Judging the Royals

The Kansas City Royals a half game out of first place

After giving up seven runs and 12 hits in six innings, Detroit starting pitcher Justin Verlander said there hadn’t been a lot of hard hit balls. Everyone is wondering what’s going wrong for the Tigers’ ace—maybe he needs to have his eyes checked.

The Royals scored four runs in the fourth, three runs in the sixth and four more runs in the seventh inning. They racked up 17 hits including four doubles and a home run. They’ve now won eight in a row and stand just a half game back of the first-place Tigers.

Normally you don’t play a series against the Tigers and think the most winnable game might be when Detroit has Verlander on the mound, but he’s lost five of his last six and came into the game with an ERA of 4.61. Before the night was over, that ERA had risen to 4.98.

The Royals are 37-32, and a half game out of first place.

Enjoy the moment.

The second inning

Billy Butler walked to lead off the inning, but couldn’t go first to third when Alex Gordon hit the ball to right field. Right field to third base is the longest outfield throw and base runners need to take advantage of that whenever they can. Not taking the extra 90 feet cost the Royals a run when Lorenzo Cain hit a deep fly ball to centerfield.

Had Billy been on third, he could have tagged and scored, but he misjudged Cain’s fly ball and wound up on third base anyway—unfortunately, he didn’t tag up first. Butler was doubled off second base to end the inning. That cost the Royals an at-bat with a runner in scoring position and it’s the kind of mistake that might matter in a close game.

The pitch that dumped Perez

Justin Verlander came up and in on Salvador Perez and put him on the seat of his pants, but it was an accident. If a pitcher is going to buzz the tower he does it with a fastball; the pitch that dumped Perez was a curve that got away.

The fourth inning

Baseball playbooks have defensive diagrams and they show you where everyone is supposed to go on every kind of hit in every kind of situation. With a runner on first and a single to right field, once the second baseman determines he can’t make the play, he goes back and covers second base.

In the fourth inning Omar Infante failed to cover to second base and it cost the Royals a run. Victor Martinez was the runner on first and Torii Hunter hit the ball to right. As I mentioned in the bit about Billy Butler’s base running, on balls hit to right field runners want to get to third base whenever possible, and that’s what Martinez was attempting to do.

He made a big turn at second and shortstop Alcides Escobar cut off Nori Aoki’s throw to third. Esky then tried to throw behind Martinez and trap him off the base, but Infante was late arriving and they missed the chance to pick up an easy out.

Martinez later scored.

Once again, a small thing in a blowout, but a huge thing in one-run game. There’s almost always something you should be doing when you’re on defense; if you’re standing still you’re probably in the wrong place.

Fifth inning: a tough call for a third base coach

Fifth inning, one down, bases loaded; Billy Butler hits a deep blast to centerfield. Unfortunately, Detroit’s centerfield wall is 420 feet away so the ball stayed in the park.

In that situation—a deep fly ball and the catch is not a sure thing—the runner on third base goes back to tag, the runner on second base would go halfway (or as far as the depth of the fly ball allows) and the runner on first would go to second base and maybe beyond. If the ball is caught a long way from the infield everyone has time to get back to their base. But if the ball isn’t caught things can get confusing for the third base coach.

Here’s why:

The runner on third is fine, he tags and scores if it’s caught and scores easily if it isn’t. But the other two runners present a problem: the guy on first has gone all the way to second base and maybe around it while the guy who was on second is only going halfway to third. When the ball drops you now have two runners very close together.

In this case it didn’t matter—everyone scored easily. But if there’s going to be a bang-bang play at the plate, the third base coach has to send the runner that was on second and stop the runner that’s right behind him. Throw up a stop sign too soon and you have two guys standing on third base; throw the stop sign up too late and you can have two runners tagged out at home plate.

So if you’ve ever seen that and wondered how in the world that happens; now you know.

When you use the relievers who are scuffling

Teams usually have seven guys down in the bullpen and not all seven are pitching lights out. When the starting pitchers leaves, if his team is behind, the manager will usually go to the relievers who are scuffling—unless they just need work, the manager wants to save his best relievers for games where they have a better chance to win.

So when Justin Verlander left the game after six innings with the score 7-2, Detroit’s manager, Brad Ausmus, brought in Evan Reed.

If a Detroit fan was not paying attention he or she might think they still had a chance; the Tigers had three innings to score five runs. But when you go to the weakest part of your bullpen, things often get worse—and they did. Reed came into the game a 4.56 ERA, never got an out, gave up four runs and left the game with a 4.91 ERA.

In fact, the Tigers’ best chance to get back in the game came about because Ned Yost did the exact same thing: with a huge lead he brought in a reliever who had been scuffling—Tim Collins. Tim walked the first guy he faced—not good with a nine-run lead—gave up a hit and then got the next three hitters.

For the last three outs of the game, Yost brought Donnie Joseph out of the pen and Donnie had a miserable outing; five hits, a walk and six earned runs—including a grand slam. Joseph needed to get three outs and couldn’t do it; that forced Ned to use another reliever when everyone in the pen but Collins and Joseph should have gotten a day of rest.

Fortunately, the Royals best relievers never got used and should be fresh for the rest of the series.

The bullpens

Coming into this game the Royals had the fifth best bullpen ERA in the American League; the Tigers bullpen was the worst. When these games go the relievers, the Royals will have an advantage—especially at the backend of the pens.

If Wade Davis and Greg Holland continue to pitch like they have been, the Tigers have seven innings to grab a lead while the Royals have nine.