Judging the Royals

What death, taxes, Wade Davis and Greg Holland have in common


The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) closes out the ninth inning to help the team with a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals during Thursday's baseball game on June 5, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) closes out the ninth inning to help the team with a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals during Thursday's baseball game on June 5, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

They say there are only two sure things in life; death and taxes — but Wade Davis and Greg Holland come pretty damn close.

The Royals set-up man and closer are so close to automatic that Ned Yost manages games around them; once the starting pitcher leaves, how does Ned get the ball to Davis and Holland with a lead?

That was the problem on Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura threw six innings, 91 pitches and left the game with a 3-2 lead. In his last game Ventura experienced an elbow problem and Yost didn’t want to push him past 100 pitches. In the seventh inning—one inning away from set-up man Davis—the Cardinals had Peter Bourjos and two lefties, Matt Carpenter and Daniel Descalso, due up.

That’s why Yost brought in left-handed reliever, Francisley Bueno. Ned said he was also ready to throw Michael Mariot and Wilking Rodriguez if necessary, because somehow the Royals had to protect that one-run lead in the seventh inning and get the ball to Wade Davis in the eighth.

Mariot and Rodriguez weren’t needed, because Bueno was outstanding; he got Bourjos and Carpenter to ground out and struck out Descalso looking. Middle relievers say they’re like offensive linemen in the NFL; nobody notices them unless they screw up. But if you understood the situation, it was pretty hard to miss Francisley Bueno.

After seven innings, Davis and Holland were coming in and the game was pretty much over. Davis came in and went 1-2-3 in the eighth—aided by Jarrod Dyson’s diving catch of a sinking line drive — and Holland gave up an infield single and the runner made it as far as second base, but that was it; after that Holland struck out the side. Wade Davis and Greg Holland may not be quite as certain as death and taxes, but they got the job done Thursday night.

Royals 3, Cardinals 2.

Game notes:

*In the first inning Ventura threw 24 pitches—stay on that pace and he’d be done after four innings.

Yordano threw a fastball at 100 miles an hour, so I guess his elbow felt better.

*In the second inning Ventura threw Peter Bourjos a 2-1 fastball with Jon Jay on base. Bourjos tripled and Jay scored. As pitching coach Dave Eiland said earlier this season; you can throw fastballs in fastball counts, but they better be well located. This fastball was up and Bourjos ripped it.

*Mike Moustakas hit into hard luck when he lined into an unassisted double play with Lorenzo Cain on first base. The ball was hit so hard Ned Yost said he lost sight of it; he couldn’t turn his head that fast. Allen Craig caught the ball and stepped on first to double off Cain.

*The Cardinals scored their second run in the fourth inning when Matt Carpenter hit a single to drive in Jay from second base. If you paid attention to what was being thrown, you might question the  pitch Carpenter hit: in his first at-bat Carpenter got a first-pitch 96-MPH fastball from Ventura and in his second at-bat Carpenter got a first-pitch 97-MPH fastball from Ventura, so what do you suppose Carpenter was looking for on the first pitch of his third at-bat?

If you guessed fastball, you guessed right.

Carpenter was thrown another 96-MPH fastball and he turned on it. Eric Hosmer dove for the ball, but couldn’t glove it. Everybody is looking for patterns and the first person to recognize one has an advantage. Matt Carpenter appeared to recognize a first-pitch fastball pattern and it cost the Royals a run.

*Billy Butler doubled to start the fifth inning and Alex Gordon followed that with a walk. Salvador Perez moved both runners up a base with a groundball to first. That left first base open, but the Cardinals did not choose to work around Lorenzo Cain and put him on base. Cain’s hitting well over .300, but he’s a free-swinger and he didn’t change that habit in this at-bat. With the count 1-1 Lorenzo swung at a curveball down and popped it up in the infield. Mike Moustakas crushed another ball, but this one was also caught and that was the inning.

How the Royals scored three in the sixth

The Royals started their comeback in the sixth inning when Alcides Escobar hit a double to left. The score was 1-0 at the time and Nori Aoki needed to pull a groundball to the right side of the infield so Escobar could advance to third base. Pitcher Michael Wacha needed Aoki to hit a groundball to the left side because that would prevent Escobar from moving up 90 feet—Esky could not advance on a ball in front of him unless the ball got through the infield.

So Wacha pitched Nori hard away; Aoki’s left-handed and those fastballs would result in a grounder to third. Wacha got what he wanted—a groundball to the left side—but Aoki shot it past the third baseman, Matt Carpenter, for a double. Alcides scored and the Royals had the tying run at second base.

Same deal as before: the hitter wanted to go to the right side and Wacha wanted the ball on the left side so this time he pitched right-handed hitter, Omar Infante, in. When Wacha wasn’t going hard in on Infante he was throwing off-speed pitches; either type of pitch would get Wacha the ground ball he wanted.

Omar pulled a curveball, but it was just barely on the left-field side of second base—right at the shortstop. Aoki took off for third, made it safely and moving up 90 feet was crucial; having Aoki on third with less than two outs meant the Cardinals had to pull their infield in and having their infield closer to home plate meant they had no lateral range and having no lateral range meant Eric Hosmer could skip a ground ball between the first and second baseman.

That’s what he did and Aoki scored to tie the game.

Come to think of it, with the exception of Escobar, Wacha made his pitches all inning long, but still gave up the lead: he wanted a groundball to the left side from Aoki and got it, he wanted another groundball to the left side from Infante and got it, he wanted a groundball from Hosmer and got it, Alex Gordon hit a flare that dropped in and Salvador Perez drove in the winning run with a bouncing ball up the middle.

The Royals hit some at’em balls early in the game—maybe this was just things evening out.

The Dyson catch in the eighth

The score was 3-2 and Wade Davis had two outs when Yadier Molina hit a sinking line drive into centerfield. Jarrod Dyson, just put in the game for defense, sprinted in, dove and caught the ball for the final out of the inning.

But was that the right play?

If the ball got past Dyson, Molina would be in scoring position; one hit away from tying the game. In the clubhouse after the game ended, Jarrod said he thought he could knock the ball down with his body if he didn’t catch it cleanly. He also knew he had Lorenzo Cain coming from right.

Outfielder have to be aware of the positioning of the guy next to them; if the other guy is a long way off and you miss the ball, you’re on your own—be conservative. If you the other guy is close by, you know you have help; try to make the play and let the other guy back you up.

How Matt Carpenter doubled in the 11th

Let’s go back to Wednesday night’s game because there was a play worth talking about: Center fielders cannot play straight up. Take a line from home plate, over the pitcher’s mound, through second base and into the outfield for 70 to 75 steps; that’s the centerfielders “straight up” position.

By the centerfielder can’t stand there; he’d be looking at the pitcher’s back and his view of home plate would be blocked. That being the case; centerfielders have to be positioned to the left or right-field side of second base so they can see the hitter.

Tuesday night, Jarrod Dyson was on the left-field side of second base. Why?

Kelvin Herrera was on the mound throwing in the upper nineties and Matt Carpenter is left-handed. The Royals were betting that Carpenter would be behind the fastball and hit the ball to the opposite field; where Dyson was positioned. But Carpenter hit a changeup and that put the ball on the right field side of second and Dyson had a long run to the ball.

Outfielders are positioned to field a fastball because that’s what pitchers throw most of the time. In Herrera ‘s case it’s over 66 percent. The changeup was probably supposed to be a swing-and-miss pitch, but Herrera left it up in the zone, Carpenter pulled it and Dyson had to go into the unprotected gap to get  the ball—bingo—double.