Games » Toronto Blue JaysApr22
This can't continue
The Kansas City Star
In the second inning with the score 0-0 and Eric Hosmer on second base, Jeff Francoeur absolutely crushed a ball to left field. I actually said out loud, “Finally.” The ball was caught rather easily by Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis. Someone pointed out the flags — which I neglected to do earlier — and the wind was coming almost straight in from left field.
A lot is going wrong for this team right now - -much of it their own fault. You can’t walk eight people, let two of them score and then get picked off base down by three in the eighth inning and blame it all on bad luck. But when they have done something right, when they hit a scorching line drive with runners in scoring position or hit a bomb to left field that would’ve made a difference in the game, someone has been standing in front of that line drive or the wind knocks down the bomb. As Ned Yost said after the game, “This can’t continue.”
And he may have meant that in more ways than one.
Hitting the ball into the wind may not be all bad luck — it might also be smart pitching. If Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero is smart enough to look at the flags and realize he can let a right-handed hitter crush the ball and still not suffer damage, you’ve got to hand it to him. When you get to the park, check the flags — it’s the first thing the players do. The flags can help tell you if it will be a high- or low-scoring game and whether a smart pitcher can use the wind to his advantage.
The Royals have been hitting into a lot of double plays, so Ned Yost put on a hit-and-run in the second inning with Eric Hosmer on base and Yuniesky Betancourt at the plate. If Ned had not put on the hit-and-run, the Royals would have grounded into yet another double play. I asked if we might see more hit-and-runs in the future for the same reason, and Ned said it was entirely possible.
So why not do more hit-and-runs with Billy Butler? I’ve asked that before, and the answer was this: They are reluctant to force Billy to swing at a pitch he may not like. His pitch selection is usually outstanding, and when he’s right, he can do some damage. But that answer came in 2010 — things may be different now. You’ll know you’re looking at a hit-and-run if the base runner looks toward the plate to locate the ball while he’s running to second base.
Look for a hit-and-run with less than two out and a count that makes a fastball likely. Depending on the pitcher, that can be a lot of counts, but 2-0 and 2-1 are the most common. You don’t do hit and runs with three balls or two strikes — you don’t want to force the hitter to swing the bat at a bad pitch in those counts.
I listen to Robert Ford on 610 Radio while I drive home, and after this one he said the same thing I’ve been saying: This team has more talent than they’ve had in the past, but so far, that hasn’t translated into winning. It’s probably small consolation, but that viewpoint is widespread among the people who actually watch the team every day. Even those not employed by the team. So if I’m wrong, I have plenty of company.
I asked Ned Yost about Jason Bourgeois getting picked off first while trying to steal down by three in the eighth inning. Ned said they had nothing on. The Royals have a “no steal” sign and a “must steal” sign — maybe there are more signs I don’t know about — but players are given the relevant information and the green light. Last season the Royals were second in the league in stolen bases. This season the Royals are first in the league in losing streaks.
Today someone pointed out another reason for this long losing streak: no stopper. The Royals have no true number one that can come in, pitch eight innings of shutout ball and end a losing streak. On the other hand, lots of other teams don’t have a stopper either — they’re hard to find and expensive when you do.
When the opposition has two runners on base — and unfortunately the Royals are getting way too much practice at this — the catcher will step out in front of the plate and signal the infield where the throw will go in case the runners take off. The Royals bit on a double steal and let Toronto score a cheap run. If I get a chance, I’ll ask what they should’ve done differently on that play at tomorrow’s press conference.
After the game Ned said the team’s fundamentals had broken down. Nobody is blaming all this on bad luck or the marketing department or an unfair universe. This is a team that just about everybody who knew anything predicted would finish around .500 — which represents substantial improvement. But it’s also a team that’s not playing well and until they do, they’ll continue to lose.
Something to watch for
Remember when I said Detroit reliever Joaqin Benoit took advantage of Eric Hosmer’s aggressiveness? In the April 17 game Hosmer came to the plate with the crowd roaring, Royals down by two in the eighth inning. Benoit threw Eric an 83 MPH changeup, an 86 MPH changeup and another 86 MPH changeup for strike three. Hosmer took giant cuts and did not seem to adjust to the off-speed pitches.
So if you’re Eric, what are you thinking next time you see Benoit? Wait on that changeup, right?
So what does Benoit throw Eric the next night? 94 MPH fastball, 94 MPH and a 96 MPH fastball that resulted in a fly ball to center field. So far, the veteran has gotten the best of Eric. Watch for that matchup again on this coming road trip — the cat and mouse game will continue.
Hadn’t thought of that
If you love baseball this is a pretty good gig — although the hours are terrible. Basically, I walk around the ballpark all day and talk to people who know more than me — and that includes some beer vendors. When these people drop some knowledge on me it’s usually so logical I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it before.
Try this one: When you’re looking at on-base percentage, don’t just look at on-base percentage. Look for a separation between on-base percentage and batting average. Some guys have a good on-base percentage because they hit well, not because they have any special skill at working walks. If that player starts hitting the ball at people, can he still find a way to get on base? So it’s not just OBP that tells you something, it’s OBP in comparison to batting average that gives you insight into a player’s skill set.