If you’re inclined toward pessimism, be a baseball fan—you’ll almost always have something to complain about. Ask ballplayers how often a team is hitting on all cylinders and they’ll tell you that over the course of a season you’ll get maybe a week, maybe a week and a half of worry-free baseball. Whether it’s the starting pitching, relief pitching, hitting or the defense, there’s almost always some part of a team’s game that’s in a funk. When that happens some other part of a team’s game has to cover for the part that isn’t working.
Right now starting pitching is carrying the Royals.
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At least that’s what Ned Yost thinks and if you look at the numbers you can see why. James Shields; 13 and a third innings pitched, 2.70 ERA. Jason Vargas; 15 innings pitched, 1.20 ERA. Bruce Chen; six and a third innings pitched, 0.00 ERA. Yordano Ventura, six innings pitched, 0.00 ERA. The one less-than-stellar start was Jeremy Guthrie’s opening day appearance; five and two thirds innings pitched with a 6.35 ERA, but after seven more innings on Wednesday, Guthrie had that ERA down to 3.55.
According to Yost—and every other baseball guy I know—if you want to win a championship you have to pick each other up. A part of your game that’s going well has to cover for the parts of your game that aren’t. Right now, the starting pitching is going well—although 10 hits and seven runs didn’t hurt.
Kansas City wins this one, 7-3.
*In the second inning Alex Gordon attempted to steal third base and was called out. Ned Yost challenged the call and appeared to have a winner on his hands—replays seemed to show Gordon sneaking his hand in before getting tagged. But after a review the umpires said the call stood. This is the third time I’ve seen a replay that seemed to show a call should be overturned, but the call was not reversed. If we’re delaying games to get calls right, it would be nice to get calls right.
*Johnny Giavotella went 1 for 3, hitting a soft line drive into right field. I’m under the impression the Royals would like to see him do a whole lot more of that. Pulling the ball or hitting it in the air is not part of the game plan—unless there’s a runner on third base with less than two outs. In the fifth inning Giavotella hit a sacrifice fly to score Nori Aoki from third base.
*Aoki was on third because he hit his second triple of the season. If you paid attention to the Rays outfield alignment, you know why. Tampa Bay had right fielder Wil Myers over toward the right-center gap, giving Aoki the right field line—clearly they did not want Aoki to pull the ball. If Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi threw an off-speed pitch it was probably supposed to be unhittable. The Rays starter threw Aoki an 85-MPH slider and left it in a bad spot; right on the barrel of Aoki’s bat. When you see a big gap in the outfield, the ball is not supposed to be hit there—someone made a mistake.
*Ned Yost said Jeremy Guthrie hitting Evan Longoria with a pitch had nothing to do with Omar Infante getting hit on Monday; if his team was going to retaliate they would have done it that night or the next day. Yost said Guthrie was trying to go up and in to back Longoria off the plate which would open up the down and away part of the strike zone.
*Yost was asked about his defense (it was spectacular) and he pointed out that the Royals have three Gold Glovers already and thinks Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will get some consideration in the future.
*In the sixth inning I saw a play I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before: Alcides Escobar made a great stop of an Evan Longoria grounder, threw the ball to first, but short-hopped Eric Hosmer. The Royals first baseman backed up over the bag to lengthen the hop and give him a better shot at making the catch. It worked, but Hosmer wound up on his backside in foul territory. Afterwards I asked Eric about the runner coming down the line; wasn’t he afraid of getting steamrolled?
Eric said no, when runners see the first baseman move into the base line they flinch and try to avoid a collision. Hosmer said he makes any move into the baseline pretty big; he wants the runners to see it and avoid him. He also said he almost lost an ankle the other night when the runner flinched, turned his head away from the play and stepped on him.
They’re less obsessed with home runs than we are
Some of the media and some of the fans were making a big deal out of the fact that the Royals had not hit a home run yet this season. Alex Gordon hit a three-run bomb so we can all quit talking about it for a while, but don’t forget where the Royals have played so far (two big ballparks), what the conditions have been (cold) and who they faced (two Cy Young winners and another guy who’s been in the conversation).
Ask the players or their manager and they’ll say they don’t care how they score runs—three singles will do—the main thing is to score runs. The Royals accept that they’re not going to hit a lot of home runs while playing in Kauffman Stadium.
Maybe we should accept that as well.
"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.