Judging the Royals

The Kansas City Royals lose 4-0; how poor fundamentals cost them this game

Good teams execute the fundamentals, bad teams don’t. That’s why this loss was so disappointing; the chance to win was there, but the Royals did not execute the necessary fundamentals. Here are the key moments:

Third inning: Alcides Escobar led off with a double and it was Nori Aoki’s job to hit the ball to the right side of the infield; that would allow Escobar to move over to third. Aoki did his job, but for some reason—and I’ve never seen this before—the Blue Jays had their infield in with nobody out and a runner on second. Maybe there was some master plan to this move (teams usually play their infield in with a runner on third), but in any case, Alcides Ecobar needed to recognize where the infield was playing.

Apparently, he didn’t, because when the ball was hit to second baseman Brett Lawrie, Escobar still took off for third base. Lawrie’s throw beat him easily and Escobar stayed in a rundown until Aoki made it to second base.

According to the guys on TV, hitting coach Dale Sveum told the Royals right-handed hitters they should try to hit left-handed starting pitcher Mark Buehrle the other way, otherwise they’d just roll over his collection of 87-MPH fastballs, cutters curves and changeups. But Omar Infante swung at the first pitch he saw and hit a groundball to third base. After that Eric Hosmer pulled an off-speed pitch in a fastball count and the Blue Jays were out of the inning with a 4-3 groundball.

A chance to score was missed.

Fourth inning: Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz has told me the hardest ball for an outfielder to judge is the line drive right at him—he’s right, I’ve misjudged my share. But Rusty told me a nifty trick for judging those hits: if the ball is below the brim of the cap it’s either right at you or in front of you, if it’s above the brim of the cap it’s over your head—break back on the ball.

I’m assuming Rusty has passed that bit of advice along to Nori Aoki—I’d hate to think I’m better informed than the Royals right fielder—but Aoki still broke in on Juan Francisco’s line drive. Aoki stopped, jumped in the air and the ball barely went over his glove. It was very catchable, it should have been an out, but the score keeper called it a double.

Brett Lawrie then singled and the Royals had runners on first and third. Jeremy Guthrie struck out Dioner Navarro, then got a possible inning-ending double play groundball, but Omar Infante dropped the ball on the transfer. The Blue Jays scored when Francisco crossed the plate, but Francisco never should have been on base to begin with.

The Royals gave a run away.

Sixth inning: Eric Hosmer blooped a hit into centerfield and then did a very nice job running the bases; he saw nobody was covering second—both middle infielders had chased the ball into the outfield—and Hosmer hustled his way to a double.

Then two bad things happened on the same pitch:

Now it was Billy Butler’s turn to move the runner by hitting the ball to the right side, but instead, Billy pulled it to short. Butler was in a 2-0 count and Buehrle threw him a changeup. I’ve been writing about Royals hitters getting off-speed pitches in fastball counts for two years now. I’ve been told they either need to lay off those pitches or look for them—in this case, Billy did neither.

Despite the fact that the ball was hit to short, Hosmer didn’t make it get through the infield. He tried for third, was thrown out 6-5 and the Royals went from decent speed on second base to no speed on first. Alex Gordon struck out, then Salvador Perez got a 2-0 fastball, missed it and wound up grounding out to the first baseman.

Another chance to score was missed.

If the Royals aren’t going to hit for power they need to play good defense and execute the chain of offensive fundamentals necessary to manufacture runs; get a runner on second, get him over, get him in. the Royals gave away a run by misjudging a ball in the outfield and failed to capitalize on two lead-off doubles because of poor base running and situational hitting.

Had the Royals scored those two runs and kept the Francisco run off the board, the score would have been 2-1 and Wade Davis would have pitched the eighth inning, not Aaron Crow. Give Davis and Greg Holland a one-run lead going into the eighth and I like the Royals chances.

The Royals lost 4-0 to the Blue Jays because of poor fundamentals.

Game notes

*When you look at Jeremy Guthrie’s won-loss record, remember he didn’t deserve to lose this game. Guthrie gave up one run over seven innings; even though the score book says he gave up two.

