Games » St. Louis CardinalsJun23
Strengths and limitations
The Kansas City Star
For starters, give some credit to the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright. When everyone on a team struggles at the plate, maybe it’s because of the opposing pitcher. But after giving credit where credit is due, take a look at the Royals’ offensive approach.
Right now, manager Ned Yost thinks his hitters are swinging at too many pitcher’s pitches. Hearing that, some critics will immediately blame hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. (Kevin and I haven’t discussed it, but I’m pretty confident he’s not telling his hitters to look for something nasty on the black low and away.)
So why do hitters go after those pitches? Lots of reasons. They’re young. They’re pressing to make something happening. The pitcher fools them with late movement. They’re thinking too much. They’re not seeing the ball well. If I knew more about hitting, the list could go on for a while.
(I know one thing: If the Royals aren’t hitting, it isn’t because they don’t work hard enough. I’m at the ballpark early every day, and I see how much time Seitzer and the hitters put in on a daily basis.)
All players, coaches and managers have strengths and limitations. When fans are happy with someone, they focus on his strengths. When they’re unhappy with someone, they focus on his limitations. Baseball provides plenty of evidence for any case you want to make. Seasons do not go smoothly. Teams and players have their ups and downs. Looking at both the good and the bad is the only way to get an accurate picture of what someone brings to the table.
So if you want to blame Seitzer for the Royals’ current offensive woes, go ahead — but, as Robert Ford pointed out on his postgame show — don’t forget that this is the same guy who had the Royals hitting last season, helped Alex Gordon find a workable approach at the plate, helped Billy Butler add some power to his stroke, helped Jeff Francoeur to one of his better seasons, did the same for Melky Cabrera, helped Mike Moustakas through his slump and probably had something to do with Alcides Escobar hitting .300.
Everybody has strengths and limitations.
First inning: Alex Gordon bunted for a hit. Wainwright picked up the ball and hit Gordon in the backside with the throw. Alex then started shaking his hand, which seemed like an odd reaction. I had no idea that getting hit in the butt hurts your left hand. It turns out that the ball hit Gordon’s finger when he bunted and it raised a blood blister. Alex popped the blister and played on. (Alex’s injury probably had Mitch Maier looking for his glove. I’ll explain why in a moment.)
Third inning: A ball was hit directly at center fielder Jarrod Dyson. He did what outfielders are taught to do when a ball is hit in the air: Drop step (you never want to backpedal — it’s too slow) and freeze until you have a read. Dyson got a read that told him to get on his horse and go. He did and made the catch.
Later in the inning, a St. Louis batter walked, then eventually scored and the Cardinals were up 1-0.
Fourth inning: Alex Gordon led off with a walk, and when the count reached 3-2 on Billy Butler, Gordon took off for second, even though there was one out. Managers often will send runners on full counts to stay out of double plays as long as they trust the hitter to either get the ball in play or show good judgment if the ball is out of the strike zone. Butler flied out to center field, and Alex returned to first.
Fifth inning: With one down and Daniel Descalso on first base, The Cardinals’ Rafael Furcal hit a grounder to Yuniesky Betancourt’s right. Yuni was at second base, and the ball may have been partially shielded by the umpire. In any case, Betancourt did not dive for the ball in an attempt to knock it down and keep the runner from advancing to third.
(When keeping the ball on the infield is a priority, the catcher will make a downward motion with the palms of his hands, reminding the infielders they need to try to knock down any grounder, even if they have no play at first base.)
Jon Jay followed with a single to right field, and Descalso scored from third base. Had Descalso been on second, Jeff Francoeur’s reputation for throwing out runners might have prevented the run from scoring — at least temporarily.
After the game, Ned Yost was asked whether Betancourt needed to dive for some of the balls that snuck through just out of his reach. Ned said that Yuni’s range is still a bit hampered, that he sometimes has been in a bad position to dive and that when he has laid out for some balls, the results haven’t been a whole lot better. Bottom line: Chris Getz is hurt, and Betancourt has hit as well or better than anyone else in the month of June.
