Judging the Royals

Why you run the bases more aggressively when you’re not hitting

Kansas City Royals' Alcides Escobar (2) reaches second before the tag from Boston Red Sox second baseman Mookie Betts (50) on a leadoff double in the first inning during Saturday's baseball game on September 13, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals' Alcides Escobar (2) reaches second before the tag from Boston Red Sox second baseman Mookie Betts (50) on a leadoff double in the first inning during Saturday's baseball game on September 13, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

Ned Yost used a new lineup Saturday; one that put speed at the top of the lineup. Alcides Escobar hit first, Nori Aoki was second and Lorenzo Cain was hitting third. The speed lineup paid off immediately.

Escobar led the off the bottom of the first with a hustle double. Because Aoki is capable of bunting for hits the Red Sox played their third baseman in and Aoki chopped a ball over his head. Despite leftfielder Yoenis Cespedes charging toward the infield on the Aoki single, Esky scored from second while Aoki took second base on the throw.

With a runner on second and nobody out Lorenzo Cain played some small ball and hit a grounder to the right side; that allowed Aoki to move over to third. The Red Sox tried to pick Aoki off, but catcher Christian Vazquez threw the ball away. After one inning the Royals were up 2-0 and finally had a lead early in a game.

The Royals scored one run after Lorenzo Cain stole a base to get in scoring position, another run when Alex Gordon scored from third on an infield groundout and a third run when Gordon scored from second on an Omar Infante single.

The Royals’ speed put pressure on the Red Sox defense and the Red Sox defense didn’t handle it very well. When you’re not hitting playing station-to-station baseball isn’t a great idea; swinging away isn’t working.

When you’re not hitting, run the bases more aggressively.

Game notes

Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie threw eight innings and allowed only three hits; the only run the Red Sox scored was unearned. Guthrie’s performance allowed the relievers—with the exception of Brandon Finnegan—another night off.

The Red Sox—well known for taking pitches—were hacking in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. They allowed Guthrie to get nine outs by throwing a total 23 pitches. If you swing early in the count and don’t get a hit, you let the pitcher off the hook. If you go deep in the count, but don’t get a hit, at least you made the pitcher work.

Finnegan had another good outing and so far appears to be making a very strong bullpen even stronger. Finnegan gives Ned Yost a left-handed alternative to Francisley Bueno (4.31 ERA) and Scott Downs (5.20 ERA).

Once again David Ortiz beat a left-handed shift by hitting the ball to the opposite field and the next time he came to the plate, the Royals had modified their shift: they left Mike Moustakas over on the left side of the field. If a hitter is willing to go to the opposite field, teams might quit shifting.

Lorenzo Cain was hitting third. Cain has a .299 batting average, but has mixed in a lot of infield hits; jam shots, weak grounders and balls pounded down off the plate. Nevertheless, Cain had good at bats all night; he moved a runner over in the first inning, doubled in the fourth and walked , stole a base and scored in the eighth.

Mike Moustakas made an error and it turned into the only run the Red Sox scored. Unfortunately Mike made it on the first batter of the third inning—Mookie Betts—and allowing a leadoff batter to reach base means his team has all three outs to move the runner around the bases.

Danny Duffy throws on the side

Saturday afternoon Danny Duffy was out throwing from flat ground and afterwards said everything felt fine. The big test will be how he feels on Sunday. If his shoulder reacts poorly he may need more time off; if everything’s OK he might be back out on the mound fairly soon.

A reader’s comment

The problem wiyh Moustakas is that he's not a good hitter. Period. 0.265 OBP. Are you kidding me? Why is he even in the lineup?

My answer

Probably for the same reason everyone else is in the lineup: they don’t have anyone better. It’s easy for fans to bench players and fire managers, but much harder to replace them.

Infield positioning

Infield positioning is easily seen from the stands. If you pay attention to infield positioning, you’ll know what the defense is trying to accomplish.

Infield back: The players stand on or near the outfield grass. This positioning means the defense considers the man at the plate the most important out and plans to get that out at first base. If there’s a runner on third, less than two down and the infield is still back, the defense doesn’t care if the run scores; they’re going to take the easy out at first.

Double-play depth: The double play is in order. The middle infielders will position themselves closer to second base so they can turn two. The pitcher needs a ground ball to make that happen.

Infield in: The players are positioned near or on the infield grass. Managers bring their infield in when there’s a runner on third base, less than two outs and they want to prevent a run from scoring on a groundball to an infielder.

Corners in/middle back: This positioning means there’s an important run on third base, but the double play is also in order. If the ball is hit to the first or third baseman and the runner on third breaks for home, that’s probably where the play is. But if the ball is hit up the middle, the defense will try to turn two.

Halfway: This defense means there are less than two outs, there’s a runner on third base and the infield is now halfway between back and in. The halfway position means the infielders have to make a decision: based on the speed of the runner at third and how hard the ball is hit, the infielders have to decide whether a play at the plate is possible if the runner on third breaks for home. If they don’t think they can get the runner trying to score, the throw goes to first base.

Guarding the lines/no doubles: The first and third baseman are positioned close enough to foul territory to prevent a ball from getting between them and the foul line. If a ball goes down one of the lines and makes it into an outfield corner, it’s usually a double. Guarding the lines is usually done late in a game with an important run at the plate. Even if the man at the plate gets a hit, the defense wants to keep the hitter to a single; two hits away from scoring.