On Saturday night, the Royals beat the Texas Rangers 6-3. On Sunday afternoon, Kansas City can sweep the series. Kansas City is in first place, 16 games over .500. The starting pitching has been very good, the bullpen has been even better, the defense is considered one of the best — if not the best — in the league and the offense has come around at just the right time. And it’s all been done on a budget.
When does general manager Dayton Moore get some credit?
Guthrie gets it to the eighth
Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie gave the back end of the Royals pen a much-needed night off by pitching eight innings while allowing only five hits and one run. Aaron Crow pitched the ninth, but had enough trouble that closer Greg Holland had to get up and throw in the pen—and those pitches count, too.
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Kratz saves a run
In the fifth inning, catcher Erik Kratz — filling in for Salvador Perez — threw out Leonys Martin when he tried to steal second base. That saved a run because Jim Adduci singled right after Kratz gunned down Martin.
Had the score been 6-4 in the ninth instead of 6-3, that might have meant closer Greg Holland would have had to pitch. Getting a night off means Holland will be available for a game down the road.
Stuff like this is big when you’re in a playoff race.
The ninth-inning breakdown
Once again, Royals manager Ned Yost had a multirun lead late and went to a middle reliever to hold the lead. This time it was Aaron Crow. He entered the ninth inning with a five-run lead, but made it more interesting than it had to be.
Crow got two quick outs — Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus grounded out — and then Alex Rios worked a full count. At that point, Crow had thrown five sliders and only one had been a strike. With the count 3-2, Crow threw a sixth slider and it also missed the zone. With a five-run lead, the usual game plan is to throw strikes and make the hitter put the ball in play, but Crow walked Rios on a pitch he hadn’t been throwing for strikes.
After that, Adrian Beltre singled and Rios went first to third. With Leonys Martin at the plate, Beltre advanced to second on defensive indifference. On the third pitch of his at-bat, Martin singled to right and the Royals defense broke down. At least three people appeared to be out of position on the play.
Of course Alex Rios scored easily, but Adrian Beltre appeared to pause — at least temporarily — after rounding third base.
Check a baseball playbook, and that situation is diagrammed. On a single to right field with runners at second and third, the pitcher backs up home plate, the first baseman heads for the middle of the diamond on the right-field side of the mound and the second baseman heads over to first base.
But in this case, Aaron Crow went to the right-field foul line and stopped halfway between first base and home. Billy Butler never left the first-base area, and Infante never made a move toward first base. Lorenzo Cain picked up the ball, hesitated for some reason, then threw it to Infante. Beltre saw the throw wasn’t coming toward home plate, hit the gas and scored.
If Butler had been in the right spot and had Cain thrown the ball to home plate, it looked as though Beltre would have stayed at third. But with the cutoff man out of position and a late, weak throw from Cain to Infante, the Royals cost themselves a run.
It didn’t prevent the Royals from winning, but in a closer game, a complete breakdown on defense that gives the other team a run might be more costly.
In the race for the playoffs, everything matters
When your team is 10 games out of first place and you have no shot at the playoffs, mistakes don’t hurt quite as much. What difference do they make? When October rolls around, you’re not going anywhere but home. When your team is in first place with the second-place team breathing down your neck, mistakes can be a back-breaker.
Friday night, Billy Butler missed a pop-up off the bat of Adrian Beltre. It was the fourth pitch of the at-bat. The ball landed in foul territory, and Beltre got to go back to the plate and see five more pitches. That fifth pitch was hit off the right-field wall for a double.
That turned the rest of the inning into a high-stress inning. Yordano Ventura had to pitch the rest of the way with a runner in scoring position and that meant bearing down on each pitch.
The next two batters, Mike Carp and Robinson Chirino, hit ground balls and made outs. Ventura should have been out of the inning, but Ventura was still on the mound because Butler did not catch a routine pop fly. Yordano then walked Leonys Martin, but took nine pitches to do so. One pitch later — a fastball to Adam Rosales —Ventura got a ground ball for the third out of the inning. Beltre did not score, so did the Butler error matter?
Ventura wound up throwing 14 extra pitches to get out of the fourth inning, and that’s about an inning’s worth of pitches. That got him to 107 pitches about an inning sooner than he would have otherwise, and that meant someone else had to pitch the seventh inning. Even though Ventura was pitching well, he was done after six innings.
With the score 5-1, Yost tried to get by without using his best relievers, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Instead, Francisley Bueno got the call, and he immediately gave up two doubles and a single. After that, Yost had no choice, and he had to use those three relievers to nail down the win.
Had Billy Butler not missed that pop-up, maybe Ventura could have pitched the seventh, maybe the lead could have stayed at four run and maybe Herrera, Davis and Holland would have gotten a night off. Having to use those guys means they might not be available for a crucial game over the next few days.
The Royals have put themselves in a good position. They have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but that means there’s a lot of pressure to perform. They can’t afford mistakes.
Because now, everything matters.