Games » Detroit TigersJul8
Let's take a break
The Kansas City Star
After losing to Detroit 7-1, the Royals have fallen back to 10 games under .500. After the game, Ned Yost was asked if the All-Star break was coming at a good time. Ned said the All-Star break always comes at a good time. Players — and certain sportswriters — are tired. Mentally recharging for four days and stepping back on the field in five isn’t much of a rest, but it’s all baseball allows.
Here’s what a few of the players have done in the first half. (I’d like to lie to you and say I looked these numbers up on my own, but I got them from the Joel Goldberg Show.)
Alcides Escobar leads the team with a .307 batting average. Esky is becoming one of the premier shortstops in baseball and Ned Yost — who stuck with him last season — deserves some credit. Ned is now asking Escobar to step up his game and take on the role of hitting second in the order.
Frankly, it’s mentally easier for many players to hit at the bottom of the order. A player can relax and figure whatever he does hitting eighth is OK; expectations aren’t too high. It looks like the Royals have decided they can’t afford a .300 hitter in the 8-hole — too many other hitters aren’t producing. Yost protected Escobar last year, now he appears to be challenging him to handle a bigger role.
Mike Moustakas leads the team in extra-base hits with 36 — and Ned Yost deserves some credit for sticking with him last season as well. Moose has also shown remarkable improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Last season I kidded him about how many times Eric Hosmer saved one of this scattershot throws. This season it’s become routine to see Moose dive and come up throwing a strike across the diamond.
Billy Butler leads the team in home runs (16) and RBIs (52). In 2011, Butler was asked to sacrifice some average for some power. Billy started holding his hands higher and hitting down through the baseball. This adjustment has imparted rising backspin to the ball and we’re seeing the results. Billy comes in for his fair share of criticism for the other parts of his game, but when he steps into the batter’s box, Butler’s one of the best.
Jarrod Dyson leads the team in stolen bases with 15. As I’ve been saying since spring training, pitchers are speeding up their delivery times to shut down the running game. Jeff Francoeur is a perfect example: last season Jeff had 22 stolen bases, so far this season he has one. The Royals expect the team’s true base stealers (Dyson, Escobar and Getz) to continue their base running thievery at a fairly high rate but think the other players will run “situationally” — in breaking ball counts or when there’s reason to believe other factors present an opportunity. (Moose got one of these “situational” steals the other night when the Royals didn’t believe the third baseman would cover the bag because of the pitch thrown — the Royals guessed right and Mike stole third.)
Alex Gordon has once again reacted well to hitting leadoff. He leads the team in walks (46) and runs scored (48). It would be nice if Alex were one of the true base stealers or could cut down on his strikeouts (he leads the team with 69) but you can’t have everything…apparently.
Bruce Chen leads the team in wins with 7, Luke Hochevar is second with 6 and reliever Tim Collins is third with 4 — and that’s a problem. The starting pitchers have not pitched consistently well or consistently deep into games. The starter with the best ERA is Luis Mendoza with a 4.50 and the only starters who look like they’ll come anywhere close to giving the club 200 innings are Chen and Luke Hochevar. As a result, manger Ned Yost has gone to the pen early and often. When fans hear that Royals have used the pen more often than any other team, they worry about the relievers getting burned out.
Fortunately — as has previously been pointed out on this site and not by me — a lot of those innings have been picked up by long relievers. The Royals have kept the innings down on the other relievers by shuttling pitchers like Nate Adcock back and forth between Omaha and KC. I don’t know what the ideal number of relief innings is for each pitcher and I know Yost worries about burning out the pen, but no reliever is on pace to throw 90 innings in relief. (As a point of comparison, the most innings Jeff Montgomery threw in a single season was 94 and a third.) The Royals probably have target numbers for each reliever but haven’t shared those with me.
The reliever with the best ERA is Jose Mijares (1.62). Not a huge surprise, Jose generally gets used in situations favorable to a left-handed reliever, mostly facing left-handed hitters. Chen leads the team in strikeouts with 72 and Tim Collins leads the relievers in strikeouts with 59. Tim almost leads the team in WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched), but that honor goes to Mitch Maier. (I miss that guy already.)
OK, so the Royals take a few days off and then get back to the grind on Friday.
They’re going to have to make a decision on Chris Getz. He’s apparently healthy and ready to play, but, even though Getz is a better defender and base runner and has hit for a higher average than Yuniesky Betancourt, Yuni has been driving in runs for the last month. The team may not want to give up that offense to get a better defender on the field — at least until Yuni cools down.
It sounds like they’re trying to get Jeff Francoeur back to the approach that he took last season. They want Jeff to lay off the inside fastball. In Sunday’s game, Frenchy was out in front on two sliders. Trying to swing early enough to hit 95 inside can make you early on everything else and that makes your pitch selection go to hell.
They still don’t know what they have in Lorenzo Cain, and if Wil Myers plays well in the Futures Game, there will be more public pressure to get him up here (which I’m guessing will have zero effect on the Royals front office…and that’s the right number…you can’t run teams based on sports talk radio. The Royals plan on bringing Myers up when they think he’s ready to stay and play).
OK, I’m skipping my usual game breakdown after Sunday’s loss. Let’s leave it at this: Ned Yost brought in Tim Collins to face Prince Fielder even though he already had a lefty on the mound (Everett Teaford). Ned thought it was a crucial moment in the game (it was) and figured Collins’ curve and change-up gave him a better chance of getting Fielder out. Collins never got to the off-speed stuff. Tim tried to get ahead with a fastball and Prince almost hit a right-field concession stand with it. Three-run bomb, game pretty much over.
The All-Star break
Normally, I get to take the All-Star break off, but someone came up with the crazy idea of holding the game here in KC, so I’ll continue to work, at least for the first couple of days of the break. This is a big deal because I’ve had a total of two days off since I left for spring training in mid-March.
I’m either drawing a political cartoon for the editorial page or reporting on a ball game for the sports department and on most days I do both. (Sorry, just needed to get a little whining in there about my work schedule.) The end result of this slave-driving and future worker compensation lawsuit is that there will be fresh material on the site over the break.
Tomorrow, we’ll post a column about the people who throw the pitches to the home run derby contestants — it’s harder than you might think — and Tuesday I’ll cover the game in the same way I cover Royals games. I’ll look for key moments that might go unnoticed and try to break down what’s behind those moments: why players, coaches and managers did what they did.
We’ll also be adding new videos: currently we have a video of Steve Palermo talking about umpiring in the All-Star Game (you might pull for the American or National Leagues; Steve pulls for the umpires to get the calls right) and we’ll soon post a video of Jeff Montgomery talking about performing in All-Star Games and his advice for Billy Butler, who is dealing with his first appearance.
Monday I’ll go out to Kauffman and see who I can talk to (it’s going to be a crazy scene) and post videos from those encounters.
All I can tell you is keep checking in. Billy Butler is not the only one making his first All-Star Game appearance. I’ll be doing an awful lot of playing-it-by-ear over the next few days. It should be interesting — and tiring. My next day off is in November.