Judging the Royals

Royals’ four-game series against league-leading Astros is only going to get tougher

Yuli Gurriel hammered a Kelvin Herrera slider and scored Brian McCann and Alex Bregman on a three-run homer in the ninth inning of the Astros’ 7-3 victory over the Royals on Monday.
Yuli Gurriel hammered a Kelvin Herrera slider and scored Brian McCann and Alex Bregman on a three-run homer in the ninth inning of the Astros’ 7-3 victory over the Royals on Monday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The Houston Astros came into Monday night’s game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium with the most wins in baseball. The Astros had also scored more runs than any team in the American League and no AL team had allowed fewer.

There were rumors the Astros were faster than a speeding bullet and could leap tall buildings in a single bound.

And the Royals didn’t do much to dispel those rumors.

Starter Ian Kennedy was falling behind Houston hitters in the first inning and it caught up with him in the second inning: the Astros opened the scoring when Nori Aoki turned a 3-1 fastball into an RBI single.

The Astros built their lead to 4-0 before the Royals scored a couple runs in the bottom of the fourth. A single Kansas City run in the seventh made the score 4-3 and gave hope to the hometown crowd, but a three-run homer in the top of the ninth put Houston up 7-3 and that’s how the game finished.

Herrera got beat on a slider

Back to that three-run homer that put the game away.

Kelvin Herrera had not pitched since May 30 and because he needed the work and the Royals needed the win, Herrera was brought in to pitch the top of the ninth, even though the Royals did not have a lead.

Alex Bregman hit a leadoff single and when the Royals failed to get an out on a Brian McCann groundball to Eric Hosmer (Hosmer went for Bregman at second and shortstop Alcides Escobar lost Hosmer’s throw in the lights), Herrera had two on, nobody out.

With Yuli Gurriel at the plate Herrera threw a 99 mph fastball for a called strike and then followed that up with his first slider of the inning. The slider hung in the middle of the plate and Gurriel hit it out of the yard.

Herrera, who can hit 100 on the gun, once again got beat on a secondary pitch.

No matter how hard a pitcher throws, he still has to throw something other than fastballs, so that’s not the issue. But when a pitcher has an overpowering fastball he might want to throw those secondary pitches in locations that won’t hurt him or his team.

Salvador Perez threw out two runners

Pop time is how long it takes a catcher to throw a ball to second base; the time is measured between the ball popping into the catcher’s mitt and popping into a middle infielder’s glove.

In the major leagues, 2.0 seconds is average, 1.9 is very good and 1.8 is outstanding.

A scout told me Salvador Perez threw a 1.75 the other day and that had the scouts behind home plate checking their stopwatches and asking each other if they all had the same time — and they did.

Monday night Perez threw out two base runners and the second one was Marwin Gonzalez. He tried to steal third with Brian McCann at the plate and because McCann is left-handed, that cleared a throwing lane for Perez.

Stealing third with a lefty at the plate can be done, particularly if there’s a lefty on the mound.

The pitcher was Matt Strahm, and because left-handed pitchers have their backs to a runner on second, those runners can often get a better jump.

Clearly, Gonzalez’s jump wasn’t good enough.

Brandon Moss: power and punchouts

When Brandon Moss came to the plate in the second inning the Astros swung their defense around to the right side. Moss is left-handed and the Astros clearly thought Moss would pull the ball.

Mike Fiers tried to rob Moss of power by pitching him away. When a hitter pulls an outside pitch, it’s like trying to punch someone that’s too far away. The punch won’t have much sizzle.

So with the left side of the field open — the Astros had their left fielder, Nori Aoki, pushed over toward the gap — why not take those outside pitches the other way?

According to Moss, it has to do with swing path; the same swing that sends fly balls to right field with power produces weak fly balls to left. And in first two at bats, that’s what Moss hit. But because a fly ball to Aoki is always an adventure, the second one dropped for an RBI double.

In his next two at-bats, Moss struck out with runners in scoring position. After the second punchout, the crowd booed him.

When Moss pulls the ball, he hits .408 and slugs .855. His pull swing is designed to hit home runs and he’s currently on pace to hit 26.

But, as I might have pointed out a time or two dozen, with pull swings come punch outs: start your swing early to pull the ball and you’re more likely to get fooled by a pitch.

Pitchers do everything they can to avoid giving Moss a pitch he can pull and get in the air, so Moss has to wait for a mistake. And if the pitcher doesn’t make one, a strikeout is one of the possible outcomes.

It’s no secret that Moss has struck out more than 140 times in four different seasons — his lifetime batting average is .238. But if you want pop, Moss has it. He has hit 20 or more home runs in four different seasons and his lifetime slugging percentage is .453.

If you want the power, you have to live with the punchouts.

If you’re asking yourself why the Royals can’t have a player who provides power and a little more average, they can. But those guys — and Kendrys Morales comes to mind — are pretty expensive and the Royals didn’t spend the money.

Why the Royals needed to win Game 1

Pretty simple, Dallas Keuchel (9-0, 1.67 ERA) is scheduled to throw Game 3 and Lance McCullers (6-1, 2.71) is throwing Game 4. Things aren’t going to get any easier. Jason Vargas will match up with Keuchel and Jason Hammel will match up with McCullers.

Anything can happen in baseball, and quite often does, but if the Royals wanted to at least split the series against the hottest team in baseball, winning Game 1 would have been a good start.

David Paulino (11 major-league innings, a 4.91 ERA) is starting Game 2 for Houston. Jake Junis (6  2/3 big-league innings, a 2.70 ERA) will take the mound for the Royals.

Enjoy the game.