Judging the Royals

How the Royals are beating themselves

Kansas City Royals right fielder Alex Rios had trouble with this ball hit during Friday’s game against the Cardinals.
Kansas City Royals right fielder Alex Rios had trouble with this ball hit during Friday’s game against the Cardinals. The Associated Press

Sometimes teams beat you and sometimes you beat yourself. Since the Royals have arrived in St. Louis they’ve made some fundamental mistakes and the Cardinals have been taking advantage.

Two-strike hits

When a pitcher has a hitter 0-2 or 1-2, there’s no need to throw that hitter anything hittable; the pitcher can afford to throw chase pitches—pitches that start in the zone and then move out—and the hitter can’t afford to take any pitch that even looks close.

In this situation you’ll see some pitchers bounce a curve or throw a slider that winds up in the other batter’s box. But on Saturday afternoon Cardinal hitters got pitches to hit even though they were down in the count.

First inning: Kolten Wong had an 0-2 single; it wasn’t much of a hit, by why throw anything that can be put in play 0-2?

Third inning: Kolten Wong tripled 1-2, Mark Reynolds singled 1-2 and Yadier Molina singled 0-2.

Fourth inning: Tyler Lyons—a pitcher—singled on a 1-2 pitch.

Fifth inning: Jason Heyward singled 0-2.

These are all counts in which Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie did not have to throw a strike and yet Cardinal hitters got pitches to hit. Royals hitters have shown they’ll chase two-strike pitches; Royals pitchers ought to give Cardinal hitters the same chance.

Letting the Cardinals pull the ball for extra bases

The Cardinals do not have a lot of pop; they’re near the bottom of the major leagues when it comes to home runs—right there with the Royals. So when a team does not have a lot of power their best chance for extra-base hits comes when they pull the ball. That being the case you might want to pitch them away and make them beat you with singles to the opposite field.

In the first two games of this series the Cardinals have five extra-base hits and only one was hit to the opposite field—a triple by Randal Grichuk that should have been caught, but fell between Lorenzo Cain and Alex Rios.

Whether it’s coming down-and-in to John Jay—a hot zone for most lefties—or hanging a 76-MPH breaking pitch to Mark Reynolds, Royals pitchers have let Cardinal hitters pull too many pitches for extra-base hits.

On Friday night an opposite field single off the bat of pitcher Jaime Garcia did hurt the Royals, but when a pitcher’s at the plate the normal rules don’t apply. That’s a guy you want to pitch inside if you’re throwing a fastball, he probably doesn’t have the bat speed to do anything but jam himself. But with a runner in scoring position you might want to throw a pitcher a breaking pitch; apparently they get geeked out about driving in a run and will swing at almost anything.

And it didn’t help that Yordano Ventura and Salvador Perez threw Garcia a first-pitch fastball. They’d thrown the same pitch to eight batters in a row so Garcia probably had a pretty good idea of what was coming.

Put some of it on Salvador Perez

After writing about the pitches Yordano Ventura threw on Friday, a reader wanted to know if catcher Salvador Perez has some responsibility and the answer is yes. Perez puts down the signs and if a pitcher shakes him off, Perez can put the same sign down again. If the pitcher still shakes him off Perez can go to the mound and argue.

One criticism of Salvador Perez is that he sometimes lets pitchers call their own games; if they shake him off he just throws down a different sign. That might be a good idea with veteran guys who know what they want to do; say Edinson Volquez, Wade Davis or Greg Holland. Other pitchers might need more guidance.

But if a catcher is going to insist on his pitch and his pitch gets whacked, it’s on him. Let the pitchers throw what they want and it’s on them. It might make life easier on a catcher, but it’s not good game calling.

Defensive mistakes

Jaime Garcia hit that opposite field single with two outs and third baseman Mike Moustakas was playing too far in to knock the ball down as it went past. There wasn’t much chance Garcia was going to try to bunt for a two-out hit, so Mike could have played further back. Apparently Moustakas and infield coach Mike Jirschele were kicking themselves about that the next day.

Alex Rios had an error Saturday and should have had one on Friday night; miscommunication between Rios and Lorenzo Cain led to a ball falling for a triple. In the same game Omar Infante chose to lob the ball to home plate on a play that wasn’t close and that decision turned into a run when John Jay took an extra base; he was settling for a double, but Omar’s decision made it a triple.

