Judging the Royals

The Royals lose a sloppy game to the Minnesota Twins

Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon reaches for the popup off the bat of Minnesota Twins' Chris Parmelee as third baseman Mike Moustakas moves out of the way in the third inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, July 1, 2014, in Minneapolis. Gordon couldn't make the catch and Parmelee reached on the play on Gordon's error.
Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon reaches for the popup off the bat of Minnesota Twins' Chris Parmelee as third baseman Mike Moustakas moves out of the way in the third inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, July 1, 2014, in Minneapolis. Gordon couldn't make the catch and Parmelee reached on the play on Gordon's error. AP

The Minnesota Twins had 15 hits and scored 10 runs — and it was actually worse than it sounds. Walks, errors, mental mistakes, falling behind in the count, failing to finish off hitters with two strikes, a wild pitch and bad pitch selection: this game had it all. If you’re a Royals fan it was easily one of the worst games of the year. The only good thing about this game is the fact that the Royals get to play another one on Wednesday.

The Royals lost a sloppy game by a score of 10-2.

What’s up with James Shields?

After the game Ned Yost said there was no "level of concern" about pitcher James Shields, but the Royals number one starter has been scuffling. Ned said James’ mechanics looked good to him, but before the game pitching coach Dave Eiland said he thought Shields might be trying to do too much.

Just like a hitter who over-swings, a pitcher who overthrows can pull his head off to his glove-side and that can make the front shoulder open too soon. And when that happens, pitches tend to flatten out and become more hittable.

I’ve got no idea if that’s what’s actually happening, but it’s a theory.

Game notes

•Lorenzo Cain has now struck out six times in two games. As long as he keeps swinging at sliders down and off the plate, the Twins will keep throwing them.

•Raul Ibanez got his first start for the Royals against Minnesota Twins pitcher Ricky Nolasco. At 42, it’s unlikely Ibanez can deal with the hardest throwers, but Nolaco’s fastball averages 90.9 MPH so this was probably a good matchup.

•With a runner on second base and less than two outs, a pop fly was hit above the pitcher’s mound. Mike Moustakas came in to make the play and James Shields cleared the area — but he also did a smart thing: he covered third.

If Shields fails to cover third base and Mike Moustakas is busy catching a ball at the mound, the runner on second could tag and advance to the uncovered base.

Unfortunately, a few innings later Shield failed to cover first when Eric Hosmer fielded a groundball. Kurt Suzuki was scoring from third and Hosmer first looked at home to see if he had a play, but didn’t. Then Eric turned to get the out at first, but Shields had stopped running toward the bag. It looked like James assumed there would be no throw to first and gave up on the play.

•Raul Ibanez got thrown out going first to third, but he did it at the right time; there was one out. It was a bang-bang play that sent a message to the younger players: this dude is 42-years old and he’s still hustling.

•Alex Gordon got tagged with an error on a ball that came down between him and Mike Moustakas. The error came with two outs and cost the Royals a run. On "tweeners" the infielder goes back and says nothing, the outfielder comes forward and makes the call — he’s got the play in front of him and has a better idea of who should make the catch. But if the crowd gets loud the infielder may not hear the outfielder. Gordon got a glove on the ball, but bobbled it and then dropped it.

•In the fourth inning Mike Moustakas popped out to third and you could see his head come off the ball as he swung. If your head moves — and Moose ended up looking down the first base line — it’s hard to see, much less hit, a baseball. Seeing the ball is the number one task while hitting. If you don’t see the ball the best hitting mechanics in the world won’t do you much good.

•If you don’t like the way Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki plays the game, you don’t like baseball. Suzuki took a foul tip off the arm Monday night, ran into a railing Tuesday night and just kept going. It’s no surprise that Suzuki was a Jason Kendall protégé back in Oakland. That’s one of the reasons Suzuki rarely takes his mask off on the field: Jason thinks it’s a "dig me" move to take the mask off and pose. Plus, by keeping his mask on, Jason could yell at people and fans would never know what he was doing.

•By the way: After a catcher takes a foul tip off his throwing hand or arm, that’s a real good time to run. Make the catcher make a throw while he’s still hurting.

•Like I said on Monday; Eric Hosmer has been hitting the ball hard with nothing to show for it and if he kept it up, the hits would start falling in. He kept it up and had a four-hit game on Tuesday.

•When pitchers want a double-play ball out of Billy Butler they throw him sinkers down and in or off-speed stuff down. The idea is to get Butler to rollover the ball and pull a grounder to the left side of the field. That approach has been working.

•After Michael Mariot faced seven batters and only got one out — and that out was a line drive — the game was out of hand. Ned Yost brought in lefty reliever Francisley Bueno and he threw 47 pitches and two and two-thirds innings. That might mean Bueno will be unavailable on Wednesday and that would make Bruce Chen as the only left-handed reliever ready to pitch in this series’ final game.

Watch Raul Ibanez in the dugout

The Royals — and every other baseball team — often get criticized for the wrong things. The media and fans usually don’t know enough about the inner working of a professional sports team to put their finger on the problem.

We don’t know about the back-up player who parties too much and hurts the performance of the starters who party with him. We don’t know about the coach who can’t get a player to listen and feels like he’s got no way to force the player to do the right thing. We don’t know about the pitcher who is having marital problems that affect his on-field performance.

This stuff matters, but because we don’t know anything about it, we pretend it doesn’t. We study websites for stats, make pronouncements based on some numbers and ignore the human element.

In my opinion  — and that’s all it is  — a legitimate criticism of this team has been the lack of veteran leadership in the Royals clubhouse. Everyone points to Alex Gordon and says he leads by example — nobody works harder — but Alex is naturally quiet and not the type of guy to poke a finger in someone’s chest. Others say James Shields is a leader, but it’s hard to lead position players when you’re a pitcher; tell someone to run a ball out and they might ask how often you play. Omar Infante also seems pretty quiet — although I’ve got no way of knowing what goes on behind closed doors.

Most of this stuff plays out in private so fans and the media have a hard time figuring out who’s leading who, but there is something we can all see: the dugout.

During a game check to see who’s up on the dugout rail, watching the game, and who’s back on the bench, spitting sunflower seeds. Look for starting pitchers on their off-days: are they in the ears of the younger pitchers or back up in the clubhouse enjoying the air conditioning? When someone has a bad at-bat, who talks to them when they get back to the dugout? If someone screws up on the bases, does anyone give them an earful?

If you swing at a pitch down in the zone with a runner on third and less than two outs, someone needs to tell you that next time you should wait for a pitch up in the zone. If you keep making outs on first-pitch sliders, a veteran needs to tell you to wait for a fastball.

Keep your eye on the dugout and my guess is you’ll see Raul Ibanez spending a lot of time talking to his teammates. That’s how you’ll know he’s doing his job; it might not be the numbers he puts up that matter — it might be his teammates’ numbers that shows his worth.

Keep your eye on Raul Ibanez in the dugout.