Judging the Royals

A brief comparison between the 2015 and 2017 Royals bullpens

Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos scored on a wild pitch by Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria in the eighth inning of Monday’s game.
Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos scored on a wild pitch by Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria in the eighth inning of Monday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In 2015, when the Royals were ahead after seven innings their record was 73-3; their winning percentage was .961. If the Royals grabbed a lead in the later innings of a ball game, that game was virtually over.

Heck, if the Royals grabbed a lead at just about any point in a ball game the game was over; if the 2015 Royals had a lead after just four innings their record was 63-4, their winning percentage was .940.

These days, not so much.

On Monday night, Eric Hosmer homered in the bottom of the seventh to give the Royals a 7-6 lead over the Tigers. Joakim Soria was called on to protect that one-run lead and gave up: a single, a walk, a single, a single, a walk and the lead.

Soria has had 23 outings and put up zeros in 20 of them, but in the other three appearances has given up eight earned runs in 1  2/3 innings. Fair or not — and it’s probably unfair — we tend to remember the failures and not the successes.

On Monday night, their bullpen failed and, this season, that’s been one of the Royals’ problems: in 2017, when the Royals are ahead after seven innings their record is 15-4, their winning percentage is .789.

On Monday night, a team desperate for wins let one get away.

The wild pitch in the eighth inning

With the score 7-7 and Jose Iglesias at the plate and Nicholas Castellanos on third base, Joakim Soria threw a pitch in the dirt. The pitch was off to Salvador Perez’s right and he tried to glove it, but missed and the go-ahead run scored.

The ball was listed as an 89.7 mph change-up, which is pretty hard for a change-up, but Soria has been throwing harder this year than in the past, so maybe that pitch I.D. is correct. If so, Soria had already thrown three change-ups in the inning; all were well below the zone and one was bounced.

So with another change-up on its way and the go-ahead run on third base, Salvador Perez chose to get down on one knee, which limits a catcher’s ability to move; not the recommended stance for that situation.

There’s no telling if Perez could have blocked the pitch from a better stance, but the stance he chose gave him no shot at blocking that one.

Good walks vs. bad walks

Royals pitchers walked six Detroit batters and those walks hurt.

After his teammates handed him a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, Jason Hammel walked the first batter he saw — Alex Presley — to start the fifth. In the clubhouse after the game, this was the walk Hammel singled out; with a three-run lead Hammel said there was no way he should walk the leadoff hitter in the next inning.

And as leadoff walks often do, Presley came around to score; the first of six Tiger runs in the fifth inning.

When you see a pitcher walk a batter, ask yourself if it was a good walk or a bad one.

If the walk helped the pitcher avoid a tough hitter and the pitcher got the next guy, it was probably a good one; if the walk was issued to a hitter that couldn’t have hurt the pitcher and brought a tough hitter to the plate, it was a bad one.

Duffy on the DL

Royals starting pitching took another hit when Danny Duffy strained an oblique muscle and was put on the disabled list; he’s expected to need six to eight weeks to recover.

Considering the hits the starting rotation has suffered — trips to the DL by Nate Karns and Ian Kennedy, and the loss of Yordano Ventura — it’s kind of amazing the Royals starters are still fifth in the league in ERA.

Eric Hosmer and the magic word

Umpires and players talk during games and hitters are allowed to question calls within reason.

“Within reason” means a couple different things: the hitter should not make it obvious that he’s complaining by looking back at the umpire, if the umpire tells him that’s enough, the hitter should stop complaining and the hitter should not use the magic word ... and it’s probably not the word you’re thinking of.

The magic word is “you.”

For instance: a player can say a call stinks, but shouldn’t tell an umpire, “You stink.”

By those standards I asked Hosmer if he should have been tossed from Saturday’s game against the Indians and he said yes.

Friday night Hosmer thought home plate umpire David Rackley missed some important calls from behind the plate and when Rackley rung him up on a checked swing first thing Saturday afternoon, Hosmer lost it.

Unfortunately, it was in the first inning so fans who wanted to see Hosmer play didn’t get to see much of him.

It wouldn’t have worked in Saturday’s situation, but former big-league umpire Steve Palermo once told me how he handled it when an entire bench started yapping at him; he’d go over and find a starting pitcher who wasn’t playing that day and eject him.

Steve said it got his point across — time to shut up — without changing the game; a starting pitcher with a day off wasn’t going to play anyway.

I’m sure there must have been starting pitchers who thought it was unfair, but fans should have been grateful.

Tuesday night’s game

Next up: Royals rookie Eric Skoglund will be facing some guy named Jason Verlander. Some teams struggle with a pitcher they’ve never seen before and Royals fans better hope the Tigers have that problem Tuesday night.

Game time is 7:15.

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