Judging the Royals

The Royals lose in 13 innings — let’s find a scapegoat

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez looked away as the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez congratulated Starlin Castro on a two-run home run in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game.
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez looked away as the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez congratulated Starlin Castro on a two-run home run in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

If you ever thought you wanted to host a sports-talk, postgame call-in show there’s an easy way to be cured of that ambition: all you have to do is listen to one after the Royals suffer a tough loss.

And the losses don’t come much tougher than Wednesday night’s 13-inning loss to the New York Yankees.

When the Royals win, postgame show callers generally express their faith in our Beloved Boys in Blue; when the Royals lose, postgame show callers seem to feel some of our Beloved Boys in Blue ought to take a long walk off a short pier.

So let’s find our scapegoat du jour.

Can we blame the offense?

In 2016, when the Royals hit a line drive, their batting average is .672.

According to MLB.com, the Royals hit eight line drives Wednesday night and only two fell in for hits. So we can praise the Yankees defensive positioning, but I can pretty much guarantee you that let’s-throw-one-down-the-pipe-and-let-Paulo-Orlando-hit-a-rocket-at-our-third-baseman was not their game plan.

There’s an element of luck involved and the Royals didn’t have much.

In the third inning, Orlando hit a line drive with two outs and a runner in scoring position. The runner was Salvador Perez, but he would have been running on contact and if the line drive had gotten past left fielder Brett Gardner, Perez would have scored.

In the sixth inning with Perez once again on second, Orlando lined out to third baseman Chase Headley. If the ball had gotten past Headley, it would have been down the line for extra bases and once again Perez would have scored.

In the 11th inning, with two runners in scoring position, Orlando lined out to second baseman Starlin Castro. And for the third time the Royals were deprived of a run that would have won the game. If any one of those three line drives had found grass, we’d be talking about clutch Royals hitting.

When the Royals fail to score, it’s the hitter’s fault; when the Yankees score it’s the pitcher’s fault.

If you’re postgame show caller, apparently you can have it both ways.

Can we blame the bullpen?

Like all managers Ned Yost has relievers he wants to use when his team is ahead and relievers he wants to use when his team is behind. But ask your bullpen for too many innings in too short a time and managers don’t have that luxury; they have to use every available reliever whether they want to or not.

On Monday night, the Royals had an 8-1 lead going into the top of the eighth inning, but Chris Young and Peter Moylan couldn’t get the job done and Ned was forced to use Kelvin Herrera for a four-out save.

Four-out saves mean an up-down and when a pitcher throws, then sits, then throws again, that pitcher might experience more soreness the next day. Apparently that’s what happened because Herrera did not pitch on Tuesday, but five other relievers did.

Cut to Wednesday and Ned was once again forced to empty out the bullpen; the only reliever that didn’t throw was Joakim Soria. Matt Strahm was asked to go on back-to-back days even though Ned was trying to avoid that.

So if you’re wondering why Chris Young was pitching in a crucial situation there’s your answer: Ned was running out of options. If the game had gone much longer I might have gotten the call. (Which reminds me; I need to give my cell phone number to Dave Eiland.)

Despite injuries to Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar, when it comes to collective ERA the Royals bullpen is still ranked first in the American League.

But that’s an overall number, let’s get specific

On Tuesday night, Soria was the losing pitcher; Wednesday it was Young. The postgame callers seemed to suggest that their lives would be immensely improved if neither of those guys ever pitched again.

But the postgame callers — and just about every other Royals fan — have gotten spoiled.

Last season when Greg Holland was healthy (or at least healthier) the Royals had a pen full of shutdown relievers. Throw in Wade Davis, Jason Frasor, Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar and the Ned had a lot of options.

Right now Ned has maybe two shutdown guys — Herrera and Strahm — and he’s trying to baby the second guy through the rest of the season.

Soria has made 58 appearances and — if I counted right — in 44 of them didn’t give up an earned run. Young has made 16 appearances as a reliever and in 12 of them didn’t give up an earned run. Soria and Young are not the shutdown relievers Royals fans have gotten used to, but there are a lot of teams using relievers who haven’t thrown as well as these two guys.

We forget about them when they throw scoreless innings, but remember their meltdowns.

The Royals need to win series

In baseball, winning every game isn’t feasible, so you try to win series. That generally means winning two out of three games and while the Royals haven’t come close to doing that over the course of the season, it is possible to play at that level in short spurts.

In August, the Royals won 20 of 29 games and that’s a .690 winning percentage. The Royals need to put up similar numbers in September; it’s a long shot, but they’ve shown it can be done.

And if the Royals don’t pull it off, we can always call a postgame show.