Judging the Royals

Opening day and the problem with 3 p.m. starts

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez had a single in the ninth inning of Monday’s game at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez had a single in the ninth inning of Monday’s game at Kauffman Stadium. along@kcstar.com

So far the 2017 Royals have been as advertised in at least two departments; in seven games they’ve hit 10 home runs, but struck out 64 times. About seven-ninths of the Royals starting lineup got off to a slow start and they came into their home opener hitting .208 as a team.

And Monday’s 3:15 p.m. start didn’t help.

After the game, the media asked the players a lot of questions about Yordano Ventura and how much emotion had to do with their 2-0 loss to the Oakland A’s, but the game’s starting time probably played a bigger role.

Go back and look at Khris Davis’ fourth-inning home run and you’ll see the shadows haven’t reached home plate yet; but they would creep forward as the game progressed.

Before the fifth inning, the teams were a combined 6 for 28, which is a .214 average — bad, but in line with what both teams were hitting coming into the game. From the fifth inning on both teams were a combined 3 for 33 — an .091 average.

So while it’s true the Royals didn’t hit, neither did the A’s.

Nobody — and that includes me — is arguing that the 3:15 start and the shadows between home plate and the mound are the only reason the Royals didn’t hit on Monday.

But nobody — and that includes me — who has ever played the game would argue that the shadows didn’t have something to do with it.

But Brandon Moss wouldn’t make excuses

Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss punched out three times and that third strikeout ended the game.

After the game, Moss would not blame the shadows; which is smart. As Moss pointed out, both teams were playing in the same lighting and a hitter blaming the conditions is going to sound bad.

But catcher Drew Butera was willing to talk.

How to call a game with the shadows in your favor

Butera didn’t play so he was willing to talk about the difficulties of hitting in late-afternoon games; it wouldn’t sound like excuse-making because he had no excuses to make.

Drew said it was definitely an advantage for the pitcher when he had the shadows in his favor; the hitters have a hard time picking up the ball so the pitcher doesn’t have to be as fine — he can get away with making a mistake.

Drew also said a catcher could go to the pitcher’s best pitch and just keep calling it; the pitcher won’t have to spend as much time trying to fool hitters because the shadows will do that for him. And any pitch with movement will be tough to track.

The toughest hitting condition is when the ball goes from shadow to light to shadow again. It’s like looking into a camera and being temporarily blinded by its flash; you can totally lose sight of the baseball for a moment.

When that happens a hitter won’t take much of a swing and if he does manage to hit the ball it’s going to be by luck alone.

OK, one more time so nobody misunderstands: so far the Royals are not hitting well even when the game is played under the best of conditions, but playing a late-afternoon game and fighting the shadows didn’t help.

But that sounds like an excuse so the players won’t say it.

I’m not a player so I will.

How Nori Aoki threw out Alex Gordon

In Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros, Alex Gordon hit a ball down the left field line and tried to stretch it into a double. Astros left fielder Nori Aoki threw Gordon out at second base and the play wasn’t close.

Gordon is a smart base runner and first-base coach Rusty Kuntz is supposed to be the best in the business, so how the heck did that happen?

Lucky for me I get to go to the park and ask guys what was actually going on during a play, so here’s the story:

Baseball fields look flat on TV, but they’re actually higher in the middle and lower at the edges; this “crown” helps ballfields drain. But the crown also means first-base coach Rusty Kuntz can’t see the foul line all the way down to the left field corner.

So the last time Rusty saw the ball it was headed into foul territory.

Rusty figured it would hit the angled wall down the left field line and carom out into shallow left field (which would make Aoki chase it down) or go right down the line into the corner (which would make Aoki chase it down). Either way, it was an easy double.

But on its third bounce the ball hit the lip of the grass where it meets the dirt and instead of continuing into foul territory, the ball changed direction and bounced straight to Aoki. (I went back and watched the play and you could clearly see the ball change direction.)

When you’re watching a game and see something that looks really dumb, chances are there’s an explanation.

And now you know how Nori Aoki threw Alex Gordon out.

Why team sometimes carry eight relievers early in the season

In a previous post we looked at the problem the Royals have had in the seventh inning.

If the starting pitcher only goes five or six innings — and early in the season starters may not be as ready to go deep in games — the bullpen has to cover more innings and an extra arm might come in useful.

So don’t be surprised if you see the Royals — or any other team — go to an eight-man bullpen early in the season.

Why teams take a day off after their home opener

The Royals played on Monday and have Tuesday off. That means a whole bunch of ballplayers are running around Kansas City moving into apartments, picking up cars, getting their cable TV hooked up and so on. These guys have been in Arizona since February and on the road since spring training ended.

They’ve got stuff to do and so do I — although my stuff mainly involves enjoying a day off.

Maybe there’s a ballgame on TV.

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