Judging the Royals

The Royals turn four double plays, but those aren’t as hard as they used to be

Ned Yost on Royals starter Jason Vargas: 'He just got better as the game went on'

Royals manager Ned Yost praises starter Jason Vargas and a defense that turned four double plays.
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Royals manager Ned Yost praises starter Jason Vargas and a defense that turned four double plays.

Friday night the Royals beat the Cleveland Indians 4-0 and in the process turned four double plays. Those double plays kept Jason Vargas’ pitch count low and allowed him to throw a complete game shutout, so they’re definitely worth mentioning.

But turning a double play isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be.

Not that long ago runners on first base tried to prevent double plays by blowing up the pivot man: sprint hard, slide late, do a pop-up slide and try to knock the pivot man into the outfield.

In order to complete double plays, middle infielders had a few tricks of their own.

Drop your arm angle, throw the ball in the general vicinity of the runner’s head and force him to get down early; that would provide a clear throwing lane to first base.

If the runner managed to make it to second base intact and did a hard slide to flip the pivot man, the pivot man might use a pirouette step to get out of the way: step toward the runner with the left foot, make the throw and then hop over the runner and land on the right foot.

It was like watching a ballet dancer avoid a charging rhino and every once in a while the rhino clipped the dancer; it was one of the most exciting plays in baseball.

Now, not so much.

In order to protect middle infielders, baseball has decreed that if a runner alters his route to initiate contact with a fielder, the runner at first base will be called out whether the double play is completed or not.

That being the case, runners are now instructed to forget breaking up double plays; if they do it, there’s decent chance the runner on first is going to be called out anyway.

So Friday night fans were treated to the excitement of watching Michael Brantley peel out of the base path early on the first double play. On the second double play Edwin Encarnacion not only peeled off early, he jogged while doing so.

On the other two double plays the runner coming into second base got close enough to slide, but there was never any danger of the pivot man — Whit Merrifield on all four double plays — getting flipped.

Nevertheless, turning four double plays isn’t exactly easy — you still have make a good pitch, have fielders in the right spots and handle the ball cleanly.

But turning a double play isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be.

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost talks about consistency and figuring out ways to win games and get to a winning record.

How a Mike Moustakas groundout helped win the game

The score was 0-0 with one out in the sixth inning and a runner on second base when Mike Moustakas got a ball in play with the count 1-2. Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin knocked the ball down and managed to throw out Moustakas at first base, but in the meantime, the runner on second base — Alcides Escobar — advanced 90 feet to third.

Lorenzo Cain drove in the first run of the game with an infield single, but it was only possible because Moose got the ball in play and advanced Escobar to third base.

One of the reasons the 2014 and 2015 Royals were so good is they avoided strikeouts, got the ball in play and pressured the other team’s defense.

Getting the ball in play won games back then and helped win another one Friday night.

Tack-on runs helped Vargas throw a complete game and might help the Royals again on Sunday

One of the ways a manager keeps his job is by keeping his players happy. And one of the ways a manager keeps his players happy is by helping them achieve the numbers that will keep those players employed.

So Ned Yost isn’t inclined to let a starting pitcher who has thrown well risk a loss and he’ll do everything he can to help that starting pitcher get a win — or in Friday night’s case — a complete game shutout.

The Royals went up 1-0 in the sixth and added an insurance run in the seventh.

So in the top of the eighth, that meant Vargas could allow a runner, give up a bomb and still leave with the game tied; no risk of a loss.

And when the Royals tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, that meant Ned could send Vargas out for the ninth with plenty of breathing room; those tack-on runs kept Vargas in the game and Kelvin Herrera out of the game.

If Herrera had thrown on Friday and threw again on Saturday, he might not be available on Sunday. But since Vargas finished Friday night’s game, Herrera got an extra day of rest and that stretches his availability out to Sunday and maybe Monday.

The 2017 Royals are last in doubles

When it comes to home runs Royals players have a pretty good excuse for not hitting more of them; Kauffman Stadium is huge.

But those spacious gaps offer a different opportunity; Kauffman Stadium is good for doubles. Hit a ball in the gap and outfielders have a hard time covering all that ground. And if a ball makes it past those outfielders, those outfielders have a long run to retrieve it.

This year is different.

In 2014 the Royals were fourth in the league in doubles with 286; in 2015 they were third in the league in doubles with 300. Right now the Royals are last in the league in doubles with 69 and they’re on pace to hit 211.

Ballparks giveth and ballparks taketh away and right now the Royals are not taking advantage of what Kauffman Stadium giveth.

A Saturday day game

Today’s game starts at 1:15 so you have a perfect excuse to skip mowing the lawn, settle in on the couch and stay out of the heat.

It’s Carlos Carrasco (5-2, 2.89 ERA) vs. Jason Hammel (1-6, 6.18 ERA). After his last start Hammel wasn’t happy with the walks he allowed — four walks in 4  1/3 innings — so see if he’s more aggressive today.

Enjoy the game.

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