Judging the Royals

What the Royals need to do to win in the playoffs

OK, we’re talking about the future and things don’t always go as planned, but if the Royals are going to win in the playoffs, here’s what probably needs to happen.

The starting pitcher needs to throw six innings, although seven or more would be better. Throwing a minimum of six innings gets the ball to the best relievers in the Kansas City bullpen: Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. If the starting pitchers throws less than six innings manager Ned Yost will be forced to use one of those three guys for more than one inning or bring in a middle reliever –and if you get into middle relief, your odds of winning go down.

For the starting pitcher to throw six innings he has to throw strikes and get ahead in the count. If you see a lot of 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1 counts the pitcher will be in trouble. In order to throw a strike he might have to throw a fastball when the opposing hitters expect one and bad things might happen.

It will help if the starting pitcher can throw off-speed pitches for strikes; then, if the hitters do get in those desirable hitter’s counts, they won’t be able to count on getting a fastball.

And when the pitchers throw strikes it’s best if they throw low strikes. Strikes low in the zone produce ground balls and ground balls tend to be singles at best. Generally, the only way a grounder turns into an extra-base hit is if it’s hit right down one of the foul lines.

If the pitchers don’t throw strikes—if they walk people—the damage done by opposition hits will be magnified.

The defense needs to make all the routine plays and not give the other team four outs in an inning. The Royals are capable of outstanding defensive plays and everybody appreciates those, but making all the routine plays is actually more important. There aren’t that many outstanding plays in a game; routine plays are the bread and butter of any defense.

The offense needs to string together good at bats. Kansas City’s hitters cannot start chasing borderline pitches before they have two strikes. If they start chasing pitches with one strike, the offense will probably scuffle—especially if they start chasing bad pitches with runners in scoring position.

The Royals do not hit a lot of home runs so they usually have to put together three good at bats in an inning; get a runner on, move him into scoring position and then drive him in. If anyone of those three things fails to happen, they might have a tough time scoring runs.

And if the Royals hitters can give their pitchers a lead of more than one run, those pitchers can be aggressive and throw strikes knowing the man at the plate can’t hurt them; if he hits the ball 500 feet, they’ll still have a lead.

Things may not play out as we think they might, but the above scenario probably gives the Royals the best chance of winning in the playoffs.

Game notes

*The Royals started the day playing a game 162 that actually mattered—for about four innings.

*At his age Paul Konerko probably has a "slider speed" bat; which means he can’t catch up to the good fastball anymore without starting his swing early. Starting his swing early means Konerko would be vulnerable to off-speed stuff and that’s just what it looked like: Konerko was out in front on breaking pitches and struck out twice.

*After Alcides Escobar led off with a double, Nori Aoki tried to bunt him over to third, but popped up the bunt. Last time this came up we found out Aoki had been bunting on his own: he needed to move the runner over and it was his choice as to how he did it. But if Ned Yost didn’t want him to do that, he could tell him not to.

*Failure to move Escobar over cost the Royals a run.

*In the second inning Billy Butler hit a leadoff double, then Alex Gordon hit a double of his own. With nobody out a runner on second base is supposed to go back and tag on a deep fly ball—at the worst you should wind up with a runner on third and one down.

Gordon’s fly ball went off the top of the wall and Billy only made it to third, but he wasn’t wrong to go back and tag. He might have gotten a better read when the White Sox right fielder turned his back and started running, but going back to tag was the right move.

*After Josh Phegley hit a double to drive in a run, the Royals failed to cover second base and lost a chance at an out when Phegley rounded second base too aggressively. Mike Moustakas tried to trap him between bases but had no one to throw to.

It appeared Omar Infante came over to the third base line to act as a relay man, but Alex Gordon didn’t need one. First baseman Eric Hosmer was also wandering around home plate; on some plays the first baseman trails the runner to second base, but between Omar and Eric, neither one got the bag covered. And failing to get an out on Phegley wound up costing the Royals a run later in the inning.

Right about here the Tigers won their game and the division. Ned Yost made wholesale changes and both teams were going through the motions—to a degree. The guys who got playing time still cared; it was a chance to play in front of the big league staff and make an impression.

You’re always playing to make next year’s team.

The Royals subs came through, Kansas City beat Chicago 6-4 and won their 89th game of the year.