On Saturday Christian Colon tried to turn a double play and hit the Cardinals dugout instead of the first baseman, Kendrys Morales. Christian tagged an advancing runner and then made an awkward, rushed throw that sailed high and the runner wound up in scoring position.

Royals pitchers do not have to be fabulous, they’ve got Gold Glove defenders all over the field. But the pitchers do need to pitch smart, throw strikes—when it’s called for—and the defenders need to make all the routine plays and a few spectacular ones besides.

But in the last two games Royals pitchers are making mistakes and Royals defenders are making errors.

Pitch selection and Royals hitters

If you’re a Royals fan you’re probably aware that your team hacks; they don’t walk much and they don’t strike out much because they don’t spend enough time at the plate to do either one.

When you don’t hit a lot of home runs you need several good things to happen in one inning if you’re going to score. If one guy breaks the link in the chain of good things, a run might not cross the plate.

In the sixth inning of Saturday’s game one good thing happened: the Cardinals made an error and Alex Rios wound up on second base with nobody out. The second good thing happened when Kendrys Morales hit the ball to the right side of the field and Rios moved to third. With one down and a runner on third the Royals needed a third good thing: Salvador Perez needed to hit a fly ball to the outfield to allow Rios to tag and score.

Sal took strike one—a pitch he couldn’t do much with—and as we’ve seen before, once some hitters get strike one on them they won’t take a second called strike; they’re uncomfortable hitting in a two-strike count. Sal hacked at the second pitch he saw—a fastball in on the hands he had just about zero chance of lifting for a fly ball—and hit a soft grounder to third. Rios couldn’t score on that grounder and with two down and first base open the Cards intentionally walked Alex Gordon and went after Christian Colon; Colon struck out.

Because Salvador Perez broke the link in the chain of good things, the Royals did not score the tying run.

But Salvador Perez did hit a home run

In the fourth inning Salvador Perez hit a home run. So if Salvador Perez has enough pop to hit a home run in the fourth, why settle for a fly ball in the sixth?

That’s the kind of question asked by people who have never played the game. It’s a question that assumes every at bat is equal and all situations are the same—but that ain’t the way it is.

In the fourth inning Salvador Perez was in a 3-1 count, was the leadoff batter and had a pretty good idea of what pitch he was going to see: 3-0 he got a fastball and 3-1 he got the same pitch. Go ahead and turn on the fan in that situation.

In the sixth inning Salvador Perez was 0-1 and should have known he probably wasn’t going to get a pitch to hit. In fact, the pitch he swung at might not have even been a strike. To be a complete hitter means understanding situations: when to go for it and when to take a single the other way or a sac fly that ties the game.

And there’s nothing in the rule book that says when a hitter tries to hit a fly ball, the ball can’t leave the yard. Hitters who make productive outs aren’t trying to make outs; they hope that groundball to the right side sneaks through for a single or that fly ball to the outfield plugs a gap. But professional hitters know that if they put a certain type of ball in play, even if they do make an out, something good will happen.

And some luck wouldn’t hurt either

Even with their mistakes the Royals are not getting blown out. On Saturday they lost by one run and if it hadn’t been for a lucky play by the Cardinals, the game would have at least been tied.

Late in the game with a runner on first base, a line drive was hit to Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward. By then the sun was setting and it was clear Heyward was looking directly into it. Some fly balls go into the sun and then either rise above it or drop below it; this line drive appeared to stay right there.

Heyward hung with it as long as he could, but then chose to protect himself and turned out of the way; he gave up on the play. But as he turned to his left he threw his glove up and guess what the ball hit?

Cardinal fans gave a loud, sustained round of applause to a guy who was getting out of the way of a ball. Heyward just got lucky when it went into his glove. If Heyward had missed his no-look catch the ball would have went to the wall and the game would have at least been tied.

Do not get swept

When you play a good team in their park, the odds tend to favor them; they know the park’s idiosyncrasies and they’re probably not staying out at night. Nevertheless, you don’t want to get swept; win at least one game.

Then go beat up on Milwaukee.

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