If Twitter is any indication of Royals fans’ mindset—and let’s hope it’s not—Royals fans were freaking out when their team lost 14-8 on Friday night. It was an ugly loss to the Baltimore Orioles and when you give up two grand slams in one inning I think that’s a fair description.
Some Royals fans were on Twitter saying that the Royals did not appear to care anymore and the season was going down the tubes—despite the fact that their team still had a 10-game lead in their division.
Less than 24 hours later Royals fans were back in love with their team, mainly because Mike Moustakas hit two home runs and had 9 RBIs, which—as Eric Hosmer said—is a pretty good month.
Man, if fans are going to think about jumping off a bridge every time their team loses and party like it’s 1999 every time their team wins, those fans are going to be worn out before the playoffs even start.
Here’s the deal: baseball is different, the best teams will lose about four out of ten games, the worst teams will win about four out of ten. That’s why ballplayers keep an even keel; they know they’ll fail a lot of the time and they can’t get too down when that happens.
The sky was not falling when the Royals lost on Friday night, but the Royals still have some issues after winning on Saturday afternoon.
And here are some of those issues
Having an 11-game lead in their division has allowed the Royals to do some things they don’t normally do. They’ve been resting players, skipping outside batting practice, tinkering with their lineup and holding open auditions for their playoff roster.
Maybe that’s exactly what they should be doing, but ballplayers and schoolteachers and truck drivers and just about everybody else on the planet thrive on routine; knowing what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it helps people perform.
I would think—and nobody’s asked me—that you want to get things decided before the playoffs, let players know what role they’re expected to play and allow those players to get back to a routine. Here are some of the issues the Royals face:
The batting order:
Friday night Ben Zobrist was hitting leadoff and Alex Gordon was in the 2-hole. Saturday Gordon led off and Zobrist hit second. It sounds like Gordon in the leadoff spot is how the Royals will line things up the rest of the way, but when Zobrist replaced Alcides Escobar at the top of the order, the Royals made it sound like Zobrist was just what they were looking for in a leadoff hitter. If Gordon’s the guy, fine, but I’d think you’d want to stick with something and let the players adjust to their roles.
The Royals also have another batting order issue that fans might want to focus on; Eric Hosmer followed by Kendrys Morales followed by Mike Moustakas.
Managers will rarely stack left-handed hitters together in a lineup because it makes things too easy on the other team; the opposition manager can bring in a lefty reliever and get good matchups with a series of hitters. So managers break up their left-handed hitters by sandwiching a righty or switch-hitter between two lefties.
In the Royals case Kendrys Morales consistency causes a problem and here’s why:
In 2015 Eric Hosmer has put up a .325 average against right-handed pitching, .280 against lefties. This year Mike Moustakas has hit righties at .295, lefties at .264. So if you’re the other team’s manager you want both of them hitting against left-handed pitchers late in the game. So what about the guy in-between Hos and Moose?
Kendrys Morales has been so consistent—.295 against lefties and .292 against righties—that it doesn’t make much difference which side he hits from with this exception: he hits for more power from the left side. So turning Morales around with a left-handed reliever is an advantage and that means one left-handed reliever can face three of the Royals best hitters late in games.
It doesn’t mean the batting order should be changed—lefty/righty matchups can be overrated—but it’s something to watch for.
Second base and right field:
Royals fans wondered where Ben Zobrist would play once Alex Gordon got healthy and lately Zobrist has been playing second base. To my eye—and remember I wear glasses—Zobrist is not as good a defender as Omar Infante and it shows up on the double play: Omar is very quick and slick about turning two, Ben looks slower and more mechanical. So the Royals will have to decide if they want Omar’s defense or Alex Rios’ bat.
Rios does not cover the same amount of territory that Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson cover in right field, but the Royals appear to be letting Rios hit his way on or off the playoff roster.
The starting rotation:
This one most fans are already aware of; Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura will have three of the starting pitcher slots, Danny Duffy and Kris Medlen are battling for the fourth.
The Royals still have time to figure out what to do about these issues, but I would think the sooner they decide and let players get into a routine, the better.
The anatomy of a home run
Everyone knows Yordano Ventura has a good fastball, but in the big leagues throwing hard is not enough. If the fastball is the only pitch you can consistently throw for strikes hitters will wait until you have to put that fastball in the strike zone and then unload on it. Adam Jones third-inning home run provides an example.
When you watch Ventura, pay attention to his secondary pitches: does he throw his curve and changeup and when he throws them, are they strikes? In Saturday’s game Ventura had been throwing his secondary pitches with mixed results. There were two runners on and nobody out in the third inning when Adam Jones came to the plate.
Ventura started Jones with a fastball and Jones swung and missed. Then Ventura threw a curve in the dirt. Next came two changeups, both missed the strike zone. With the count now 3-1 and runners on first and second, the fastball became the obvious choice because:
A.) Ventura did not want to walk Jones, push another run into scoring position and load the bases with nobody out.
B.) Ventura had missed three times in a row with secondary pitches.
Jones got the expected fastball and fouled it off. With the count now 3-2 the fastball was still the percentage pitch and that’s what Ventura threw. When a pitcher has to throw a fastball in a fastball count—a pitch the hitter knows is coming—the pitcher can get away with it by throwing that fastball in a good location.
Salvador Perez set up down and away; put the fastball there and Jones would have to hit the ball the other way to hit it with any authority and that hit would most likely be a single. But Ventura missed that location; the fastball was up and out over the plate and that allowed Jones to hit it to dead centerfield, clearing the wall at the 410 sign.
What to watch for in tonight’s game
Johnny Cueto has been struggling to clean up his pitching mechanics; specifically, a front shoulder that flies open too soon. That flaw makes Cueto miss high and to the arm side, so watch for that in tonight’s game. It especially shows in his cutter and changeup; if those pitches are flat, in the zone and getting hit, Cueto still hasn’t fixed the problem. If you see catcher Salvador Perez tap his right shoulder, he’s reminding Cueto to keep his front shoulder closed.
Johnny Cueto and Salvador Perez have not been on the same page when it comes to pitch calling; if you see Cueto shaking Sal off, they’re still disagreeing on what pitch to throw. But if you see Sal shake his head while giving the signs he’s asking Johnny to shake his head and pretend to disagree with Sal’s call.
It’s much easier if pitchers trust their catchers; the pitcher does not have to think about pitch selection and that allows him to focus on pitch execution. Part of Cueto’s recent struggle can be attributed to having to work harder mentally; Johnny has to decide whether Salvy’s call is the right one and that takes away from pitch execution.
And if a pitcher is going to trust his catcher it would be better if that catcher didn’t forget how many outs there are or throw to the wrong base; both of which Salvador Perez did during Saturday’s game.
OK, I’ve got lots more stuff I could write about, but that ought to hold all of us until tomorrow morning.
Enjoy tonight’s ballgame.