Matt Holliday followed all that up with a bullet at Mike Moustakas that hit Mike’s glove but got away for another single. The score was 3-0 with one out in the fifth, and it appeared that Luis Mendoza was once again struggling in third at-bats. Kelvin Herrera was called in from the pen.
Sixth inning: Francisley Bueno replaced Herrera. Bueno left a change-up up in the strike zone — they need to start low and dive out of the zone — and Matt Carpenter whacked it for a single. Tony Cruz, the Cardinals’ catcher, came to the plate next, and when the count moved from 2-1 to 2-2, the entire Royals outfield shifted toward the opposite field.
Outfielders move with the counts. When a hitter is ahead in the count and aggressive, the outfielders will play the hitter to pull. When the hitter is behind in the count and trying to wait as long as possible to identify a pitch before swinging, the outfielders will play them the other way.
In this case, none of it mattered. Cruz hit the ball to short (hitters tend to pull when they hit the ball on the ground) and was safe at first on a fielder’s choice. By the time the inning was over, the Cardinals lead 5-2.
Seventh inning: The Cardinals’ Allen Craig hits a two-run homer, putting the game out of reach. Once again, the Royals are expending innings out of the pen on a game they are unlikely to win.
Here’s hoping that none of those lost innings is a deciding factor Sunday.
Stretching your zone
It’s Saturday morning, and Billy Butler, Mitch Maier and Alex Gordon were sitting in the clubhouse, watching video of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ starter. I asked what Wainwright does, and they each explained what pitches they were likely to see that day.
As Ned Yost said after the game, “Everybody knows everybody.” Hitters have either faced a pitcher before or they refer to the video and other information that is provided to them. The game is less about surprise than it is about execution. Hitters know what pitches they probably will see. What they don’t know is how good those pitches will be, for instance, if the pitcher likes to come inside when the hitter is behind in the count and looking to hit the ball the other way. Will the pitcher get it inside or leave it out over the plate?
Mitch said we should watch the next at-bat on the video. It’s Mitch. Wainwright threw Mitch a “backdoor” curve — a pitch that starts off the plate away from the hitter and carries into the zone at the last moment. The pitch was clearly a ball, but it was called a strike. Wainwright threw the same pitch again — why not? — and it was called a ball.
I asked Mitch what that does to a hitter’s head. No surprise: it screws it up. Now the hitter is unsure what will be called a strike and what will be called a ball. Billy said everyone tells hitters not to stretch their zones — don’t let the umpire mess with your pitch selection — and nobody follows that advice. In fact, a hitter may get more aggressive because he doesn’t want to find himself in a two-strike situation with an umpire he doesn’t trust.
So next time you see a hitter chase a borderline pitch, there may be a reason.
Harder than it looks
After seeing the video of me throwing my body in front of baseballs in an attempt to block pitches in the dirt, we should all appreciate catcher Salvador Perez that much more. After Friday night’s game, Mike Moustakas pointed out how Sal blocks pitches. Instead of the ball ricocheting off in totally new directions, Perez can block a pitch and have it fall straight at his feet, like a chicken laying an egg. My blocks meant I would have had to run after the ball. Sal’s blocks mean that the ball is right there in front of him, and the base-runners aren’t going anywhere.
So next time you see a catcher block a pitch, pay attention to how far the ball rolls.
The bench player
OK, back to why Mitch would be looking for his glove after Alex Gordon hurt his hand. Mitch has to stay ready the entire game. Every couple of innings he leaves the dugout and warms up. If someone gets hurt, he may find himself on the field almost immediately. There’s not much time to get loose.
And, as any baseball player will tell you, the ball will find you. Several times this season, Mitch has come into a game and the next ball in play was his. That’s why you see him laughing when it happens.
What kills Mitch is how easily Billy Butler handles the same situation. Apparently, right before Billy hit that game-tying run in St. Louis, all he did was take a couple dry hacks, step to the plate and hit a 98-mph fastball 438 feet.
As Mitch said, “Billy was born to hit.” After a couple of my video adventures, I think I can safely say some of us were born to get hit.