Games » Baltimore OriolesMay25
Defense and the fifth inning
The Kansas City Star
One of the Royals’ strengths this season has been defense, but it wasn’t so sharp in this game. Let’s start with the walk that led off the fifth inning. First, lead-off walks score the majority of the time; second, walking the No. 9 hitter is usually a mistake; and third, Xavier Avery can fly. Bruce Chen is known as a “reader” (a left-handed pitcher who can lift his front foot, “read” what the base runner is doing and then decide whether to throw the ball home or to first base) and that keeps most base runners from taking off for second base.
Avery decided to steal anyway, Chen threw to first and by the time Eric Hosmer’s throw got down to second base, Avery was already there. With the score 1-0, the next batter, Robert Andino laid down a bunt to third base side of the mound. Third baseman, Mike Moustakas was in front of the bag, facing the mound. In this bunt defense Mike’s job was to read the bunt, charge the ball if Chen couldn’t field it or retreat to the bag if Bruce could get to the ball and make the throw to third to get the lead runner.
Either Mike misread the bunt or there was bad communication, because Moose started back to the bag, then realized Bruce would not field the ball. The step back was fatal, Moustakas did not get to the ball in time, both runners were safe.
Next Bruce picked off Andino. This time Hosmer’s throw beat the runner, but Alcides Escobar missed the tag. Give some credit to Andino — he pulled a “swim move.” The base runner reaches out with one hand and when the fielder tries to make the tag, the runner pulls the hand back. The runner can then try to tag the bag with the other hand or reach over the tag — which is what Andino did — and get in safely. (The motion of the hands can look like swimming, hence the name.)
Esky probably missed the tag because he was worried about Avery on third base. Alcides looked up at third and not only missed the tag, but also missed the fact that Andino over slid the bag. J.J. Hardy doubled and the Orioles had all the runs they’d need, but they added five more for good measure.
More defensive problems
In the first inning with the bases loaded and nobody out, Adam Jones hit a fly ball to Alex Gordon. Robert Andino was on third base, tagged up and tried to score. Alex threw home, but the ball was cut off by Mike Moustakas. Moose had moved into cutoff position, his job was to make sure no other runners moved up — either by cutting the ball of or faking the cut. The call on this play is made by the catcher. If he thinks there’s chance to get the runner, he yells for the cutoff man to let the ball go through. If the catcher doesn’t think there’s a chance, he yells for the cutoff man to catch the ball.
Moustakas cut the ball, but Brayan Pena’s body language made it appear he wanted the ball to come to home plate. I could be reading this wrong, but it seemed like another case where communication wasn’t as clear as it should’ve been.
And before we leave the subject of defensive problems, let’s go back to the fifth inning: Adam Jones also attempted to steal second and Alcides Escobar came out in front of the bag to receive the throw. Brayan’s throws to second base tend to tail to the first base side, so whoever is taking the throw has to be in a position to move laterally. Moving to the left, catching the ball, then reaching in and making the tag requires a lot of concentration (one of the reasons Brayan likes Chris Getz as a second baseman is Getzie’s ability to make this play), but this time Alcides missed the ball as he was trying to combine the catch and the swipe tag, the ball hit Esky’s wrist and went into centerfield for an E6.
Not a great night for the Royals defense.
2nd inning: Jeff Francoeur broke for home and was tagged out on a play at the plate. The contact play was on (the runner breaks on “contact”), so it might’ve looked bad, but Frenchy was doing the right thing.
3rd inning: On a 3-1 count, Alcides Escobar assumed the call was ball four, took off his elbow pad and headed for first. Bad move. Umpires don’t like that — or a pitcher who starts off the mound thinking the call is strike three. The opposition knows that and will then take advantage. The pitcher knew that Escobar was probably going to get rung up on anything close after that.
3rd inning: Jarrod Dyson attempted to bunt for a hit, but probably put the ball on the wrong side of the mound. Jason Hammel is right handed and falls off to the first-base side of the mound. Bunting the ball to the third-base side of the mound might’ve been a better bet.
Three walks scored. You can’t help the opposition by handing out free base runners.
The Royals stole a couple bases off Hammel while the score was still 1-0. Hammel was 1.5 or over to the plate by my stopwatch, so if the Royals are going to run, this is the kind of guy they should run on.
4th inning: Alex Gordon struck out looking with a runner on third and less than two outs. We’ve had this debate before, but a lot of baseball people think striking out looking is a mistake, especially with runners in scoring position — sounds like Ned Yost is on that list.
The best at-bat of the year so far
If you need a silver lining to go with that cloud, Jeff Francoeur is heating up. Last week, Jeff said he thought he’d still hit .280 despite a bad start. When he started last Sunday’s game he was hitting .235. Less than a week later, Jeff’s hitting .271.
In the 8th inning of this game, he homered. But what happened before Frenchy hit the ball out of the park is what made it remarkable: he homered on the 12th pitch of the at-bat.
Here’s the at-bat, pitch by pitch:
1st pitch, 83-MPH Curveball, Ball
2nd pitch, 95-MPH Fastball (Four-seam), Foul
3rd pitch, 96-MPH Fastball (Four-seam), Ball
4th pitch, 83-MPH Curveball, Foul
5th pitch, 95-MPH Fastball (Two-seam), Foul
6th pitch, 95-MPH Fastball (Four-seam), Foul
7th pitch, 84-MPH Curveball, Foul
8th pitch, 84-MPH Curveball, Foul
9th pitch, 95-MPH Fastball (Four-seam), Foul
10th pitch, 95-MPH Fastball (Four-seam), Ball
11th pitch, 94-MPH Fastball (Two-seam), Foul
12th pitch, 96-MPH Fastball (Four-seam), Home run
A couple of amazing things in this at-bat: look at how many pitches at different speeds and trajectories Frenchy was able to foul off and then take a look at the 10th pitch. After fouling off six straight pitches, Jeff was able to recognize a pitch just out of the zone and take it for ball three.
That’s really hard to do once you get into swing mode. I don’t know how long it will last, but this streak tells you Francoeur is seeing the ball very well right now.