Judging the Royals

Royals split a doubleheader, and there was a lot of baseball to break down

Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss celebrated with Eric Hosmer after Moss hit a solo home run Saturday against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss celebrated with Eric Hosmer after Moss hit a solo home run Saturday against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Saturday the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals played baseball for seven hours and seven minutes.

691 pitches were thrown, 171 batters came to the plate, 53 batters got a hit, 32 runs were scored, 29 batters struck out, 18 pitchers went to the mound, 15 walks were issued, there were two wild pitches and, no matter which team you rooted for, there was one win and one loss.

After the Twins-Royals doubleheader was over, one logical question had to be asked:

They used to do this every Sunday?

Game 1: Credit the Royals’ bullpen and offense for the win

At 1:15 on Saturday afternoon, Luke Farrell began his career as a big-league pitcher; 2 2/3 innings later, Farrell was out of the game and the Royals’ bullpen took over.

Do the math – I might have done it wrong because right now I’m so tired I could play one of the non-humans on “The Walking Dead” – and Farrell’s abbreviated outing meant the Royals’ bullpen had to come up with 6 1/3 innings of relief pitching.

Farrell was responsible for five runs, but after he left the Royals bullpen only allowed one more.

After the game Ned Yost talked about the bullpen’s ability to grind out a win, and the same could be said for the Royals’ offense; despite being down 5-1 in the third and 6-5 after the top of the sixth, the Royals’ lineup kept grinding away and eventually scored 11 runs.

And since the Twins scored six, that worked out pretty well; the Royals took Game 1.

Did Brandon Moss change his approach?

In the month of June, Brandon Moss had 45 at-bats and seven hits; that’s a .156 average. On Saturday, Moss had eight at-bats and five hits; that’s a .625 average.

Afterward, people were talking about his 474-foot home run, and it was worth talking about; it cleared the center field fence, the wall behind that and the wall behind that.

But if you know much about Moss and how he goes about his business, his two Game 1 singles were also worth discussion.

Moss considers himself a power hitter, and anyone with a career .238 batting average and career .452 slugging percentage has earned that right. Moss looks for pitches and counts where he can drive the ball and that explains some of the at-bats we see.

If a pitch is down and away – a pitch that’s hard to drive – Moss might spit on it in hopes of getting something better later in the at-bat. But that approach allows pitchers to throw strikes to the outer half of the plate knowing Moss won’t offer.

That’s how Moss gets down in the count and then has to deal with breaking pitches thrown in the dirt or out of the zone.

But in Game 1 Moss singled twice, both on first-pitch, down-and-away fastballs; pitches he had been taking.

After Game 2 I looked for Moss to ask about his approach, but he made himself scarce, and it was hard to blame any player who wanted to get home and go to bed; Sunday was just around the corner.

If I see Moss on Sunday I’ll ask about yesterday’s doubleheader and those two first-pitch singles and if he says something interesting – and he usually does – I’ll tell you about it.

Game 2: Blame the Royals’ starting pitcher and defense for the loss

In the first four innings, Jason Hammel was cruising; three hits, no runs. In the fifth inning, things fell apart; four hits including a homer, one walk, four runs.

In the sixth inning, the Royals’ defense played a part; Alcides Escobar made an error that required Eric Hosmer to hold a runner who shouldn’t have been on base. So when a ground ball was hit down the first-base line, Hosmer was playing in, not back.

Had Hosmer been playing back, he probably would have handled the grounder with ease and that would have been the third out of the inning; no runs would have scored.

A defensive mistake in the ninth inning led to more runs.

With runners on second and third, the Royals had the infield in for a play at the plate. The Royals got what they wanted – a ball hit at an infielder – but with the runner on third coming home, Whit Merrifield got in a hurry, missed the grounder and had to chase it into right field.

Meanwhile, two runs scored.

Had the Royals played clean defense they still might have lost, but it would have been a heckuva lot closer.

Did Jason Hammel get too fine?

The answer is yes, and I know because Hammel stuck around after Game 2, talked to the press and said he got too fine.

Here’s what that means in English:

If a pitcher stays down in the bottom third of the zone he can use the whole plate. It’s hard – but not impossible – to lift pitches at the bottom of the zone, so pitches down in the zone usually translate into ground balls and, unless they go down one of the base lines, ground balls usually mean singles.

But if a pitcher gets too fine – if he tries to be perfect, pitch down and hit the corners – he can fall behind in the count.

Now the hitter knows the pitcher has to come farther into the zone to avoid throwing another ball. Now the hitter is waiting for a pitch that might have got by him earlier in the count.

And if the pitcher already has runners on base, the hitter knows the pitcher doesn’t want to fall behind in the count again. The hitter doesn’t have to wait until he’s 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1; the hitter knows he’ll probably get something good to hit right away.

Uncertainty is the pitcher’s ally; it allows him to get away with pitches because the hitter doesn’t know what’s coming. Get too fine – fall behind in the count – and the hitter is no longer uncertain; he’s got a good idea of what’s coming and probably won’t miss it if he gets it.

Hammel got too fine in the fifth and sixth innings, the Royals defense made things worse and the Twins won Game 2 by a score of 10-5.

Big game on Sunday

Coming into Sunday’s game the Royals are 40-40; win the final game of the Twins series and the Royals finish the first half with a winning record and tie the Twins for second place in the AL Central.

The Royals are still patching together their starting rotation, so Travis Wood (1-2, 6.28 ERA) will get the ball; the Twins will send Hector Santiago (4-7, 5.37 ERA) to the mound.

After Saturday’s doubleheader, everyone – ballplayers, reporters and hot dog vendors – will show up for Sunday’s game exhausted.

Anything can happen.

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