Judging the Royals

The Royals’ formula for success: Give the ball to Herrera, Davis and Holland

Royals closer Greg Holland (56) and catcher Salvador Perez celebrated closing out the ninth inning for a 5-2 win over the Detroit Tigers last month.
Royals closer Greg Holland (56) and catcher Salvador Perez celebrated closing out the ninth inning for a 5-2 win over the Detroit Tigers last month. The Kansas City Star

It’s pretty simple: Get a lead and give the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. As you watch the rest of the season, pay attention to what happens in the sixth inning. That might be when the ballgame is decided.

If the Royals get in a slugfest, their chances of winning aren’t good. They don’t have the offense to rack up enough runs. The Royals are 17-38 when their opponent gets 10 or more hits. If they can pitch and defend well, keep the score low and go to the seventh inning with a lead, the Royals’ odds are much better. They are now 61-5 when they have a lead after six innings.

Sunday afternoon, the Royals’ formula success worked once again, and they beat the Detroit Tigers 5-2.

Game notes

▪ In the first inning, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera hit a ball to left field, and Alex Gordon caught it on the warning track. It’s worth noting that in a lot of other ballparks, it would have been a home run.

▪ That meant the Tigers would have scored first, and when a Royals opponent does that, Kansas City is 26-50. When the Royals score first, they are 58-20. After the game, manager Ned Yost said scoring first was a big deal, but he would not have played for one run to make it happen. When we see guys bunt in the first inning, a lot of times they are doing it on their own. On the other hand, if the Royals don’t want them to do that, they could tell them to stop.

▪ Gordon made a diving, sliding catch of a fly ball and crashed into the wall in foul territory. Gordon’s willingness to sacrifice his body is one of the reasons why old-school ballplayers love him.

▪ Yost said starter Jeremy Guthrie did a good job of keeping pitches down in the strike zone to a team that hunts for pitches up. Pay attention to which hitters get pitches up in the zone and which hitters chase down. You will have a pretty good idea of why some hitters are successful and some hitters scuffle.

▪ With runners at first and third, the Tigers’ Andrew Romine hit a fly ball to left field, but it was too shallow to score the runner. Gordon was charging forward. Alex made the catch, threw the ball to home plate, and Mike Moustakas cut it off. Mike’s job was to freeze the runner on first base and keep him from advancing. Moose looked in that direction too soon, the ball went off his glove and the runner on third scored on an E-5.

▪ In the next half-inning, Omar Infante walked, Moustakas singled and Alcides Escobar tried to bunt both runners into scoring position. Escobar popped the ball up to the pitcher, and that might have helped the Royals.

Had Escobar gotten the bunt down, first base would have been open, and the Tigers would have been free to work around the Royals hottest hitter, Nori Aoki. Because first base wasn’t open, the Tigers pitched to Aoki, and he tripled, scoring two runs.

▪ Herrera came in the game in the sixth inning and blew high-90s heat past pinch hitter Tyler Collins. Kelvin did not make the mistake of throwing something off-speed to an overmatched hitter, which is something he has done in the past.

▪ In the seventh inning, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus allowed lefty Phil Coke to face a “sandwich hitter” and paid the price. Coke had left-handed Eric Hosmer, right-handed Billy Butler and another lefty, Gordon, due up. Billy, the righty, was the sandwich guy. A manager can use three pitchers to get through an inning like that and look like a genius, but he’s chewing up his bullpen while he does it.

Coke got Hosmer out, but Billy singled. Terrance Gore pinch-ran, stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball. Having Gore on third base may have taken the slider away from Coke. The last one he threw wound up in the dirt, so Gordon got a fastball and doubled.

▪ In the bottom of seventh, the shadows started creeping closer to the pitcher’s mound and hitting got much tougher. Watch for that in playoff baseball. Weird start times mean bad lighting conditions.

Dyson gets deked

Here’s the tweet I sent out when Jarrod Dyson doubled over Torii Hunter’s head in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game: “Dyson just went over Hunter's head for a double. Hunter held his glove up for a deke, but there were no runners to deke.”

Now I think I was wrong. There was a runner to deke, and the runner was Jarrod Dyson. Jarrod slowed as he approached first base. It appeared that he thought Hunter was going to make the catch and slowed down. But there’s no reason to slow down there. Had Dyson kept going full speed, he might — might — have made it to third base.

Why Dyson didn’t steal in the ninth

If you were one of the people yelling at their TVs on Saturday night, thinking Dyson should have stolen second base in the ninth inning, there was a good reason he didn’t. Detroit closer Joe Nathan was getting the ball to home plate in 1.0 seconds. The average time is about 1.4 seconds, and Dyson can steal on guys who do it in 1.3, maybe 1.2. It is not going to work at 1.0.

Twitter can be distracting

In Saturday night’s game, Detroit relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain replaced starter Max Scherzer in the bottom of the eighth inning. When a pitcher comes into a game, he gets eight warm-up pitches. Watching them can be instructive. Is the pitcher throwing strikes? Did he throw any breaking pitches? If so, did he throw those for strikes?

Opposing hitters watch the warmup because this information is valuable. If the pitcher was all over the place in warm-ups, it would be smart to take a pitch and see whether the pitcher falls behind in the count. If the relief pitcher could not throw his slider for a strike as he warmed up, the hitter is likely to get a fastball when the pitcher needs to throw something in the zone.

But after Chamberlain signaled that he had thrown his last warmup pitch (the pitcher will point his glove over his shoulder back toward second base), I realized I hadn’t seen a single throw. I was busy tweeting. The first piece of advice I got when starting this job came from Tim Bogar, who is now the manager of the Texas Rangers: “Watch the game.”

Players, managers and coaches get tired of media members who ask bad questions because they didn’t watch the game very closely. It is why we ask about momentum and pressure. We can’t ask why a hitter swung at the first pitch from a pitcher who threw three balls to the backstop in warmups. We weren’t watching.

Social media is here to stay. Either get on the bandwagon, or be left behind. Well, I’m on the bandwagon, but I also am trying to pay attention to what happens on the field.

On Saturday night, someone on Twitter wanted to know if I thought Max Scherzer was balking. (He wasn’t. Scherzer was doing an “inside move,” which is totally legal.) But if I stop to respond to that question, I won’t be watching the game. If I don’t watch the game, I’ll be reduced to making snarky comments, lame jokes and bad puns because I have no idea what actually is happening on the field.

Watching the game is the most important thing I do. Twitter has to take a back seat.

Suspended game tomorrow

Remember, the Royals have a suspended game with the Cleveland Indians to finish tomorrow. When the Aug. 31 game in Kansas City was suspended because of heavy rain, the Royals trailed the Indians 4-2 in the bottom of the 10th inning.