Judging the Royals

What went wrong for the Royals on Tuesday in New York, Part II

Royals pitcher Joakim Soria
Royals pitcher Joakim Soria AP

So where were we? Oh, yeah: third inning, Lorenzo Cain gets bit by a snake in the grass (and if you don’t understand that reference you need to go back and read Part I) and the Yanks go up 5-3 on the Royals.

We proceed to the fifth inning.

The top half started with singles by Cheslor Cuthbert and Jarrod Dyson and with the tying runs on base, Alcides Escobar bunted. There are baseball fans who like the sacrifice bunt about as much as vampires like garlic, but if you were yelling at Royals manager Ned Yost, odds are you were yelling at the wrong guy.

During spring training Yost told me he only called three or four of the sacrifice bunts the Royals put down in 2015; the rest of the time, players were doing it on their own.

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And sometimes players will do it because if they get a hit their average goes up and if they don’t, but a runner advances, their average stays the same. Anyway, at least Escobar didn’t hit into a double play, and right after that Lorenzo Cain hit his second home run of the game.

If there’s a bright spot at what seems to be the end of this very long tunnel the Royals find themselves in (insert train-heading-your-way joke here) it’s that several players seem to be picking it up a bit on offense and Cain is one of them; he’s added 70 points to his batting average since April 25. If a guy is hitting the ball hard, but hitting it right at people, that guy just needs to be patient and things should even out.

But back to our story:

The Royals took a 6-5 lead on Cain’s homer and Yost could start using the relievers he likes to use when his team has a lead. Danny Duffy replaced Brian Flynn and threw a scoreless bottom of the fifth. Luke Hochevar replaced Duffy and struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth. Then Joakim Soria replaced Hochevar in the bottom of the seventh and things went kablooey; which is a technical term for “Soria gave up the lead.”

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If you were one of those people saying “Oh, no … it’s Soria,” it’s worth noting that the Royals former closer had six scoreless outings in a row before Tuesday. Soria had a disastrous first outing of the season that left his ERA at 40.50 and he’d whittled that down to 4.11.

Starting pitcher Kris Medlen’s two-inning outing meant Yost had to go to the pen early and it was all hands on deck. The Royals would need at least seven innings of relief to win the game and Dillon Gee wasn’t available (he saved the pen on Monday).

One of the problems with using a whole bunch of different relievers is it might look like you’re managing your rear end off (and for some reason Buck Showalter comes to mind), but use enough pitchers and you might find one who doesn’t have it that night. Much better if your starter gives you six or seven innings and you can use the two or three most-reliable relievers you have. But Medlen’s short outing meant the Royals bullpen would be exposed.

Soria got an out in the seventh, then gave up a single to Brian McCann and then balked McCann into scoring position. Lately Soria has been balking like I take antacid pills and there might be a logical explanation. (I mean for Soria’s balking; no one knows why I need to talk an antacid pill after eating half a pepperoni pizza and it’s a mystery that will never be solved.)

Anyway … Soria is a veteran pitcher and veteran pitchers have a few tricks up their sleeves. He used a slide step with nobody on base to screw around with Starlin Castro’s timing and it worked; Soria delivered the ball more quickly than expected and got Castro to ground out.

But with McCann on first — and McCann hasn’t stolen a base in three years and counting — Soria did not reach a full stop in the set position when he delivered an 0-2 pitch to Carlos Beltran. So if McCann isn’t a threat to run, why was Soria in a hurry to get the ball to home plate?

One possible answer is to mess with Beltran’s timing; deliver pitches at one pace for a while and then when you need it, speed up. And if Soria is quick-pitching hitters, that word would get around and umpire crews would start looking for it.

After Soria balked, he got Carlos Beltran out on a weak grounder and then Dustin Ackley trickled another weak grounder into left field; the grounder being weak actually helped McCann score because it took Alex Gordon a while to get to it.

Soria (probably disgusted) forgot to back up home plate (not a good sign), but it didn’t make any difference when Gordon (probably trying to do too much, which is another not-so-good sign) airmailed the throw to Aaron Hicks — the Yankees’ on-deck hitter — and Hicks declined to help the Royals out by catching the ball and tagging out his teammate McCann.

The ball being too high to cut off and going to the backstop allowed Ackley to advance into scoring position and one batter later, that’s just what he did after Hicks doubled.

OK, this baseball version of War and Peace has now reached the eighth inning with the Yankees up 7-6.

I’m going to go to my corner, take a swig of water, have my cut man look at my left eye and come out swinging for Round 8. Stay tuned for Part III of what went wrong in New York.

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