Judging the Royals

Oakland vs. Kansas City: Don’t overlook the seventh inning

Oakland Athletics' Stephen Vogt (21) is congratulated by Brett Lawrie (15) after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning as Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) waits for Lawrie during Friday's baseball game on April 17, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Oakland Athletics' Stephen Vogt (21) is congratulated by Brett Lawrie (15) after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning as Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) waits for Lawrie during Friday's baseball game on April 17, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

After Friday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics there was plenty to talk about: Billy Butler’s return to Kansas City, Paulo Orlando hitting yet another triple and Brett Lawrie’s takeout slide of Alcides Escobar.

But don’t overlook the seventh inning.

After six innings Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie had thrown 74 pitches and had a one-run lead; the best bullpen in the world was rested and waiting. The Oakland hitter who was leading off the seventh was left-handed hitter Stephen Vogt and in his first two at bats Vogt had already doubled and homered against Guthrie.

They say hindsight is 20-20, but this is foresight: if Kelvin Herrera was ready (and if he wasn’t, that’s another question), why let Jeremy Guthrie face Vogt a third time when it was clear Vogt was seeing—and hitting—Guthrie well?

In his first at-bat Vogt got a 2-0 changeup and doubled. That pushed Ike Davis—who had already singled—to third base. And that allowed Brett Lawrie to lay down a bunt to score Davis: Athletics up 1-0.

In the third inning the Royals pushed three runs across the plate and held a two-run lead going into the top of the fourth; a lead that didn’t last long. Ike Davis homered on the first pitch he saw to make the score 3-2. Guthrie then fell behind Vogt once again, this time 1-0, and threw him another changeup; Vogt knocked this changeup out of the park and the game was tied 3-3.

In the bottom of the sixth the Royals pushed another run across the plate and took a 4-3 lead. With a one-run lead and the bullpen ready, Jeremy Guthrie was allowed to face Vogt a third time. Once again Guthrie fell behind Vogt—this timer 3-1—and once again Vogt tied the game up with home run.

Saturday morning I looked up Stephen Vogt’s matchup numbers against Jeremy Guthrie and they’re scary: five for eight for a .625 batting average, a double and two homers for a 1.500 slugging percentage and an OPS of 2.125—I didn’t know numbers went that high.

Stephen Vogt ought to pay someone to get to hit against Jeremy Guthrie; Friday night in the seventh inning, he didn’t have to.

Herrera, Davis, Holland

Once the Royals bullpen got involved, they did what they do: three scoreless innings and Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland finished the evening with 0.00 ERAs. In the bottom of the eighth inning a combination of Salvador Perez, Jarrod Dyson, Paulo Orlando and Omar Infante combined for two runs and made it easier to forget Ned Yost’s decision to let Guthrie face Vogt in the seventh.

If the players hadn’t come through, we’d probably be spending a lot more time talking about it.

Lawrie’s takeout slide

My first reaction to Brett Lawrie’s takeout slide of Alcides Escobar was that the slide was unnecessary. (That’s what’s so wonderful about Twitter: no time to think, just spew half-digested thoughts out there and let the internet crowd pick over what you’ve regurgitated—and if you found that description distasteful I’ve accomplished my goal.)

Anyway, it was a weird play: Josh Reddick hit the ball back to the mound, the ball caromed off some Kelvin Herrera body part (it looked like his foot), it was picked up by Mike Moustakas and instead of going to first base for the out, Moose went for the lead runner and shoveled the ball to Alcides Escobar covering second base.

I originally thought the slide was unnecessary because Escobar was clearly making no attempt to turn two: there was no double play to break up. Alcides was stretched out like a first baseman to take the toss from Mike and that’s what exposed his left knee to Lawrie’s slide.

After the game several people who have played a lot more big league baseball than I have (one game would do it) said that it looked like Moustakas going to second base surprised Lawrie and that’s what led to the late slide. The late slide had Lawrie go through the bag, not to it, and when he hit Escobar it looked bad. Apparently, (at least among the people I talked to) Lawrie has the reputation for playing hard, but not dirty.

Should the Royals choose to respond, they might want to think about who does the plunking. After talking to a couple Royals coaches it’s clear that not every pitcher knows how to hit a batter in the right way; some pitcher struggle with intentional walks, much less throwing behind a guy.

Once again, here’s how you hit a batter: fastball below the shoulders and behind the back—let the hitter’s reaction back him up into the ball. And if there’s some kind of altercation afterwards, you might want to think about which pitcher you can afford to lose for a while; I wouldn’t think Yordano Ventura is on that list.

Alex Rios is out with a broken hand and last night the Royals narrowly avoided losing Alcides Escobar to a blown out knee. Nothing can take a contender out of contention faster than injuries. Assuming Escobar’s OK, the Royals just got lucky.