Judging the Royals

The Royals’ pitching makes up for the Royals’ hitting

Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) celebrated with reliever Wade Davis after the Royals shut out the New York Yankees 2-0 on Sunday in the Bronx.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) celebrated with reliever Wade Davis after the Royals shut out the New York Yankees 2-0 on Sunday in the Bronx. The Associated Press

Over the weekend, the Royals won two games with a total of three unearned runs and took the series from the New York Yankees. Manager Ned Yost was asked whether he was concerned about his offense, and Yost said a W is a W: “I’m on top of the world.”

The truth is, it’s always something.

Your starting pitching is great, but your bullpen can’t hold a lead. Or you’ve got a great closer, but you can’t get the ball to him with a chance to win. Or your hitting is awesome, but your pitching staff can’t hold the other team down. Or you hit, but you can’t defend.

Ask guys who have been around the game for a while, and they will tell you that the longest they can remember a team firing on all cylinders — pitching, defense and hitting — is about two weeks. Other than that, it’s a struggle. They know this is how games are won. When one part of a team scuffles, the other parts have to pick it up.

Recently, the Royals haven’t been driving in runs, but the pitching and defense have been so good that the team has still been winning. The exception in the Yankees series was Saturday night. The pitching and defense weren’t top-notch, and the offense couldn’t produce enough runs to avoid a loss. The good news is that anyone who’s been around the game would pick pitching and defense for a team’s strength. Keep the score low enough, and you always have a chance.

Let’s see how that works in Detroit.

You might thank the Texas Rangers

The Royals’ formula for success has been simple: Grab a lead before the seventh inning and hand the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. But what if Holland isn’t available?

With the Royals leading 2-0 on Sunday, starting picher Yordano Ventura came out for the seventh inning. He walked the lead-off batter with his 103rd pitch of the day. Manager Ned Yost made a call to the bullpen — and out came Aaron Crow. Crow has been inconsistent at times. That’s how you get an ERA north of 3.70.

If Aaron could get through the seventh with a lead and hand the ball to Herrera, the chances of a Royals win would go way up. Crow fell behind in the count and threw a predictable 3-1 fastball to Chase Headley.

But the fastball was on the outer part of the plate, and Headley pulled it. Pulling outside pitches with any authority is difficult and that proved to be the case here. The Yankees’ third baseman pulled a grounder into a 4-6-3 double play, and just like that, the inning was two-thirds over.

Crow then went on to strike out Ichiro Suzuki (the late afternoon shadows helped) and the Royals’ lead was then in the capable hands of Herrera and Davis.

So why thank the Texas Rangers?

In case you missed it, the last time Crow pitched was on Sept. 2. Once again, Holland was not available and Crow was brought in to close the game. The warmup pitches were alarming. Crow was all over the place and went through several baseballs in the process. He then threw ball one and ball two to Texas’ Adam Rosales.

Crow followed up with what might have been ball three, but Rosales swung and popped up to short. Aaron heaved a sigh of relief and went on to get the save. Had Rosales taken that pitch and gone 3-0, there was a good chance he would have walked. And a lead-off walk would have changed everything. A guy who was already nervous would have faced an uphill battle.

Had Crow blown a save on Sept. 2, how nervous do you think he would have been on Sept. 7? Ballplayers will tell you confidence makes a world of difference, and the Texas Rangers boosted Aaron Crow’s self-esteem.

So, thanks guys. Aaron might not have been able to do it without you.

Game notes

If you ever wondered why position players run pitchers off the ball every chance they get, Yankees pitcher Shane Greene showed you why. He made a horrible throw to first base — OK, in the general area of first base — and that throw turned into a Royals run.

Saturday’s loss meant that Herrera and Davis had a night off. It’s not much of a silver lining, but at least a loss can help you win a game somewhere down the road.

Mike Moustakas — who told me he was going to go through or over the left-handed shifts he sees — got another hit to the opposite field in Sunday’s game. Do that often enough, and the opposing team will quit shifting.

The Royals stole bases successfully every time they ran on an off-speed pitch. The one time they got caught was when Alcides Escobar tried to steal third on a fastball. It’s only a few miles per hour, but picking the right pitch makes a difference. Look for breaking pitches when the pitcher is ahead in the count. That might be a good time to swipe a bag.

Eric Hosmer might have been drawing the throw away from home plate — Alex Gordon was scoring — when he got caught between bases. If not, Eric screwed up. Hosmer broke for second once he saw the throw go over the cut-off man, but the throw was short, and Yankees catcher Brian McCann came forward to catch the ball. That meant McCann had a short throw to second base, and Hosmer was trapped.

McCann just misses a home run

McCann narrowly missed a three-run home run when Ventura threw him a change-up in the third inning. McCann pulled the 88-mph pitch toward the right-field foul pole just 314 feet away.

The ball went foul.

Just like in Boston’s Fenway Park, pitchers in Yankee Stadium have to be extremely careful when they throw off-speed pitches to left-handed hitters. It won’t take much to get the ball out of the park when right field is so close.

Ventura got McCann out when the Yankees catcher put a 97-mph fastball in play. That velocity kept the ball in the middle of the field, and Jarrod Dyson ran it down.