On Thursday night the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Royals 8-6 and completed a sweep of their four-game series. When the series began the Cards were 55-56, a losing team, so getting swept in a series of poorly-played games hurts more than it might otherwise.
Generally speaking, you don’t build your record by beating teams with a winning record; you build your record by beating teams with a losing record.
The Royals have 10 games left with the Cleveland Indians and since they’re games within the division they matter a lot and will get a lot of attention. But if the Royals go 5-5 in those games, they might not be all that unhappy.
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If they split the Cleveland series the Royals wouldn’t gain ground, but they wouldn’t lose ground either.
The Royals need to build their record by beating up on teams that have scuffled.
So in the players’ minds, this White Sox series is big; the Sox are 44-68 and the Royals need to sweep or take at least two out of three. Same goes for the Tigers (52-62), Blue Jays (54-60) and Athletics (50-65).
Talk to players and coaches about a big series and they’ll say you have to win them all, but you sure don’t want a scuffling team to beat you because you were so focused on the previous series or a series that’s coming up.
Getting swept in the I-70 Series hurt more than usual because the Cardinals presented an opportunity for the Royals to build their record and the Royals lost all four games. Now the Cardinals are no longer a team with a losing record.
How being down by multiple runs shuts down the Royals offense
When the Royals are behind after the first inning, their record is 7-14. When their opponent scores first, the Royals are 27-34.
Why are those early innings so important?
Take a look at the four-game series against the Cardinals: in Game 1 the Royals were down 7-1 after the top of the fourth, in Game 2 the Royals were down 7-3 after the top of the fifth and in Game 3 the Royals were down 8-5 after six innings.
When the Royals are playing well they’re an aggressive team; they steal bases, drop down bunts and go first-to-third or second-to-home. But if the Royals get down by multiple runs, it shuts down their aggressiveness.
You don’t risk getting a base runner thrown out when you’re down by six runs and other teams know that.
So when the Royals are down by multiple runs, opposing pitchers don’t have to worry about throwing out of the slide step, middle infielders don’t have to hug second base to make sure they can cover second on a stolen base, catchers don’t have to call fastballs to throw out runners and outfielders don’t have to rush their throws trying to prevent runners from taking an extra base.
A big part of the Royals offense is getting the ball in play and running the bases aggressively; that puts pressure on the other team and Royals fans know how often their team capitalizes on an opponent’s mistakes.
But if the Royals get down by multiple runs early in the game, they’re much less aggressive on the base paths; they have to get back in the game by swinging the bats and for a team ninth in team batting average, ninth in slugging percentage and dead last in on-base-percentage that can be difficult.
When the Royals get blown out, as they were two times in the Cardinals series, they look especially dead on offense because, even though they’re hitting more home runs this season, they’re still not designed to score runs in bunches. They’re at their best when playing low-scoring games.
When the Royals allow four runs or fewer, their record is 48-12; when the Royals allow five runs or more, their record is 9-45.
Can the Royals take advantage of the White Sox?
After Thursday night’s loss to the Cardinals some of the Royals players and coaches were left shaking their heads; how in the world did we let that happen?
But hope springs eternal.
As he headed to the showers, coach Mike Jirschele said: “OK, we’ll get it started in Chicago.” But if the Royals are going to take advantage of the White Sox, it would help if they get some decent starts out of their rotation, keep the scores low, grab some early leads and play their kind of game.
The Sox haven’t been very good this season, so it’s a big series.