Judging the Royals

How the Royals built a team based on athleticism

Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain scored in Sunday’s game at Boston.
Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain scored in Sunday’s game at Boston. The Associated Press

In the sixth inning of Sunday’s 10-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Eric Hosmer whacked a single off the Green Monster and that allowed Lorenzo Cain to score from first base.

OK, one more time:

In the sixth inning of Sunday’s 10-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Eric Hosmer whacked a single off the Green Monster and that allowed Lorenzo Cain to score from first base.

The Red Sox helped Cain out by throwing the ball to the wrong base — left fielder Chris Young assumed Cain wouldn’t try to score and threw the ball to second — but even so, scoring from first on a single is still pretty dang unusual.

Third base coach Mike Jirschele threw up the stop sign, but Cain ran through it, slid across home plate and laid there laughing. (Apparently, Jirsch will sometimes say things to Cain as he runs by and those things crack Cain up. If I find out why Cain was laughing and the story is repeatable, I’ll repeat it.)

But let’s get back to the Royals and the athletes they’ve put on the field.

I’ve been told that from day one, Dayton Moore knew he’d need athletes to cover the Royals’ gargantuan outfield. One center-field-type guy and two slow-footed sluggers in the corners wasn’t going to work. Hitting home runs in Kauffman would be difficult, so a base-clogging power hitter playing a corner outfield position probably wouldn’t be worth what he’d give up on defense.

That being the case the Royals wanted three outfielders who could cover ground. And if a guy can run down a ball in the gap, he can probably steal a base or go first-to-third, second-to-home or in Lorenzo’s case, first-to-home.

And Lorenzo Cain isn’t an isolated case.

Raul Mondesi hit a standup triple and ran it out at warp speed; then scored on a ball that didn’t make it halfway back to the pitcher’s mound. Alcides Escobar beat out an infield single. The Royals were taking extra bases whenever possible.

They didn’t steal a base, but the Royals’ foot speed was still having an effect.

A while back I was talking to a scout and he described a player as a “Royals-type player.” I asked what that meant and he said tall, lean and fast. Obviously, not every player on the Royals roster fits that description, but quite a few of them do.

When the Royals played the Mets in the World Series a front-office guy said the Royals liked their chances if they kept the ball on the ground. That would allow the Royals to use their speed and force the Mets to make plays — and we all know how that turned out.

Now let’s talk about a play that wasn’t made and it was one of the Royals that didn’t make it.

The Orlando play

Find a diagram of Fenway Park’s dimensions and it looks like it was designed by Pablo Picasso with a hangover. The park is filled with oddities; the Green Monstah, the Pesky Pole and a Bermuda Triangle just to the right of dead center field.

On Sunday night, Paulo Orlando went back on a catchable fly ball in the fifth inning but didn’t catch it. I suspect ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza got it right; it appeared Paulo wasn’t sure where he was or how soon he’d hit the wall, so he started to pull up and alligator-armed the catch.

Outfield warning tracks are not uniform in width so it’s easy to get confused about how many steps you can take before slamming into a wall; you have to remember what city you’re in.

And Orlando has not played much center field in Boston. If I haven’t missed something — and if I have, I’m sure someone will point it out — Orlando played a couple games in Fenway last year, but played left field. Jarrod Dyson played center on Friday night; Orlando started in center on Saturday, but shifted to right once Billy Burns came into the game.

Another credible theory is Orlando knew exactly where he was; a couple steps away from slamming into a part of Fenway’s center-field wall that isn’t padded. Orlando was trying to make the catch right in front of what looks like a giant air conditioning vent.

If I find out anything more about this play, I’ll let you know.

Kauffman Stadium plays fair

That’s what outfield coach Rusty Kuntz once said to me and I had to ask what he meant. All those nooks and crannies that fans love in old ballparks or new ballparks that want to look old, add an element of chance to the game.

An outfielder can do everything right and still get burned when the ball hits some weird angle and shoots off at an unpredictable angle.

Kauffman has some of its own oddities — the rounded corners, the bullpen gates and the in-play scoreboards in the gaps — but at least everything is uniform. And as Rusty put it: that allows the players’ skill to decide a game, not an architect’s whimsy.

The Royals and the postseason

Another ESPN announcer, Aaron Boone, watched the Royals track meet and said if Kansas City got into the postseason they’d be scary. The Royals know how to manufacture runs, play defense and generally bring a killer bullpen along with them.

So getting to the postseason is still a pretty big hill to climb, but if they get there, don’t be surprised if the Royals do well.

Just ask the Red Sox.

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