Judging the Royals

Wally Pipp and the reason smart players play

Royals pitcher Chris Young has yet to allow an earned run in two starts.
Royals pitcher Chris Young has yet to allow an earned run in two starts. AP

According to legend, New York Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp took a day off because he had a headache—his replacement was a kid named Lou Gehrig. 2,130 games later Gehrig was headed for immortality and the Hall of Fame.

Old-school ballplayers learned a lesson: stay out of the trainer’s room and do not take a day off if you don’t have to—the kid they replace you with might be the next Lou Gehrig.

Friday night starting pitcher Chris Young threw 5 2/3 innings, won his third game and lowered his ERA to 0.94. I’m not saying they need to save a place for him in Cooperstown, but Young is making a pretty decent bid to stay in the starting rotation.

Same goes for backup catcher Drew Butera; he’s making the most of the chances he’s been given and when Erik Kratz is ready the Royals will have a decision to make.

We tend to think of teams as cohesive units—a Band of Brothers—all pulling toward the same goal and much of the time that’s true. But within that Band of Brothers guys are jostling for position; big league baseball is a business and a very competitive one at that. You’re in the Band of Brothers until management decides they’d be better off with someone else and a ballplayer better keep that in mind.

Every night someone is trying to drive you out of the league; a pitcher who’s going to make you look bad, a hitter who’s going to make you seem ineffective. And the guy who puts the final nail in the coffin might be a teammate.

Smart players play.

The Royals get to Michael Pineda; third time’s a charm

Look up a starting pitcher’s numbers and you’ll often see that the third time he faces a batting order he gets hit harder. Third time through the order is often key: starting pitchers might need to get a hitter out in three different ways while relievers need just one.

Third time through the order and the hitters have seen the pitcher’s fastball and off-speed stuff and what those pitches are doing that night, so hitters begin to adjust. And when that happens, pitchers need to adjust back.

Friday night the Yankees Michael Pineda faced the Royals lineup a third time starting with Alcides Escobar in the fourth inning. Here’s what happened on that third trip through the order:

Ecobabar; groundout

Moustakas: single

Cain: strikeout

Hosmer: single

Morales groundout

That got Pineda to the fifth inning, but then all hell broke loose.

Gordon: double

Perez: groundout

Infante: triple

Orlando: single

When Pineda faces hitters a fourth time they bat .455 off him, so before that could happen Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled him from the game while the score was still 4-1. But it was already too late; the third time through the order set the Royal up to have a six-run inning. If you keep a scorebook when watching a ballgame—and if you don’t you should—pay attention to what happens the third time through the order.

Moose just misses the cycle

During the game, one of the people working at the stadium told me he wasn’t too sure what to make of Mike Moustakas’ hot start, but then said: "He’s starting to make a believer out of me."

Coming just short of hitting for the cycle will do that. Moose had the required single, double and triple, just needing a home run to hit for the cycle—that’s when he banged a ball off the top of the left-field wall. This season Mike has started to look like a complete hitter, spraying the ball all over the yard.

When a guy’s a dead-pull hitter, getting him out is easier; just throw a fastball away, let him reach out and hook the ball for an easy groundball to the pull side of the field. When the hitter will take that fastball away to the opposite field, the pitcher’s job gets much tougher.

This season Mike Moustakas is a much tougher out.

Why the first game of a series is important

Jason Kendall once said it was a very important to win the first game of a series. I asked why, expecting to hear something mystical about motivation or momentum. Here’s what he said instead: "Because you can’t sweep a series unless you win the first game."

Boy, math is hard.

Playing a 162-game season is a marathon; think about playing baseball for six months and it can be overwhelming. So players tend to break it up in digestible chunks: try to sweep the series you’re in—and you can’t do that if you don’t win the first game.

Math and Jason Kendall say so.