Judging the Royals

The most important thing in baseball: Getting hot at the right time

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura reacted after a score in the fifth inning at Saturday's ALCS playoff baseball game on October 11, 2014 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura reacted after a score in the fifth inning at Saturday's ALCS playoff baseball game on October 11, 2014 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md. The Kansas City Star

Ask people who were there at the time and don’t be surprised if they tell you the Royals were not the best team in baseball in 1985; they were a very good team that got hot at the right time. If you want to win a World Series you just have to be good enough to get to the playoffs and then get hot.

The 2014 Royals are hot.

There are no awards for having the most wins during the 162-game season. If you get beat in the playoffs, you’re still going home. If you barely squeak into the playoffs, but win once you get there; you still get a trophy.

The Royals—a team that won fewer games than the Angels and Orioles—took Game Two of the ALCS and come home needing two more wins in the next five games; that will make them champs of the American League and put them in the World Series. Saturday afternoon the very hot Kansas City Royals beat the 96-win Baltimore Orioles 6-4.

Game notes

*The Orioles catcher was using multiple signs with no runners on base. The main reason you do this is a suspicion that someone is stealing signs—it’s either that or paranoia.

*Once again Nori Aoki got a hit because the third baseman was playing in. If guys lay down bunts, third basemen play in and then the hitter can slash a groundball past the drawn-in infielder. Past bunts can get you current hits.

*In the first inning Eric Hosmer hit a flare single with two runners in scoring position; Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain. The TBS crew praised Lorenzo’s great read on the play, but when the ball fell Cain was almost all the way to third base—that’s where he slowed down to see if the catch would be made. Cain was probably too far off to get back to second had the ball been caught—and he slowed down because he wasn’t sure of what was going to happen.

Too often we tend to wait for the results and then decide if a play was good or bad. It’s entirely possible to make a bad decision and have it work out. And you can also make good decisions that backfire.

*In the second inning Mike Moustakas came to the plate with two out, nobody on. There are a couple schools of thought for a hitter in that position: A.) Get on somehow some way and hope for a couple more hits to get you around the bases or B.) Try to hit the hell out of the ball, take an extra base and get yourself into scoring position—that way you’re only one hit away from scoring.

Moose popped up to second base.

*Lorenzo Cain went 4-5 and had yet another infield hit. Guys who can run get them; guys who can’t have to get clean hits. Guys who can’t run are said to have "hard" averages. Guys who can run have averages that are a little softer.

*Yordano Ventura was struggling with his command, fell behind 2-0 to Adam Jones and threw a fastball in the middle of the plate—Jones hit a two-run homer. The Orioles power means they're rarely out of a game; they can come back quickly. The Royals are up 2-0 in the series, but don’t count Baltimore out.

Especially if they get fastballs in fastball counts.

*Speaking of getting hot at the right time: Mike Moustakas homered again. The Royals are playing well in front of a national audience. Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz once said the way you win a Gold Glove is to make at least one great play against every team—that’s how you make an impression. And Lorenzo Cain’s sixth-inning catch in right center made quite an impression. Don’t be surprised if Cain is part of the Gold Glove discussion in the near future.

*When pitchers are throwing well or hitters just want to break their rhythm, watch for a lot of batting glove adjusting or stepping out of the batter’s box. It may be irritating to fans, but it’s also a tactic to get pitchers off their game.

*On the first pitch to Eric Hosmer in fifth inning, Lorenzo Cain faked a steal. The Orioles catcher—Caleb Joseph—moved into throwing position as he caught the pitch. His move to the side made the pitch look bad; it was in the zone, but Joseph caught it off to the side and it was called a ball. That’s one more way a fast runner can help a hitter.

*The Orioles tied the game up when they went through the order for the third time. It’s not an absolute, but hitters often have better at bats against starting pitchers the third time they see them—they’ve got a better idea of what the pitcher has that day.

*Friday night Alex Gordon was the hero, Saturday afternoon Gordon struck out four times. That’s why smart ballplayers try not to get too high or too low; you gotta play again the next day and anything can happen.

*Gordon’s reputation as an outfielder did save a run; in the seventh inning the Orioles declined to challenge Gordon’s arm with a runner on second and a single to left—and the run never made it home.

*Salvador Perez has been chasing sliders off the plate away, so the Orioles catcher was setting up in the other's batter's box.

Watch for this to continue in the next two games.

*The Orioles are also doing some funky thing with their first baseman when there’s a runner on first. Baltimore is positioning the first baseman off the bag in front of the runner and then having the first baseman retreat to the bag.

Jarrod Dyson was reacting to the first baseman’s movement—retreating to first when the first baseman made the move back to the bag—but Terrance Gore paid no attention to the first baseman; he was locked in on the pitcher.

Gore’s approach seems to make more sense. The first baseman is usually right on the bag; the pitcher is the one with the ball—but I’ll ask around and see how the Royals intend to approach this situation in Game Three.

The Dunce and the Chessmaster

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece entitled "Ned Yost and Buck Showalter: The Dunce and the Chessmaster" which basically said Buck was a genius and Ned was something less.

The Dunce is now up 2-0.

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