Judging the Royals

This was the Royals kind of game: speed, pitching and defense

Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar tagged out San Francisco Giants Hunter Pence who tried to steal second base during the second inning of game three of the World Series on Friday, October 24, 2014 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif.
Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar tagged out San Francisco Giants Hunter Pence who tried to steal second base during the second inning of game three of the World Series on Friday, October 24, 2014 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. The Kansas City Star

This was just the kind of ballgame the Royals needed; a low-scoring affair where speed, pitching and defense would make the difference. The Royals offense manufactured a run in the first inning and took a lead they’d never give up, the pitching held the Giants to two runs and the defense was making plays all over the field.

Friday night in Game Three the Kansas City Royals beat the San Francisco Giants 3-2 and took a 2-1 lead in the World Series.

The Royals defense

Ned Yost started Jarrod Dyson in centerfield and moved Lorenzo Cain over to right. Nori Aoki hasn’t been hitting and if Nori isn’t going to hit, the Royals might as well get better defense from Jarrod. The move paid off right away; Lorenzo made a couple diving catches that robbed the Giants of two hits and possibly one run.

And the Royals defense didn’t end there.

Salvador Perez threw out Hunter Pence when he tried to steal a base. Perez also made an outstanding play on a Gregor Blanco bunt. Omar Infante made a play going across the middle and also snagged a line drive that was screaming its way to the outfield. Eric Hosmer made an acrobatic catch to keep an Alcides Escobar desperation throw from getting past first base. Even pitcher Greg Holland got in on the act; he managed to catch a ball—or maybe the ball caught him—that was on its way to centerfield.

The Royals offense has been criticized for not hitting enough home runs or walking enough, but if your pitching and defense is good enough and keeps the score low enough, you don’t need that many runs to win—Friday night three of them did the trick.

Escobar’s first-pitch ambush

Leadoff hitters generally take the first pitch of a game; they want to see as many pitches as possible and give their teammates a good look at a pitcher’s stuff. Pitchers know that leadoff hitters usually take the first pitch of the game so they often groove a fastball right down middle of the plate to get ahead in the count.

But every once in a while a leadoff hitter "ambushes" a pitcher and swings at that first pitch.

That’s what Alcides Escobar did and it worked; he hit a double to left field and after that the Royals manufactured a run with two productive outs. Alex Gordon hit a grounder to the right side to move Escobar to third and Lorenzo Cain hit a groundball up the middle to score the game’s first run.

Bochy gambles and loses

With a runner on third and less than two outs, managers have to decide whether to bring their infield in to cut down a runner trying to score. If a manager brings his infield in early it means he thinks the game will be low-scoring and one run will matter.

If a manager leaves his infield back he’s trying to stay out of a big inning—bringing the infield in gives them less range—and the manager’s betting that one run won’t beat him. Bochy gambled that Escobar’s run wouldn’t beat the Giants and lost that bet.

Guthrie gets the win

Jeremy Guthrie only pitched five innings, but did just enough to get the win. For the most part Guthrie stayed out of fastball counts and then threw off-speed pitches when he got in one.

A good example was Gregor Blanco’s fly ball to centerfield on a 3-1 changeup. The speed of the pitch had Blanco out in front and he hit a lazy fly ball to Jarrod Dyson. When other hitters see a pitcher throw off-speed in fastball counts, that gives them second thoughts about what they might see in a similar situation.

Demonstrate that you’re not afraid to throw something other than heat in those 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1 counts and hitters might not be so eager to gear up for a fastball—and that might be all you need to get away with throwing one.

Watch Hosmer’s head

In the fourth inning Eric Hosmer got a pitch to hit in a 1-1 count and swung so hard his head was turned toward the left-field foul pole when he finished his swing. Hos’ got a pitch to hit, missed it and then struck out on a splitter down in the zone.

In his next at bat Hosmer saw 11 pitches, pulled his head off on some of his swings, but on the eleventh pitch had his head right down on the ball. His RBI single up the middle provided the Royals third run of the game and that third run was the difference in the game.

Watch a hitter’s head and if it pulls off the ball on the swing’s follow through, the hitter is probably over-swinging. Some guys will tone it down once they get to two strikes; Friday night Hosmer had his head in the right spot at the right time.

Salvador Perez and the slider

Sergio Romo was pitching to Salvador Perez in the seventh inning and Giants catcher Buster Posey was setting his target behind the left-handed batter’s box. Posey could not move his feet far enough outside the catcher’s box to show Romo where he wanted the pitch, so Buster was just waving in the direction of the first-base dugout: throw it way over there.

Perez has been chasing that slider away and pitchers who give him a hittable fastball often regret it.

Herrera’s at bat

When you’re behind you go for offense; when you’re ahead you stick with defense. When Kelvin Herrera came in the game if Ned Yost wanted to do a double switch to avoid the pitcher’s spot coming up in the top of the seventh inning, he would have had to pull one of his best defenders off the field; probably Mike Moustakas.

So Ned left Herrera in the 9-hole and that’s how Kelvin got an at bat.

Kelvin swung at a pitch while stepping toward third base and trying to leave the batter’s box at the same time; he probably had no idea that pitchers throw that hard. That’s one of the theories behind the National League’s reputation as a fastball league—pitchers have to hit and realize just how hard it is.

How a double switch works

Just in case you were wondering, here’s how a double switch works:

In the top of the eighth inning Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt to face left-handed hitter Alex Gordon. But if Bochy put Affeldt in the pitcher’s spot in the lineup—the 9-hole—Affeldt would be leading off the bottom of the eighth.

Bochy wanted Affeldt to pitch to the first two hitters due up in the top of the ninth—left handers Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas—but he didn’t want Affeldt to come to the plate, so Bochy made a double switch.

Shortstop Brandon Crawford—the 8-hole hitter—made the last out of the seventh inning, so Affeldt replaced Crawford in the lineup. That made sure the pitcher’s spot wouldn’t come up until everybody else had hit. The new shortstop—Joaquin Arias—went into the 9-hole so he’d lead off the next inning.

It didn’t make a difference; Arias struck out and I’m almost sure Affeldt could have done the same thing. But if you didn’t know before, at least now you know how a double switch works.