I’ve talked to players and coaches about what I’ve seen from the Royals recently to find out what really happened on a play or what’s was going on behind the scenes. So let’s answer the first question: did Alex Gordon really drop an easy fly ball?
Last Friday night against the Braves, Alex Gordon dropped a fly ball. But there was nothing easy about it.
That night the wind was howling in; Alcides Escobar called for a pop up at short and wound up chasing the ball all the way across the infield — he caught it on the far side of second base.
The ball Gordon dropped was hit over his head and he was chasing it to the warning track. A gust of wind changed the ball’s trajectory; instead of continuing to carry, it suddenly dropped almost straight down. That’s why you saw Gordon pull his glove back toward his body. The ball went off the heel of the glove and Gordon got an error. (And just in case you’re wondering, Gordon isn’t the one who told me that.)
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As outfield coach Rusty Kuntz once said; when a four-time Gold Glove winner fails to make what looks like a routine play, there was probably something going on that made the play more difficult than it looked.
If you’re thinking that wind was tough luck for the Royals, Rusty thought that without the wind knocking the ball down that night, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman might have hit two home runs in the game and maybe the Royals don’t win.
Was Lorenzo Cain loafing during the New York series?
Some people said that about Cain because of two plays; a ball that hit in front of him and got past and another ball that was hit over his head and was not chased down at full speed.
At this point in the season, fields in the Northeast can be pretty rough. They have cold winters and early in the season sometimes the grass isn’t as lush. The fields look OK on TV because the grounds crews cover any bare spots with green spray paint. That being the case it’s easy to get a bad bounce and that’s what happened to Cain on the first play; the ball hit a rough spot and took a sideways hop.
The ball hit over Cain’s head was struck with such force that it was past him before he got out of first gear. At that point Cain knew he wasn’t going to catch the ball, so he slowed down to play the carom off the wall. Cain has proven he’s willing to challenge the wall to make a catch, so maybe fans ought to give him the benefit of the doubt; there’s a decent chance he knows a thing or two about making plays in the outfield.
Why Whit Merrifield over Christian Colon?
Major-league utility players are usually in the big leagues more for their glove than their bat. Having a guy on the bench who can play numerous positions gives the manager some options when it comes to pinch-hitting or pinch-running, so a good utility guy is very valuable.
Christian Colon is a bit of an anomaly (and I spelled that right on my second try) because his bat is considered better than his glove. His arm is not as strong as you’d like for a guy who might have to play the left side of the infield. If Colon is moving forward when he makes a throw from short or third he’s OK; but if he’s going to his backhand side and has no momentum behind his throw, that’s where lack of arm strength will show up.
Whit Merrifield plays all four infield positions and all three outfield positions (at this point, I have no inside information on how well he plays them, but he plays them) and is considered a stolen-base threat off the bench. Merrifield had 32 stolen bases in Omaha last year and already had 16 this year. Whether he can do the same thing against big-league pitchers and catchers has yet to be determined, but I’m guessing we’ll find out.
Can Cheslor Cuthbert play second base?
Anytime an infielder is asked to switch positions and play second base, watch him on the 6-4-3 double play. That’s when he has a runner behind him and it takes experience to know how long you can hang in there and complete the play or when you need to bail out before you get hurt. Learning to do a “pirouette step” isn’t easy.
(I guess I better explain myself: a pirouette step is stepping into the sliding runner with your left foot, making the throw, then hopping in the air — and you’ve got to do that before the runner arrives and breaks your leg — going over the runner and landing on your right foot on the other side. Mis-time it and you can get really get hurt.)
When the Royals asked Mike Aviles to play second base, he struggled with this, so if Cuthbert plays second, pay attention to that 6-4-3 double play.