On Monday the Royals bullpen gave up six runs to the Minnesota Twins in the bottom of the seventh inning and like a six-car pileup on the highway, it was pretty hard to ignore.
But Royals fans shouldn’t forget what happened in the top of the seventh; it might have more bearing on the Royals’ fate this season.
The score was tied 1-1 when Lorenzo Cain walked to start off the seventh inning. Getting a fast runner on base to lead off an inning late in a low-scoring ballgame might be a time you want to play small ball, but this is a different type of Royals offense.
After Cain walked, three guys with pop came to the plate — Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Brandon Moss — and all three guys struck out.
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When the count went 3-2 on Hosmer, Cain went in motion; it’s a good way to stay out of a double play and you figure if Hosmer gets a fastball strike he’ll put it in play and if Hosmer sees an off-speed pitch instead, it’s a good pitch to run on.
Cain stole second base while Hosmer was striking out on a slider, but with a runner in scoring position, Perez and Moss also struck out. And that’s something Royals fans may see a lot this season.
Here it is one more time: guys who hit home runs also tend to strikeout.
To hit a home run, most hitters have to pull the ball and to pull the ball you have to start your swing early and when you start your swing early you’re more likely to get fooled.
More power, less small ball
Most of the time you don’t use home-run hitters to bunt or hit and run and most home-run hitters don’t run well, so they don’t steal bases. That means a lot of standing around watching guys swing for the fences; when it works, it looks great, when it doesn’t the offense looks dead.
Monday afternoon in Minnesota the Royals offense looked dead.
One of the reasons the 2014 and 2015 Royals caught the imagination of baseball fans across the country was because they were fun teams to watch. The Royals got the ball in play and then ran the bases like their hair was on fire.
In 2014, the Royals won the American League championship despite being last in home runs. In 2015, the Royals once again won the AL championship despite being second-to-last in home runs.
But in both those seasons no AL team struck out less; the Royals got the ball in play and forced the other teams to play defense. In 2017, the Royals are using a different philosophy; they’re going to strike out more often, put less pressure on the other team and hope home runs make up for that.
When a pitcher is dealing, you have to scratch out runs
In 2015, when the Royals were tied after six innings they went on to win 64.3 percent of the time. Knowing how to play small ball — how to move a runner around the bases with productive outs – helped the Royals win close games down the stretch.
Just look at the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series: the Royals used two groundball outs to move Eric Hosmer from second base to home.
When a pitcher is dealing (and if you’re in the playoffs don’t be surprised if the pitcher is dealing, the bad teams have been eliminated) he’s not going to give up three hits in an inning all that often.
So you better know how to make the most of the hits you have.
In the 2014 Wild Card Game against the Oakland A’s, the Athletics hit two home runs and the Royals hit none; but the Royals stole seven bases while the A’s didn’t steal even one. Salvador Perez wouldn’t have driven in the winning run from second base if Christian Colon hadn’t stolen second base.
The 2014 and 2015 Royals knew how to scratch out runs; the 2017 Royals might be a different story.
You like home runs?
Get ready to watch the strikeouts that come with them.