Judging the Royals

Royals are swept by the A’s: What happened?

Oakland’s Danny Valencia was greeted after scoring on a double by Yonder Alonso in the first inning Wednesday.
Oakland’s Danny Valencia was greeted after scoring on a double by Yonder Alonso in the first inning Wednesday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Thursday night the last-place Oakland A’s completed a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals and now the A’s aren’t in last place anymore and the Royals’ hopes for a wild-card spot are all but gone.

So how did it happen?

How did a team last in the league in runs scored, second in the league in runs allowed, third in the league in errors and 14th in the league in collective ERA beat the Royals four games straight?

To understand how the Royals lost, let’s start by taking a look at how the Royals win.

The Royals formula for winning

When the Royals allow the other team to score four runs, their record is 9-9. When the other team scores three runs or fewer, the Royals record is 55-13; when the other team scores five runs or more the Royals record is 10-50.

So if the Royals want to win consistently here’s what needs to happen:

1. The starting pitchers hand a lead to the best relievers in the bullpen.

2. The pitching and defense keep the score to four runs or less.

3. The offense can then use small-ball strategies to scratch out enough runs to win.

What happened in the Oakland series?

1. The starting pitchers provided the Royals with one quality start — Danny Duffy’s — and handed only one lead to the bullpen. When a starting pitcher leaves the game the manager has to decide which relievers to use and managers don’t like to use their best relievers unless they have a lead. So instead of Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera — who did not pitch in the series — we were seeing guys like Kevin McCarthy (11.57 ERA), Brooks Pounders (12.10 ERA) and Alec Mills (13.50 ERA).

2. Over the four-game series the Royals bullpen surrendered 21 runs; once the starter left, the bullpen made things worse. The defense made at least one error in every game — a couple of them crucial — and finished with a total of five errors in the four-game series. And no matter how well your defense plays they can’t defend a walk and Royals pitchers walked 24 batters in the Oakland series.

3. So because the pitching and defense couldn’t keep the score low, the offense was taken out of its game. The Royals attempted two stolen bases the entire series and that was in the Duffy game. In the other three games the Royals were down so quickly and by so much, being aggressive on the base paths or playing for one run didn’t make much sense. When the Toronto Blue Jays were in town, manager John Gibbons said if they got in a one-run game with the Royals they’d have a hard time winning because it wasn’t their kind of game. Same goes for the Royals in a slugfest; they’re not built to play that way and this four-game series with the Oakland A’s proves it.

A couple other things to watch for; two out rallies and two-strike hits

If I counted correctly the A’s scored 14 runs after the Royals already had two outs in an inning. Oddly enough — or maybe not that oddly if you know something about psychology – pitchers can be vulnerable when they should have an overwhelming advantage; once they get two outs in an inning or two strikes on a hitter, pitchers sometimes relax, lose focus and get beat.

This season Royals pitchers have given up 24 home runs in 0-2 or 1-2 counts; just when they have a hitter at their mercy they sometimes throw bad pitches.

Pay attention to what happens after a pitcher gets the second out of an inning or has a hitter in a two-strike count; does the pitcher bear down and finish the job or does he relax and slop a bad pitch up to the plate?

The White Sox series

The Royals now start a four-game series against the White Sox. There are 16 games left in the season and whatever happens try to enjoy them. Unless a miracle happens, you probably won’t see any more Royals baseball until next spring.