Judging the Royals

The Royals have to pitch and defend or they don’t win

Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (2) drops a throw to second in an attempt to pick off Boston Red Sox's Will Middlebrooks (16) in the second inning during Thursday's baseball game on September 11, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (2) drops a throw to second in an attempt to pick off Boston Red Sox's Will Middlebrooks (16) in the second inning during Thursday's baseball game on September 11, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

Thursday night the Red Sox beat the Royals 6-3. When the Royals score more than three runs, they’re 62-10. When they score three runs or less, they’re 18-55.

Kansas City pitchers walked five batters, hit one and the defense made three errors. Two of the Red Sox runs were unearned. The Royals’ winning formula requires the starting pitcher and defense to keep the score low and for the offense to scratch out enough runs to get the ball to the best relievers with a lead. If the starting pitcher gets knocked around, the ball goes to middle relievers and that often requires the offense to come up with enough runs to get the lead back.

Wanna know how often that works?

When the Royals trail after six innings they’re 10-52. They do not have the offense to keep up with bad pitching and poor defense. It’s pretty basic: the Royals have to pitch and defend or they don’t win.

How they pitched David Ortiz

When David Ortiz comes to the plate watch how the Royals pitch him. Thursday night they were pitching him away, but expecting him to reach out and rollover the ball. You could tell that because the defense was overloaded to the right side. Pulling an outside pitch can rob most guys of power.

In his first two at-bats Ortiz went with the pitch and hit the ball to the left side, in two other at-bats he went back up the middle.

If the Royals put on a left-handed shift and pitch Ortiz away, pay attention to where he hits the ball: does he go the other way and take what the Royals are giving him, or does he pull the ball and try to go through or over the shift?

What to look for in fastball counts

The count is 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1; all fastball counts. What’s the hitter looking to do?

He’s probably looking dead red and plans to turn on the ball if he gets a heater; he wants to pull the baseball and do some damage. That’s why smart pitcher might throw an off-speed pitch and if they do throw a fastball, they might throw it on the outer half; let the hitter pull that outside pitch, rollover and hit an easy grounder.

As you watch these final games pay attention to the fastball counts. Watch what the pitcher does and how the hitter reacts. If a hitter gets a fastball in a fastball count and it’s on the inner half, he’s got a decent chance of crushing it.

The best coach period

Before every game base running coach Rusty Kuntz studies video of the opposing pitchers and looks for "keys" that tell the runners when the pitcher is going home and when the pitcher is about to attempt a pickoff. He’ll show the runners video on his iPad and then remind the runners of what they saw whenever they make it down to first base. That’s what Rusty’s saying when he leans and talks to a runner.

After watching Rusty work with the base runners I asked a player if Rusty was the best base coach he ever had and the player said: "Best coach period."

When Eric Hosmer was hurt and not playing, he’d go stand next to Rusty in the dugout; it was a chance to soak up information from one of one of the best coaches in baseball.

Or maybe Rusty’s the best coach period.

How this September is different

Hosmer also said that this September was very different. A couple years ago players would be making plane reservations and starting to throttle down. September call ups would be getting a lot of playing time and the starters would spend more time watching.

Now every at bat is intense.

Eric said you don’t want to lose focus and make a mistake that could cost you and your team. He also said the season was going much faster now; every game matters, everybody is as locked in as possible.

Casey Coleman’s locker

The club house is jammed packed with September call-ups and a couple of the guys have lockers out in the middle of the room. I asked Casey Coleman about his lousy locker location and he said he was just glad to have one.

How a layoff can improve your mechanics

The other day Luke Hochevar threw a baseball for the first time in a long while and asked him if he had any idea where it was going. Luke said he thought he’d be all over the place, but it wasn’t as bad as he feared.

I then asked if his long layoff was a good chance to clean up his delivery; it’s been so long since Hochevar pitched he has no bad habits.

Luke said he always wants to work on separating over his back side and he’ll concentrate on that. Put that in English and he means he wants to stay back and separate his hands while he has his weight over his back foot. Drift forward and then separate and his throwing arm will drag, be late and the ball will go high.

If you’re ever watching a game and think: "Why doesn’t this guy just throw strikes?" remember it’s all more complicated than we think.

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