Judging the Royals

Royals’ offense can’t make up for poor pitching

The scoreboard was pretty ugly from the Royals’ perspective on Tuesday.
The scoreboard was pretty ugly from the Royals’ perspective on Tuesday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

If you’re looking for a turning point in Tuesday’s game, it might have been the National Anthem. Dillon Gee got the start and the first pitch he threw was lined into left field for a single. Two pitches later Gee gave up a double and the Angels scored a run; the first of 13 they’d score.

Right now the Royals offense is having trouble matching an opponent that scores three runs, much less 13. The Royals are 0-4 when allowing 13 runs and the worst thing about that is the Royals have allowed their opponents to score 13 runs four times this season.

When you get beat 13-0 you’ve gotta ask yourself if the other team played that well or you played that badly.

After the game Ned Yost gave credit to Angels starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs, and that’s what managers do; it’s considered bad form to get shut out and then refuse to tip your cap to the guy who did it. But lately the Royals are making some so-so pitchers and scuffling hitters look like All-Stars.

And that brings us to another subject.

Denial

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have one, so it doesn’t help when a pitcher has a ball hit more than 400 feet and then claims it was hit on a good pitch. It doesn’t help when a pitcher gives up five runs in five innings and then claims he didn’t pitch all that badly.

Here’s a rule of thumb for pitchers: you don’t pitch inside in the ninth inning or later when the score is tied. The hitters are trying to pull the ball and end the game with one swing; make them beat you with three singles to the opposite field. Not long ago Joakim Soria ignored this bit of wisdom and let Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the Tigers beat the Royals with a walk-off home run.

Here’s another rule of thumb: don’t get an All-Star out, breathe a sigh of relief, lose focus and throw a meatball to a bench player. After Tuesday night’s game Dillon Gee said he did OK against the Angels Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters but probably should have focused a little more on the rest of their lineup.

Failing to observe the fundamentals of pitching and then saying you did OK or a 400-foot bomb was given up on a good pitch is denial and the Royals can’t afford that right now.

Not long ago Chris Young said the hitters will tell you everything you need to know and 13 runs and 22 hits tell you the Royals pitched poorly.

Offense can’t cover for poor pitching

The Royals offense is dead last in runs scored so it’s unlikely to cover poor pitching performances. Only one team in the American League has had worse starting pitching and no AL pitching staff has given its team fewer quality starts. Having a shutdown eighth-inning set-up man and ninth-inning closer doesn’t matter if you can’t hand them a lead.

The Royals are 36-9 when the other team scores three runs or less; 12-42 when the other team scores four runs or more. The Royals are built to play low-scoring games where small ball matters; not slugfests where you need to score runs in bunches. Give the other team a lead and it takes the Royals offense out of its preferred “keep-the-line-moving” style of play.

Take the third inning of Tuesday night’s loss: Eric Hosmer came to the plate with two out and two on. He took two curves for balls and then got what every hitter wants: a fastball in a fastball count. Hosmer hit an easy fly ball to left field and threw his bat down in disgust.

When hitters try to do too much they chase marginal pitches or over-swing when they get a good one.

When you don’t hit, a team looks dead because it doesn’t have base runners and that’s where a team shows energy; running the bases. Tuesday night the Royals had three hits and one walk, so they didn’t get much opportunity to show energy. But the players are well aware of what’s at stake and if anything, the hitters are trying too hard.

The Royals still have Gold Glove-level defenders all over the field. The Royals bullpen isn’t as strong as it was the past two years, but it’s still the third-best bullpen in the league. When the game is low scoring, the offense is still versatile enough to win. But the starting pitching hasn’t been very good, so the Royals have little margin for error.

They can’t give up home runs in 1-2 counts or have one of the few base runners they have doubled off on a fly ball and both those things happened Tuesday night.

The Royals are still a very good team, but they’re a very good team that’s playing bad baseball right now.

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