Here is what went right and wrong for the Kansas City Royals in the month of June.
First off, the negatives:
1. The starting pitchers have scuffled
Look at the Royals rotation, and of the five original starters, four have an ERA over 4.00, two have an ERA over 5.00 and three have been hurt for an appreciable period of time. And the guys who are still in the rotation have scuffled in small ballparks.
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The Royals got swept in New York and Houston, two parks with short porches. Pitchers can give up long fly balls in Kauffman Stadium and count on the Royals outfielders to run them down. Do the same thing in Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid Park and the formula doesn’t work.
If you’re a Royals fan and your team makes the playoffs, you better hope they don’t face a team that plays in a small park, or hope Royals starting pitchers do a better job of getting balls hit on the ground.
2. The hitters hack
The Royals don’t walk much: get used to it, they’re not going to. The Royals play in a big ballpark and that makes it hard to hit home runs. And if pitchers don’t worry about you hitting home runs, they tend to be more aggressive about throwing strikes.
And the Royals don’t always wait to get a strike to swing the bat.
Get strike one on a Royals hitter and he’ll probably chase a pitcher’s pitch to avoid strike two. The Royals get a lot of credit for being hard to strike out, but that’s because they’re usually not at the plate long enough to strikeout or walk. And hacking early in the count means opposition starting pitchers go deeper in the game.
3. They can make mental mistakes
All teams do, but some teams have less margin for error. With the Royals’ starting pitching the defense needs to be airtight, but on occasion the Royals have thrown to the wrong base, failed to cover a base, overthrown cutoff men, missed signs or showed a lack of focus.
Kendrys Morales has forgotten the number of outs on more than one occasion, and in a big-league ballpark, there are plenty of opportunities to find out. And if you don’t know the number of outs, you probably don’t know the count, either.
This is not a huge issue for the Royals, but it’s the kind of thing you need to clean up so it doesn’t bite you in the backside at the wrong moment.
And now the positives:
1. They bought pitching insurance
The Royals have a total of five wins from their Nos. 1 and 2 starters combined, but are still in first place. Give general manager Dayton Moore some credit for signing Chris Young and Joe Blanton.
Those signings did not generate much excitement back when the deals were done, but those signings turned out to be pitching insurance when Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas went down.
2. They play good defense — most of the time.
Sure, like all teams grinding through a long season, the Royals can make a mental mistake. But as I write this, the Royals have the third-fewest errors in baseball and, when they’re playing well, put up a highlight reel of defensive gems night after night.
The Royals have Gold Glove candidates all over the field, and good defense means pitchers throwing more strikes; they trust the guys behind them to go get the ball.
3. They play six-inning games
The Royals’ middle-of-the-road starting pitching is balanced by the Royals’ lights-out bullpen. Normally starting pitching is the big deal, but in some ways the Royals have built a pitching staff from back-to-front.
Make sure the back end of the bullpen is dominant and you need less from your starters. If a Royals starting pitcher can get through six innings and somehow hands the relievers a lead, it’s pretty much game over.
The Royals are 37-2 when they have a lead after six innings, 34-0 when they lead after seven and 40-0 with a lead after eight. If the Royals’ offense and the Royals’ starting pitchers give a lead to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland a lead, it’s almost a sure thing.