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If they find some starting pitching ...
The Kansas City Star
When the Red Sox were in Kansas City last week, I made a video with Boston bench coach Tim Bogar (it’s posted on the home page), and I asked him what he thought of the Royals. I wouldn’t have asked Bogar that question on camera if he hadn’t already told me what he thought off camera. No coach in his right mind is going to belittle another team publicly, and I wouldn’t put Tim in the position of lying about how talented he thought the Royals were if he didn’t really think it.
Bogie said he thought the Royals’ position players were very talented and the bullpen was as good as any team’s. He said that if the Royals can find some starting pitching, they could have a team that can compete right now.
This road trip showed what he meant. If the starters give the Royals a chance and, even better, hand a lead to the bullpen, this looks like a competitive team.
Top of the first: Eric Hosmer was on second base after a Colby Lewis error. Billy Butler grounded out to the shortstop and Hosmer made a base-running mistake. He broke for third base. That allowed the Rangers shortstop, Alberto Gonzalez, to throw him out and cut down the lead runner.
Butler was safe on the fielder’s choice, but he couldn’t score from first on Jeff Francoeur’s two-out double. With two outs, the runner can break right away, but Billy still couldn’t make it home. Mike Moustakas was hit by a pitch, Brayan Pena doubled and Chris Getz singled, so ultimately, Billy’s lack of foot speed didn’t cost the Royals, and they scored four runs in the first.
Bottom of the first: Kansas City starter Vin Mazzaro pitched to Josh Hamilton as if the Royals didn’t have a four-run lead and walked him. If you walk a hitter, it’s 100 percent guaranteed he will make it to first base. Throw strikes to a hitter, and you will get him out most of the time — even if it’s Josh Hamilton.
Top of the second: Jarrod Dyson led off with a single, but Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis was just too quick to the plate for Jarrod to steal. But speed still played a role. Lewis was worried about Dyson and threw the ball away on a pick-off attempt.
As pitchers speed up their delivery times — making base stealing more difficult — the Royals are putting more emphasis on advancing the runner whenever a good opportunity present itself. The base runners have practiced reading pitches in the dirt. They want to be able to break for the next base before the ball hits the ground.
Top of the third: The Royals led 5-0, and Mike Moustakas made it 6-0 with a home run. It was Mike’s fifth homer of the season, and he’s also batting .310. Fans wanted to send Moose down when he struggled last season, but the Royals stuck with him. Team officials felt he needed to be here to develop, and their patience was rewarded.
Bottom of the fourth: Hamilton singled, but he took the ball the other way. The Royals probably were willing to give away opposite-field singles to Hamilton if it meant keeping the ball in the park. With one out, David Murphy doubled into the right-field corner. Jeff Francoeur was over in the right center gap, so that meant the Royals didn’t expect Murphy to pull the ball down the line. And that meant Mazzaro probably missed a spot with that pitch.
Sure enough, a replay showed catcher Brayan Pena setting up for a low-and-away pitch. The ball drifted back over the plate, allowing Murphy to hit it away from Francoeur.
Mike Napoli made the second out, and the left-handed Mitch Moreland came to the plate facing a defensive shift. Moreland beat the shift by hitting the ball the other way, which scored Murphy. Another look at the replay showed that this time Mazzaro seemed to his spot, low and away. It didn’t seem to be the ideal location when you want a hitter to pull the ball, but the pitch was a change-up.
The Royals probably thought Moreland would reach out and pull the ball, weakly, to the right side. Instead, Moreland stayed back and drove the ball hard to the left side. So Murphy’s double probably was the result of poor pitching, and Moreland’s single probably was good hitting.
Bottom of the fifth: Ian Kinsler singled and stole second base. Vin Mazzaro took more than 1.6 seconds to get the ball home, so Brayan Pena had no shot at throwing out the runner. Kinsler then stole third base. It did not appear that Kinsler had a huge lead, and the middle infielders had him stationary (it’s their job to cut down the runner’s lead and make sure he’s not moving when the pitch is delivered to the plate).
What Kinsler had was a huge jump. Mazzaro checked the runner, turned his head to the plate, paused and delivered the ball home. All this took more than 2.1 seconds and Kinsler broke when Mazzaro turned his head. I don’t know whether Mazzaro ever doubles up on his look back, but if he doesn’t, runners will feel free to leave as soon as he turns his head toward home plate.
Mazzaro’s inattention cost him a run when Josh Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Kinsler.
Top of the ninth: Hosmer was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. Replays showed he probably reached around the tag, but the umpire called him out anyway. Umpires often call runners out if the throw beats the runner — which is lazy umpiring. The play is not complete until the tag is made.
I would like to hear what Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson thought of Hosmer’s attempt at a double. Do the Royals take a different approach to tack on runs late in the game? I have heard ballplayers say that’s a good time to be aggressive, but I don’t know whether it’s a team policy.
As each new hitter comes to the plate, Sisson, who also is the Royals’ outfield coach, goes to the top of the dugout steps and positions the Kansas City outfielders. (I’ve written about this before, but it’s definitely worth repeating.) If you’re out at Kauffman Stadium, you can watch this:
If Doug takes one hand and makes a chopping motion straight up and down, he is asking the outfielder to play “straight up.” Straight up means that if there were a line from first base running through second base, all the way to the outfield wall, Alex Gordon would be standing on it. The line would run from home to second for center field, and third base to second base for right field.
Doug has to stand in the same spot all the time so he gets the same view of the outfielders. He picks something in the background (and has to determine what that is on the road) and lines the outfielder up in relationship to the background.
If Doug uses one hand to move the outfield, he is asking for five steps in that direction. If he uses two hands, he’s asking for 10 steps. If he puts one hand on his chest, Doug is asking for five steps in, two hands, 10 steps in.
If Doug puts his hand on his head, he is telling the outfield to hit the cutoff man and keep the double play in order. Say the Royals lead by two runs in the ninth inning with an opponent’s runner on second and one out. The Royals don’t care if the run scores. They want to keep the tying run out of scoring position. So Doug will signal the outfield to hit the cutoff man. The other team sees this, too. So they may send the runner home, knowing there won’t be a throw.
If Doug puts his hand behind his head, he’s telling the outfield “no doubles.” That means back up so nothing can land behind the fielder — if the ball is over his head, it’s out of the park. Once again, that is used when the tying or winning run is at the plate and the Royals want to keep a runner out of scoring position.
The positioning of the outfield will change slightly with the count. If the hitter gets ahead in the count, the outfield will play him to pull. If the pitcher gets ahead in the count, the outfield will play the batter to hit the ball the other way. Watch Sisson position the outfield and see whether the pitcher gets the ball hit to right spot.
(And there is a video on this if you want to see Doug explain it better than I just did. Plus he spits tobacco about every five seconds, which is pretty amusing.)