Judging the Royals

Twins’ defensive positioning backfires & an unlikely Royal is on a hot streak

Entering Sunday, Alcides Escobar is hitting .298 and slugging .431 in his last 81 games, a span of 299 at-bats.
Entering Sunday, Alcides Escobar is hitting .298 and slugging .431 in his last 81 games, a span of 299 at-bats. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In the bottom of the first inning of the Royals-Twins game Saturday, with Lorenzo Cain at the plate, Minnesota put three infielders between second and third base.

The Twins wanted Cain to pull the ball into their defensive shift, but for that plan to work, the pitcher — Jose Berrios — would have to throw the right pitches in the right places; fastballs in and off-speed pitches would do the trick.

But with the count 1-1, Berrios missed location badly, threw Cain a fastball away and Cain lifted a fly ball down the right-field line.

Because Cain was supposed to pull the ball, Twins right fielder Max Kepler was positioned well off the right-field line and had a long run to get where the ball landed. Kepler made things worse by taking too shallow a route, the ball landed safely and then got past him.

Kauffman Stadium’s right-field corner is the birthplace of triples. If a ball gets down into that curved corner it acts like a pinball, follows the curve of the wall and will come out by the bullpen gate. That gives baserunners time to make it to third base and that’s what Cain did, despite nursing a tight quadriceps.

The next batter, Melky Cabrera, hit a ground ball to short and Cain scored.

Teams are studying spray charts and putting defenders where hitters tend to hit the ball, but if the pitcher can’t hit his spot, advanced defensive positioning can backfire and on Saturday night it backfired on the Twins.

When walking a batter is a veteran move

In the third inning Royals starting pitcher Jake Junis gave up a home run to Eduardo Escobar. Over the last two weeks Escobar has been hot; he’s hit .304 and slugged .804.

So when Escobar came to the plate in the fourth inning, with two outs and runners on first and second base, Junis did not want to “give in.”

Giving in is throwing a pitch down the middle and hoping the ball gets hit at somebody.

Junis pitched to the edges of the zone and appeared to get squeezed on three consecutive pitches. With the count 3-0, Junis continued to make pitcher’s pitches: a fastball away and a slider in off the plate ran the count full and then, with the count full, Junis threw a slider down out of the zone, walked Escobar and loaded the bases.

After the game, Ned Yost called it a veteran move.

In the big leagues the most confident pitchers will use all three bases to work around hitters they want to avoid. But to walk the bases loaded you have to believe in your ability to throw strikes and Junis did; he got the next batter out and the walk to Escobar was his only walk of the evening.

Eric Hosmer: not just a pretty face

I don’t know what Hosmer got on his SATs or if he even took the test, but Hosmer is baseball smart and considering his chosen profession that’s better than knowing Charlemagne lived from 742 to 814. (And if that’s wrong, blame Wikipedia.)

Anyway, Hosmer untied a 2-2 game when he came to the plate in the eighth inning with runners on first and second base. The guy on second base was pinch-runner Terrance Gore and that changed Hosmer’s thinking.

Left-handed pitcher Buddy Bosher was brought in to face Hosmer and Hosmer knew Bosher liked to throw his curve, but figured Bosher would not want to bounce it with Gore on second base; if the ball got away from the catcher — even slightly away from the catcher — a guy with Gore’s speed would take third.

So Hosmer looked for a curve up in the zone and when he got what he was looking for, smoked it and the Royals took a lead they would never give back.

Hosmer is having his best year yet and a lot of that’s talent, but at least some of that’s smarts.

Alex Gordon’s opposite-field home run

It’s doubtful any fan missed Alex Gordon tying the game in the seventh inning with an opposite-field home run, but you might have missed the run up to that homer.

Gordon has been making adjustments during batting practice and in his previous 19 at bats hit .316 and slugged .421. An incredibly small slice of Gordon’s 2017 season, but if you were looking for it, in the past week Gordon has had better at-bats.

On Saturday night, in his two previous plate appearances, Gordon walked and lined out, so while nobody — least of all me — was thinking home run, you might have been thinking Gordon was having better at-bats.

If he goes 0 for 4 today, that’s on him.

Alcides Escobar’s hot streak

When I asked Ned Yost about Gordon’s at bats he said yes, Alex had looked better lately, but then brought up Alcides Escobar without being prompted and anytime you can get Ned to talk to the media when he doesn’t have to, it’s a momentous occasion.

Anyone could miss the fact that Alex Gordon’s last 20 at-bats had been better, but missing Alcides Escobar’s hot streak is a bit less forgivable.

On June 9, after 60 games and 230 at-bats, Escobar finished the day with a .178 batting average and a .222 slugging percentage.

Since then, a span of 81 games and 299 at-bats, Escobar has hit .298 and slugged .431.

When hitters get off to lousy starts it’s hard for them to noticeably move the numbers, but Alcides Escobar has spent more time hitting great than he did hitting lousy and most of us didn’t notice. We’ve been writing about the Royals getting nothing out of the bottom of the order all summer and for most of the summer, that hasn’t been true of Alcides Escobar.

Somebody owes that guy an apology and I’m pretty sure it’s me.

Lee Judge: 816-234-4482, @leejudge8 

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