Judging the Royals

The Royals come back with a five-run seventh

Jarrod Dyson congratulated Billy Butler after Butler scored on a single by Alcides Escobar in the seventh inning Sunday against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won the game 5-2.
Jarrod Dyson congratulated Billy Butler after Butler scored on a single by Alcides Escobar in the seventh inning Sunday against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won the game 5-2. The Kansas City Star

Down 2-0 against the Detroit Tigers with Justin Verlander on the mound, Billy Butler led off the seventh inning with a single. If you were wondering why Ned Yost didn’t pinch run for Billy, there were several reasons:

1. Pinch-running for Billy would probably cost Butler an at-bat later in the game

2. Billy was not the tying run.

3. Ned Yost wanted to take the lead right there.

If the Royals took the lead in the seventh inning, they could hand the ball to Wade Davis in the eighth with a lead. If they handed the ball to Wade with a lead, the odds were overwhelming that he would hand the ball to Greg Holland with a lead. Wade was going to pitch the eighth no matter what — the All-Star break starts Monday — but Ned wanted to grab a lead, not play for one.

The next hitter was Mike Moustakas, and he singled. Billy made it to second. Then Raul Ibanez singled and Billy made it to third. As often happens, it was going to take four hits to move Butler around the bases, and the fourth one couldn’t have been much weaker. Alcides Escobar rolled a soft grounder past the mound on the shortstop side — luckily Justin Verlander is right-handed and fell off to the first base side — and because the infield was back, there was no play at the plate.

Then Jarrod Dyson hit another grounder and Mike Moustakas scored. With the score tied, Ned Yost sent Salvador Perez to the plate — pinch hitting for Brett Hayes. Left-hander Ian Krol then replaced Verlander, and Krol intentionally walked Perez.

Question: If you’re going to walk Perez, why not have Verlander do it before he leaves the scene? Why have your new pitcher start his outing by throwing four balls out of the strike zone?

Because then your new pitcher has faced the required batter: the lefty Krol was there to pitch to the lefty Nori Aoki. If Ned Yost had sent someone else to the plate, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus would have the option of replacing his pitcher.

Anyway …

Krol walked Perez, Aoki popped up, Al Alburquerque replaced Krol, and that brought Omar Infante to the plate. Omar singled to bring in two runs, and Eric Hosmer topped things off with an RBI double.

The Royals won this one 5-2.

After the game Ned Yost said the Royals were eight games better than they were at this point last year, but still expected to play better in the second half.

Game notes

First inning: As usual, the left-handed Bruce Chen was using his cutter to get in on right-handed hitters — that’s why third baseman Mike Moustakas was stationed near the foul line. More on this in a second.

Second baseman Omar Infante caught an Ian Kinsler pop-up and showed some bling while doing so; he caught the ball behind his head. It looks cool — until you drop one.

Second inning: Chen got Martinez to pull the ball by throwing a cutter, but it didn’t get hit to Moustakas — the ball found a hole between Moose and Esky. A little more in and that cutter gets pulled to Moose. You can come up with some fancy defensive positioning, but if the pitcher can’t hit his spots, it won’t make any difference.

If you’re watching on TV, focus on the catcher’s glove; if it barely moves when the ball arrives, the pitcher is hitting his spots. If the glove is going from the inside corner to the outside corner, the pitcher doesn’t know where the ball is going and the defense might as well play straight up.

Third inning: J.D. Martinez hit a high pop fly to shallow left that should have been the third out of the inning. When the ball fell untouched, it turned into an RBI single.

So why did the ball drop untouched?

Raul Ibanez was playing left field, and he was stationed deeper than Alex Gordon typically plays. Shortstop Alcides Escobar has played for years with Gordon and — according to Ned Yost — instinctively pulled up, assuming the left fielder would get there.

That was a mistake; Ibanez never called for the ball, and the 42-year old couldn’t make the catch. Infielders need to know where their outfielders are positioned, which lets them know how much territory they’ll have to cover.

Sixth inning: Spot starter Bruce Chen came out after 5 1/3innings and gave up two earned runs — and the second one was a fluke. Not bad for a spot start. Yordano Venture came out of the pen, threw 1 2/3 innings and got the ball to Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

Eighth and ninth innings: If you’ve been paying attention, you know what happens when the Royals get the ball to Wade Davis and Greg Holland with a lead. Kansas City is now 39-1 when they lead after seven innings and 41-1 when they lead after eight.

That Danny Duffy throwing error

Let’s go back to Friday night’s game when Danny Duffy threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt at second base.

Remember the situation:

There was one down, Rajai Davis was on second, Austin Jackson was on first and Miguel Cabrera was at the plate. Duffy was very concerned with the possibility of Davis stealing third, and Omar Infante was stationed close to second in order to shorten Davis’ lead. Duffy feinted a couple times toward second and when he finally threw the ball, it got past Infante into center field. Davis advanced to third and then scored on a Cabrera sac fly.

But what if Duffy had ignored Davis? What was the worst that could happen — a double steal?

If the Tigers had put on a double steal, that would have opened up first base — and that would have given the Royals options. Any time first base is open, the pitcher has the option of working around the man at the plate. Steal a base or bunt a runner into scoring position and you may have taken the bat out of the hitter’s hands. In this case, that hitter was Miguel Cabrera.

The night before Cabrera had gone two for three, both doubles, walked twice, drove in three and scored one; so if the Tigers pulled off a double steal, walking Cabrera and setting up a double-play situation might not have been the worst idea in the world.

The All-Star break

Everybody in baseball looks forward to the All-Star break, and that includes guys with websites. The grind started back in November, and the next four days are a chance to catch your breath. I have lots of unused material and plan on posting something every day, so keep checking in — you never know, I might say something interesting.