*Mark Buehrle is the perfect pitcher for getaway day; everybody wants to play a fast game, get on the plane and get to the next city. Buehrle—and Guthrie—obliged; the game took two hours and 14 minutes. Why everybody doesn’t pitch this way is a mystery.

*As I mentioned earlier, it seems hitting coach Dale Sveum advised his right-handed hitter to take Buerhle’s stuff the other way; in the first inning Omar Infante did just that and doubled to right. Then Billy Butler let a 3-1 fastball on the outer half go by—a good pitch to hit to the right side. After that Billy pulled a 3-2 fastball down the pipe; Sveum was right—Butler rolled over and ended the inning with a groundball to short.

*Pay attention to their pitch selection and you see at least one of the reasons the Toronto Blue Jays offense is very good; during the first inning they were very selective, forcing Guthrie to throw 33 pitches. In the second inning Dioner Navarro took a changeup down—a pitch some of the Royals have been chasing—and waited on a curveball up. Navarro hit it over the right field wall for the only legitimate run Guthrie gave up all day.

*Lorenzo Cain’s three at-bats demonstrated the problem: in his first at-bat Cain took a fastball for a ball, then swung at a changeup away. Lorenzo was not trying to hit the ball to right so he pulled off the pitch, hitting the ball off the end of the bat and popping up to the second baseman, Brett Lawrie. In his second at-bat Cain swung at a changeup well outside for strike three; if he were looking to go the other way he’d wait and see that the pitch wasn’t a strike. In his third at-bat Cain rolled over a fastball and grounded out to short.

Dale Sveum can tell the hitters exactly what to do—righties should take the ball the other way—but if the hitters don’t go out and execute, it doesn’t matter.

*In the fifth inning Alcides Escobar got into a good hitter’s count; 3-1. He then took a hittable fastball for strike two. He then compounded that mistake by taking another hittable fastball for strike three. There are times it seems like the players don’t understand their situation: you work to get into a fastball count so you can hit a fastball—don’t let it go by.

Once you have two strikes, you swing at anything close—don’t get beat on a hittable fastball by standing there looking at it.

We’ve seen hitters chase down when they need pitches up. We’ve seen hitters chase off-speed pitches when they need fastballs or chase pitches in when they need a pitch away. This stuff isn’t rocket science and you can be sure the coaches are telling the hitters what to do, but—once again—it’s up to the hitters to go out and execute.

*Mike Moustakas was back, went hitless, but made at least two plays on defense that none of his replacements have been able to make in his absence. He robbed Brett Lawrie of an infield single for the third out of the eighth inning and stole another hit from Jose Bautista at the start of the same inning. That play saved the Royals a run when Edwin Encarnacion homered two batters later.

*Let’s end on a positive note: as bad as the hitting has been the Royals are still only four games under .500—they haven’t buried themselves. But they can’t continue to let winnable games slip away.

Aaron Brooks debut

When Mike Moustakas was in Omaha he hit .355. He also had a slugging percentage of .548. Pitcher Aaron Brooks’ Triple A numbers are also pretty good; 3.12 ERA and a WHIP of 1.09.

So what can we learn from that?

First: Minor league numbers do not always translate into similar numbers in the big leagues. There’s a long list of players who put up great numbers in the minors, but could not do the same in the majors. Fans scouring minor league box scores should keep that in mind.

Second: There is a psychological component to the game. Aaron Brooks is not as bad as his first big league start would indicate—he couldn’t be. His minor league numbers show Aaron can throw strikes, but he couldn’t throw strikes on Saturday. That doesn’t mean he’ll never throw strikes in the big leagues, but it probably means Brooks got on the big stage under a lot of pressure and had trouble performing.

We should all remember that when we want to anoint someone a closer or move a bottom-of-the-order type hitter to the top of the order. As former big league catcher Mike Macfarlane once told me: "Some guys get a nosebleed." They can’t hit that high up.

We can all see the numbers a player puts up, but—as always—numbers don’t tell the whole story.