran hit it into the right-field seats. Santana threw 21 pitches before he recorded an out, but managed to limit the damage to two runs.
There was more line-up shuffling; Alex Gordon was back in the leadoff spot. He walked, Lorenzo Cain hit a grounder to the right side that moved Gordon into scoring position and Billy Butler doubled him home. It was Billy’s 1,000 career hit, he got a nice ovation from the crowd, tipped his cap and the Royals offense was pretty much done for the night.
Second, third, fourth and fifth innings: Both pitchers settled in threw 1-2-3 innings until the sixth.
Sixth inning: Matt Carpenter hit an 0-2 slider 413 feet and one batter later Matt Holliday hit a 92 MPH fastball 422 feet. Some of these guys make Kauffman Stadium look small—it ’s not—but if you hit a ball over 400 feet, a lot of places will look small. When teams like the Cardinals or the Angels start hitting bombs all over the yard, the Royals do not have the firepower to answer.
Seventh inning: Just about the last time Royals fans had anything to cheer about: Elliot Johnson made a spectacular diving stop to start a 4-6 fielder choice and then, on the next play, Alcides Escobar did the same thing—another diving stop to start a 6-4-3 with a nice pick by Eric Hosmer to complete the double play.
In the bottom of the seventh Billy Butler got his second hit: a short pop fly that dropped in right field—more on that shortly.
Eighth inning; With one out, Carpenter walked. Santana took a long time delivering the ball to the plate and Carpenter stole second base. Beltran singled to left and Alex Gordon’s reputation for defensive excellence saved a run—Carpenter was held at third. Louis Coleman replaced Santana and catcher Adam Moore blocked two balls in the dirt to keep Carpenter on third. Matt Holliday hit into an inning-ending 1-4-3 double play and Carpenter never crossed the plate.
Bottom of the eighth and ninth innings: The Cardinals brought in Trevor Rosenthal (2.08 ERA) to pitch the eighth and Edward Mujica (1.96 ERA) to pitch the ninth. When Mujica was finished pitching he had 16 saves.
Before the game former Royals closer, Jeff Montgomery, was talking with me about the specialization of the bullpen and the difficulty of coming back to win late in a game. I have no idea if it’s harder to come back in games now that bullpens have more established roles, but it’s pretty clear it is hard to come back late. Jeff showed me the numbers so far this year (not including this game):
When leading after six innings the Royals are 16-6.
When leading after seven innings the Royals are 15-3.
When leading after eight innings the Royals are 17-2.
When trailing after six innings the Royals are 4-19.
When trailing after seven innings the Royals are 5-20.
When trailing after eight innings the Royals are 1-25.
Many games are decided earlier than the ninth inning. Fans focus on the ninth, but a team’s best chance to win might have come in the sixth or seventh innings. Pay attention to the last trip through the heart of the order, particularly if it comes against someone other than a set-up man or closer. If a team fails to grab a lead then, they may never get one.
The Cardinals outfield
Back to Billy Butler’s pop fly single to right; Carlos Beltran came in, but couldn’t get there in time and the ball dropped. I’ve got no idea what they’ll do in St. Louis, but here in KC the Cardinals outfield played deep. According to Rusty Kuntz, Royals outfield coach, the more athletic an outfielder, the shallower he can play. Guys who are not athletic probably don’t go back well. Playing deep allows your outfielders to come forward to make most catches. It also keeps almost everything to a single.
On Monday the Royals had 13 hits, but only one for extra bases. Watch for outfield depth in St. Louis—it may decide a game.
I heard Alex Gordon was getting blown-up on sports-talk radio for getting thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double on Monday, but if you know the team, that’s the last guy whose effort you want to criticize. That guy has turned a bunch of broken-bat flares into hustle double because of how hard he plays the game.
On Monday Gordon hesitated before starting down the line and that’s not like him, so Tuesday I asked what had happened.
When he hit the ball Alex shattered yet another bat and a piece of it hit him in the eye. It hurt, he paused momentarily to figure out if he was blind and then went for the double. No bat shard in eye, no problem. Gordon beat the throw, but had to go wide, over-slid the bag and was tagged out. With the way the offense has been going, it shouldn’t be surprising if guys are pressing to make something happen, but in my opinion, criticizing Gordon for that play is misguided.