Games » Seattle MarinersSep10
Offense wins games; defense wins championships
Everybody loves offense, but defense is more important. Here’s the reason: Offense comes and goes. You can’t control it. Just look at Eric Hosmer’s night: He hit three line drives and a hard grounder and ended up 1-for-4. A couple games back, the Royals hit the ball all over the yard in Oakland but couldn’t get hits to fall. You can have a terrific night at the plate and not get any hits, but if you’re a good defender, you’re a good defender almost every night.
Look at this game: The Royals’ pitchers didn’t walk anybody. That kept whatever damage Seattle could do at a minimum. Ask a professional pitcher about giving up home runs, and he will talk about the importance of giving up solo shots. Nobody wants to get taken out of the yard, but if it’s going to happen, limit the damage by making sure nobody is on base when it happens. The Royals’ pitchers threw strikes and struck out 16. The damage was two runs, which makes the offense’s job a lot easier.
Then check out the defense: When the pitchers weren’t striking people out, the defenders were making plays all over the field. Jeff Francoeur made another leaping catch in right field. Melky Cabrera made one in deep center field. Mike Moustakas made one going into foul territory (kind of making up for the error he made), and Cabrera threw out another runner in the base paths, aided by an athletic play on the receiving end by Eric Hosmer.
As you contemplate the future, think about this: With the announcement that Gold Gloves for outfielders now will be given out by position (it used to be three centerfielders won a lot of the time),the Royals have five legitimate candidates for Gold Gloves in the not too distant future: Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez.
That’s a big deal because offense wins games, but defense wins championships.
• Being in a slump and not getting hits are two different things. A slump is a breakdown in approach. The hitter’s a mess and isn’t even making hard outs. A guy can be terrific at the plate and not get any hits. If you keep score, note the hard outs, and you will get a better idea of who is in a slump and who is just not getting hits.
• There were a fair number of strikeouts looking. That often means good movement on the pitch (either that or bad eyesight on the umpire).
• Seattle starting pitcher Michael Pineda is 6 feet 7 inches tall and 260 pounds. I’ve got no idea how long it takes him to get that package going to home plate, but when Chris Getz walked in the second inning, I figured he would steal. Getz did and was successful. Although Pineda can’t be that slow to the plate. Melky tried to steal in eighth inning and didn’t make it.
• Melky did have a terrific at-bat in the first inning, though. Alex Gordon had doubled and Melky’s job was to make sure Gordo was on third when his plate appearance was over. Cabrera hit a grounder to second, and Billy Butler then drove Alex in with a grounder to first. When the hitter is trying to move the runner over, you often will see this pitch pattern. Down and in to righties (so the ball will be hit to the left side) and hard, down and away to lefties (for the same reason). The pitch must have got too much of the plate because Melky was able to pull it.
• On that throw home in the first inning: Gordon was coming home on Billy Butler’s grounder to first. I pointed this out in the Tampa Bay series, mainly because Jason Kendall pointed it out to me: It’s a big deal if the first baseman (in this case, Justin Smoak) throws left handed on this play. Lefties’ throws tend to tail to their throwing side, and that pulls the catcher away from the plate, which is just what happened on this play. So pay attention when a lefty throws home. Runners can be more aggressive about scoring.
• It also was important that Jeff Francoeur hit a ninth-inning insurance home run. A two-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth is a really big deal. Two runs means that closer Joakim Soria can be as aggressive as he likes with the man at the plate. Hit a bomb, and the Royals are still winning.
It also means if Seattle happened to get a runner on, Soria and the defense wouldn’t have to worry about defensing a bunt or a steal. The Mariners would not play for one when they needed two to tie. So Soria gets to throw more strikes and be aggressive in the zone and the defense gets to stand where they want. Joakim doesn’t have to worry about a slide step or feeding the catcher fastballs to throw out a runner. Like I said, that two-run lead is a big deal.
Get him in the stretch
At times, both pitchers in this game were dealing. When a pitcher gets on a roll, one of the ways to fight back is break the pitcher’s rhythm. There are a couple ways to do this. The first is delay. Step in and out of the box. Have a meeting with a base coach. Adjust your batting gloves. Do anything to mess with the pitcher’s timing.
Another way is to get the pitcher into the stretch. That may explain why you see someone bunt for a hit when his team is down by four runs. If the pitcher is showing a lot of comfort in the windup, find a way to get him out of that windup. Change his pace by making him pitch out of the stretch. It’s even better if the runner is a base stealer. You can change the pitcher’s pitch selection. Make him use a slide step. Anything that disrupts what he’s been doing.
This is also why a pitcher can be sailing along and suddenly give up a big inning. Something happened to change his approach. It’s one of the reasons teams need to be able to play small ball. Standing there trying to hit a guy that’s mowing (that’s the latest baseball slang for pitching well, as in “mowing them down”) hasn’t been not been working. Do something different. Make him field a bunt. Make the defense reposition itself. Anything that changes the current matchup.
And that’s brings us to:
Changing the current matchup
Here’s a matchup: Hitter vs. starting pitcher, and let’s say the starting pitcher’s been winning the matchup. Then you can try hitter vs. third baseman (bunt). If you get a runner on, then you can try runner vs. catcher (steal a base). Or runner vs. outfielder (take the extra base). Or hitter vs. bullpen (take pitches and try to get the starter out of there). Continuing to go after the guy who’s beating your brains in isn’t very smart. Find a way to change the match up.
And if you’re the one winning the matchup, keep it the same. If you get a runner on, don’t worry too much about him. Continue to go after the hitter. It’s the same with the extra base. You’re winning the hitter-pitcher matchup. Don’t do anything crazy with a throw. Keep the double play in order.
Figure out where you have an advantage and spend as much time as possible in that area.