Judging the Royals

Why is Mike Moustakas in the lineup?

That’s a question I was asked earlier this year. My answer was that Mike Moustakas was in the lineup for the same reason every other Royals was in the lineup: they didn’t have anyone better.

But that answer leaves a few things out.

Despite some late-season glitches Mike Moustakas plays defense well enough be included in the Gold Glove conversation. And, on a team that doesn’t have much power, Moose has got some pop. Thursday night that pop resulted in an extra-inning, game-winning home run.

In the eleventh inning Mike got a 1-1 changeup down in the zone and lifted it into the right-field seats. The Royals took the lead, Greg Holland came in and did what Greg Holland does and the Royals beat the Angels, 3-2.

Jason Vargas was the right pick

There were questions about giving Jason Vargas the start against the Angels, but Ned Yost answered by saying Vargas was a veteran. Basically, that means the Royals didn’t think Vargas would be freaked out by the situation, overthrow and leave pitches up in the zone and hittable—and most of the time he didn’t.

Jason Vargas needs to pitch inside; guys like him make a living on the outside corner and they need to throw inside to keep hitters from leaning out over the plate and whacking those outside pitches.

To pitch inside with a fastball in the high 80’s requires pinpoint control; miss out over the plate and that high-80’s fastball will get smoked and that’s what happened when David Freese homered in the fifth. Vargas had been getting those fastballs in, but missed with one and Freese hit it out of the park. The other home run was a changeup that stayed up in the zone and Chris Iannetta didn’t miss it.

One of the keys to the Royals winning ballgames is their starting pitcher throwing six innings; that gets the ball to the best relievers in their bullpen—Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

The Royals bullpen

That plan went up in smoke when Kelvin Herrera faced one batter, walked him and left the game with forearm discomfort. That brought Brandon Finnegan in the game and he came through again. Finnegan was followed by Wade Davis, Tim Collins, Jason Frasor, Danny Duffy and Greg Holland.

The Royals bullpen supplied five innings of shutout baseball and continues to be one of the team’s strengths. If the Royals can get the ball to their best relievers with a lead, their odds of winning are excellent.

The best defense in baseball

The other half of good pitching is having someone that can go catch the ball and the Royals made at least five outstanding defensive plays that robbed the Angels of hits and possible runs.

Lorenzo Cain had two, Nori Aoki had a couple more and Eric Hosmer made a nice play at first base. You can hit the ball on the nose and still make an out, but good pitching and defense will show up consistently.

Game notes

*If the Royals can take one out of two in LA, they’ll probably be happy, but they put themselves in a position to do better than that.

*On Tuesday night Ned Yost was criticized for pulling James Shields too early, Thursday night he was taking heat for leaving Jason Vargas too long. But Vargas gave up a total of three hits through six innings—two of them left the yard, but Vargas was pitching well.

*Jered Weaver threw a 3-1 curve to Eric Hosmer and 2-1 curve to Alex Gordon; it’s what the good pitchers do—they don’t necessarily have to throw fastballs in fastball counts.

*Good pitchers also have good command and Weaver threw seven pitches to Gordon, but nothing in the heart of zone.

*Eric Hosmer hustled down to second and broke up a double play—but it still wasn’t enough to make Billy Butler safe at first base.

*Alcides Escobar doubled and Mike Moustakas scored from first base. Jered Weaver spent a lot of time worrying about Moose stealing—he threw over multiple times—but Mike had one stolen base during the regular season. Worrying about the runner may have contributed to throwing a hittable pitch to Escobar.

*Moving runners in low-scoring games is how baseball is played, so when Alex Gordon doubled to lead off an inning, it was important for Salvador Perez—who has not been swinging the bat well—to make sure Alex moved over to third base at the very least.

Sal hit the ball to the warning track in left and while it was an unorthodox way to get it done, Gordon was able to tag up and get to third base. Omar Infante followed that up with a sacrifice fly and Gordon scored.

If Perez doesn’t move Gordon, the run doesn’t score and the Royals lose the game in nine innings.