Judging the Royals

Do the Royals have another miraculous comeback up their sleeve?

The Royals’ Alex Gordon was congratulated after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning of Saturday’s baseball game against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals’ Alex Gordon was congratulated after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning of Saturday’s baseball game against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

After the Royals beat the Twins 10-0 on Saturday night, I was talking to Jarrod Dyson and casually mentioned how much I was loving this weather. Game time temperature was 76 degrees.

Dyson said he was loving winning.

Dyson has a point: The Royals have now won seven in a row, 10 of their last 11 and are 14-5 in the month of August. I asked Dyson whether he knew how far back the Royals are in the standings, and he said no but figured they were making up some ground.

When you’re not in the race, you quit looking at the scoreboard; what’s the point? But when you win 10 of 11 you might take a peek. In the AL Central the Royals are now one game behind the Detroit Tigers and eight games behind the Cleveland Indians. The Royals are also four and a half games out of the wild card but have four teams in front of them. The odds are still long, but the Royals are playing well enough to make you wonder: Do they have another miraculous comeback up their sleeve?

Stay tuned; if the Royals stay hot and a couple teams scuffle, September could get interesting.

It starts with the starter

Saturday night Ian Kennedy gave the Royals another good start: eight innings pitched, no runs allowed.

On more than one occasion Rusty Kuntz has pointed to the pitcher’s mound and croaked: “It starts with starting pitching, it does.” (OK, he doesn’t really say it that way, but I was trying to make him sound like Yoda because that would make me Luke Skywalker … but if I keep hitting the soft-serve ice cream I’ll soon be Jabba the Hutt.)

Here’s Rusty’s point: Most nights, everything depends on the starting pitcher.

Gold Glove defenders don’t matter if the starting pitcher walks people. An offense that knows how to manufacture single runs is taken out of its game if the starting pitcher gives up runs in bunches. An outstanding bullpen isn’t a factor if the starting pitcher can’t hand that bullpen a lead.

A bad start by a starting pitcher is a disturbance in the force. (Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure that was my last Star Wars reference.)

When their starting pitcher works more than six innings the Royals are 32-10; when the Royals are ahead after six innings the Royals are 45-6.

When the starter works fewer than six innings the Royals are 18-37; when they’re behind after six innings the Royals are 12-48.

When the starter works exactly six innings they’re 13-13, and when the Royals are tied after six innings they’re 6-6.

It’s not all that hard to figure out: When a starting pitcher throws more than six innings he’s throwing well, and that allows Ned Yost to avoid middle relief. Having a lead allows Ned to give the ball to the best relievers in the bullpen.

Yoda knows what he’s talking about.

The 3-0 green light

When a team has 17 hits and scores 10 runs it can be hard to pick out an offensive highlight. After the game the media swarmed Alex Gordon because he had two home runs and appears to be on the hottest of hot streaks.

I may have a mild case of enochlophpobia (fear of crowds) because when I see 10 people talking to the same guy my first instinct is to go find someone else to talk to.

Time for a confession: I had to look up enochlophobia on the internet. Enochlophobia is somewhat different from agoraphobia, which is of course – as the word suggests – the fear of angora sweaters. (Now don’t you miss the Star Wars jokes?)

So anyway … in the fifth inning with the score 4-0 and the game still somewhat in doubt, Eric Hosmer got a 3-0 green light and drove in Lorenzo Cain with an RBI single. So that led me to ask Ned Yost how he decides to give someone a 3-0 green light.

Generally speaking Ned likes to use the 3-0 green light with a hitter who has some pop; that way the Royals might get something better than a man on first base. Ned also tends to use it when the pitcher has a nasty put-away pitch. Some pitchers go 3-0 and are on the verge of walking the batter; other pitchers go 3-0 and have the control to get back in the count.

Giving a power hitter the 3-0 green light is way to get him a hittable fastball and a chance to do damage.

I asked Hosmer about hitting in 3-0 counts and he said pretty much the same thing. In the big leagues, take that 3-0 fastball down the middle and you’re not assured of getting another fastball 3-1. And if first is open, pitchers might decide to drop a couple of nasty sliders on you, and if they walk you, they walk you.

So giving a 3-0 green light to a good hitter gets him a good pitch to hit, but I’ve also heard it argued that giving a scuffling hitter the 3-0 green light is a good way to get him started. Whichever category you want to put Hosmer in (he’s hit .280 the last seven days but .231 the last two weeks) that 3-0 green light got him a fastball to hit, a knock and an RBI.

The force was with him. (OK, that’s definitely my last Star Wars reference…for today.)

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