Judging the Royals

Possible keys to the rest of the Detroit Tigers series

Royals manager Ned Yost was surrounded by media before Friday's baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals manager Ned Yost was surrounded by media before Friday's baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

How hard will the Kansas City hitters make the Detroit starting pitchers work? If the Royals start swinging away, they better get some hits; otherwise the Tigers starting pitchers will be getting outs and keep their pitch count low. And if the Detroit starting pitchers keep their pitch count low, the Detroit bullpen does not get exposed.

Friday night Justin Verlander was pitching on the corners and getting calls from home plate umpire Larry Vanover. When that happens a pitcher does not have to come into the heart of the zone.

For the Royals to be successful they probably need to grab a lead before the seventh inning and then get the ball to their best relievers. In the first game of the series the Tigers jumped out to an early lead and that meant the Royals had to go to middle relievers after starter Jason Vargas left the game. Let Kansas City grab a lead after six innings and hand the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and/or Greg Holland and Detroit could—and should—be in trouble.

Watch Detroit’s pitchers and see if the Kansas City hitters force them to come into the heart of the zone; if the Royals hitters start swinging at borderline pitches before they have two strikes, Kansas City could be the team in trouble.

And to keep the score low enough for the Royals offense to stay competitive, the Kansas City pitching needs be better than it was on Friday while the defense needs to improve its play as well. Alex Gordon misread a Miguel Cabrera line drive and that lead to a three-run first inning instead of an inning-ending double play.

The Royals cannot give the Detroit Tigers four outs in an inning; they’re already pretty good with three.

Who can try easier?

"Try easier" was George Brett’s mantra in big situations. Jason Kendall says the person who can back off in an important confrontation usually wins the battle. But it’s difficult to try easier and back off when there’s so much hoopla attached to this series. Everybody knows first place is on the line; everyone wants to be here.

On Friday afternoon the Royals clubhouse was filled to the brim with media. A crowd was gathered around one player and it was so dense I had to stand on tip-toe to see who they were talking to; it was Jarrod Dyson.

Man, that many people want to hear from Dyce?

Tom Verducci was over by James Shields locker, so was Ken Rosenthal. I thought I saw Buster Olney out by the dugout. The Royals recognize those national media guys and know this is a big deal; the team that can act like it isn’t, the team that can just go out and play their game, the team that can try easier, that team has an advantage.

What to look for

If hitters are over-swinging and trying to do too much they’ll be chasing pitches on the borders before they have two strikes. Their heads will pull off the ball and as they finish their swings they’ll be looking down the foul line at the base coach on the pull side of the field.

When pitchers overthrow the fastball tends to go high on the throwing-arm side. A right-handed pitcher would throw up and in to a right handed hitter. Overthrown breaking pitches tend to flatten out and get whacked. Changeups might stay up in the zone. Another possibility is a pitcher trying to throw too nasty a pitch and spiking it in the dirt.

You want players amped up for a big series, but not over-amped—and that’s a pretty fine line.

Game notes

*Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon appeared to misread a Miguel Cabrera line drive and missed a possible inning-ending double play; Ian Kinsler also appeared to misread the ball and was going the wrong way on the base paths. The Tigers went on to score three runs that inning.

*Justin Verlander was pitching on the corners and getting calls from home plate umpire Larry Vanover. If a pitcher gets those borderline pitches he has no reason to come into the heart of the zone.

*Of course you have to be able to hit the corners to get the calls and too many Kansas City pitches were in the middle of the plate.

*The Tigers were working the umpires early on; lots of complaining about the zone.

*Down 10-0 Jarrod Dyson stole a base and, later, Johnny Giavotella tagged up and took an extra base. Neither move seemed to please Justin Verlander. Don’t be surprised if there’s some kind of retaliation at some point. And that aggressive base running put a run on Verlander’s record.

Where things stand

Considering the suspended game the Royals have to finish—they’re down by two runs in the bottom of the tenth—the Royals are probably two games out. To control their own destiny the Royals need to win on Saturday and Sunday. If they don’t, they’ll have to depend on other teams—the White Sox and Twins—to beat the Tigers, while the Royals will need to take care of business against the Indians and White Sox.