Judging the Royals

A four-game losing streak: is it Royals hitting or good pitching?

Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson.
Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The Royals are now on a four-game losing streak and after Thursday night’s 2-0 loss to the Twins, Ned Yost was asked for his thoughts on his team’s offense. Ned said he was thinking more about the other team’s pitcher, Kyle Gibson. Ned Yost thought he was outstanding.

When you get beat you have to ask if the other team beat you or you beat yourself. Ned Yost clearly thought the other team beat his; the Royals hitters didn’t do anything wrong — on Thursday night Kyle Gibson was just too good.

That’s been happening a lot lately.

Here are the starting pitchers the Royals faced during this four-game streak: Lance McCullers 2.19 ERA, Dallas Kuechel 2.03 ERA, Vincent Velasquez 4.21 ERA and Kyle Gibson 3.04 ERA. If you look at that list and think: “OK, I get losing to McCullers, Kuechel and Gibson, but Velasquez should have been beatable” you’d have a point — and that was the game the Royals came close to winning. In the other three games, the Royals scored one run, in the Velasquez game the Royals scored five.

It’s fine to tip your cap to the other guy and baseball fans should do it more often; your team doesn’t always lose because it stinks, sometimes your team loses because it played well and the other team played better.

But tip your cap too often and you find yourself out of first place.

On Friday, the Royals face lefty Tommy Milone, a pitcher with an ERA of 3.19. The Royals need to find a way to make Milone tip his cap to them.

What do you do when a pitcher is dealing?

In the clubhouse after the game the Royals were giving a lot of credit to Gibson; apparently he had a lot of movement on his fastball and it was going places the Royals hitters didn’t anticipate when they started their swings: you think you’re getting a fastball away, but it runs in on your hands and you get jammed.

OK, so Gibson was terrific for eight innings: was there any way to run his pitch count up and get him out of the game early?

After the game, I asked Ned Yost that question and Ned thought the Royals had run Gibson’s pitch count up by taking some pitches and working four walks. Fair enough — but Gibson used 114 pitches to throw eight innings; Chris Young used 90 pitches in 5 1/3. When you have a pitcher who’s dealing, do you worry less about hitting him and more about getting his pitch count up?

There is no simple answer or everyone would be doing it.

Remember, the pitcher is dealing. So if you stand there and take pitches, you’re going to find yourself in an 0-2 or 1-2 count pretty quickly. After the game I asked Eric Hosmer about this and he said Gibson was pounding the zone. Stand there and watch pitches go by and you might take the one mistake Gibson made. And in a one-run game successfully jumping on a mistake pitch could turn that game around.

Ned had a point

More than once I’ve written about the Royals’ propensity for swinging the bat aggressively after they get one strike on them. They recently had a game in which only one batter was willing to take a called strike two. (Guess who: Alex Gordon).

But go through Thursday night’s box score and you’ll discover that the Royals took nine called strike twos. (Unless I counted wrong, then it could be eight or 10). And for the Kansas City Royals, nine called strike twos is a lot. The Royals also had nine plate appearances in which they saw five or more pitches. So if I’m going to point out the Royals being overly aggressive at the plate, I should be fair and point out when they show some patience.

It just didn’t do them much good against Kyle Gibson.

Game notes

▪ Before the game, outfield coach Rusty Kuntz pointed out that the air was “heavy”— kind of a weird, cool, but humid evening. And when the air’s like that the ball won’t carry. Pretty early in the day to say for sure, but conditions might be similar for Friday night’s game.

▪ In the second inning the Twins’ Miguel Sano started things off by making an out on two pitches. The next batter — catcher Kurt Suzuki — slowed things down by taking his time getting in the box, stepping out to adjust his batting gloves and helmet, checking his bat, taking pitches; anything that would give his pitcher more time to rest. It’s a simple F8 in the scorebook, but a very smart plate appearance in reality.

▪ If you wondered why pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson did not steal third base in the eighth inning, just be grateful he somehow stole second. When a pitcher delivers the ball to home plate in 1.2 seconds that’s considered a very fast delivery and most runners will stay put. According to Rusty Kuntz’s stopwatch, Gibson was doing it in less than one-second flat.

▪ Torii Hunter will turn 40 this month and when guys get to be that age they often develop a slider-speed bat. It doesn’t mean they can’t hit a good fastball anymore, but it does mean they have to guess fastball to do it. Kelvin Herrera threw Hunter a 97-mph fastball and Hunter didn’t catch up to it, but he did foul it off. Next Hunter saw something more his speed — and 81-mph curve — and lined it up the middle. Pay attention over this series and see how Hunter reacts to good fastballs and whether the Royals pitchers give him off-speed stuff that’s hittable.

▪ The Twins shifted and at times the Royals bunted against those shifts. Mike Moustakas broke up a hitless streak by laying one down to the left side. Keep an eye on those left-handed shifts and how Royals hitters attack them.

Okey-dokey; that’s enough for one day. If you’re enjoying a day off today, watch a baseball game — it’s the American thing to do.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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