Games » Los Angeles AngelsJul23
If it's not one thing...
The Kansas City Star
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Teams that struggle will tell you that when they’re pitching, they’re not hitting … and when they’re hitting, they’re not pitching. And when they’re hitting, sometimes they’re not hitting with runners in scoring position. The Royals are now third in the league in team batting average and hit well—even though it didn’t always translate into runs — during the last home stand. Meanwhile, over the last 20 games the pitchers haven’t held up their end of the bargain.
This game followed that pattern: the Royals had 11 hits, but scored only three runs and the pitchers gave up six runs. Add those numbers up and it totals out to this: the Royals are now 15 games under .500.
First inning: Alex Gordon singles and Alcides Escobar bunts him over to second base. Escobar appears to be adjusting well to batting second. In the past, when Escobar was moved up in the order he would appear to stop hitting. This time, after Ned Yost said this is where you’re going to hit, get used to it, Escobar appears to be getting used to it.
Alcides has hit .333 over his last 10 games and part of the reason he was upset about the umpire’s call last Sunday—Chris Getz was called out at second base on a force play—is the call cost Esky a hit and a hitting streak.
In the bottom of the inning Chen gets the first two outs, but then Albert Pujols drops a flare between Yuniesky Betancourt and Lorenzo Cain. An infielder’s job is to keep going hard until he’s called off by an outfielder. Outfielders have priority over infielders because they’re coming forward and have a better angle on the ball than the infielders that are going back. But Yuni appears to give up on the ball.
It also appears Cain never took charge and made the call. If the outfielder makes the call at least everyone knows who is attempting to make the catch and everyone else can stay out of his way. Yuni and Lorenzo both appear to pull up. The ball might not have been catchable; Cain may have been playing deep because it was Pujols or his limited range may have kept Lorenzo from getting there, but the ball not being caught cost Bruce Chen 12 more pitches in the first inning and shortened his outing in the sixth.
Second inning: Jeff Francoeur ends the inning when he is caught stealing second base. Jeff has been more conservative on the base paths since the Royals decided they needed to dial it back at the beginning of the season. C.J. Wilson is left-handed—much harder to steal off lefties than righties—so I wonder if they have something on Wilson. Some pitchers slow down their delivery in certain counts. Some pitchers never go over to first in certain situations. I timed Wilson’s delivery on this pitch and it was slow, but not slow enough to make Francoeur safe.
Third inning:The four pitches Hosmer saw in the top of the second help him an inning later. Instead of taking a pitch to see what the pitcher has that night—a common practice in first at-bats—Eric is able to jump on the first delivery. C.J. Wilson is in a bit of a bind: he needs to get ahead of a leadoff batter, but the leadoff batter has a head start because of the previous inning’s pitches.
Hosmer then gets a huge jump as he steals second and now I strongly believe the Royals have some key on Wilson. Hosmer is considered a “situational” base stealer; someone who goes when the right situation presents itself. (Escobar, Getz and Dyson are considered “true” base stealers, but in reality they’re all situational base stealers; the true base stealers just have more situations in which it’s possible to run.)
Hosmer moves to third on Brayan Pena‘s single, Eddie Rodriguez does not send a runner home with nobody out unless scoring is an absolute lock. Gordon singles, drives in Hosmer and moves Pena to second base. Next Alcides Escobar buys the Royals another run by hitting the ball to the right side with two strikes. The ability to move runners is part of the two-hole job description. By hitting a fly ball to right field, Esky allows Pena to tag and move from second to third. Then, when Peter Bourjos goes up over the fence and robs Lorenzo Cain of a three-run home run, Pena tags and the Royals get something out of the deal—all because of good situational hitting by Escobar.
In the bottom of the inning with runners on second and third and nobody down, Bruce Chen almost gets out of the inning without a run scoring. He gets Pujols to ground out to Hosmer and the runners are unable to advance, then, with Mark Trumbo at the plate, Bruce does a high wire act: With less than two down and a runner on third, hitters are trying to hit the ball in the air to the outfield so the runner can tag and score.
Pitchers know hitters want a ball up in the zone, so they give them one—but the ball is too up in the zone. The difference between a healthy fly ball to the outfield and an anemic pop fly on the infield is measured in fractions of inches. Even so, Chen gets Trumbo to hit the underside of the baseball and pop up to Eric Hosmer. Now there are two down and Chen has almost completed his Houdini act.
I couldn’t tell you without talking to Bruce—and if the Star wants to fly me to the West Coast to enjoy the cool air and ask Bruce Chen a question, I’m all for it—but pitching requires a lot of concentration and once a pitcher escapes a tough spot, it’s possible to mentally relax and make a mistake on the next hitter. I don’t know if that’s what happened, but after threading the needle with Trumbo, Bruce gives Howie Kendrick something to hit and he does: a two-run double.
Fourth and fifth innings: Eric Hosmer scoops a bad throw from Bruce Chen and uses his wingspan to grab a wide throw from Betancourt an inning later. Pitcher will tell you they love to throw to Salvador Perez because he’s wide; they feel like they can hardly miss him. Infielders feel the exact same way about Eric Hosmer. He’s great at handling bad throws and that allows them to attempt plays they might not attempt with someone else at first base.
Sixth inning:The evidence that the Royals have some key on C.J. Wilson grows; Cain takes off on 1-2 pitch to Betancourt and has a great jump. Yuni has two strikes so he can’t take the pitch (hitters will tell you they’re know when a runner gets a good jump and will often take the pitch to allow the runner to advance). Betancourt fouls the ball back.
In the bottom of the inning, Chen walks the leadoff batter, Kendrick. Chen’s high pitch count in the earlier innings means he won’t make it out of the sixth. In the past, I’ve expressed my belief that leadoff walks score 125% of the time and alert readers have informed me that I’m wrong. But in this case they score 100% of the time and the Angels take a 3-2 lead.
(By the way: if you want a more complete understanding of what is happening during a game, even if no runs score, take note of high-pitch counts in early innings. You’ll see how they change the game in the later innings.)
Later in the inning, Kendrick will steal third base in an ideal situation: a lefthander on the mound (back to the runner) with a right-hander at the plate (blocks the catcher’s throwing lane). Maicer Izturis will also steal a couple of bases in the inning, proving that you should take a catcher’s rate of throwing out runners with a grain of salt. The bases were stolen off the pitchers, Brayan Pena had no chance to throw anyone out.
After Izturis singles, Yost brings Kelvin Herrera in from the pen. Herrera is quite a change of pace from Chen (throws hard from the right side) and he strikes out Peter Bourjos and Bobby Wilson to end the inning.
Seventh inning: With two strikes, Hosmer cuts down on his swing and singles to left field. He then advances on a wild pitch that should have been scored a passed ball and then scores on Brayan Pena’s single to left center.
If you’ve been following this web site and watched the game last night, you probably had the same reaction I did on this play: you knew Hosmer was going to score easily. When I first started managing and coaching third base in amateur ball, the game was coming at me really fast. There was so much to remember that I had 3x5 cards tucked in my back pocket to remind myself of what to do in certain situations.
I was told by professionals to relax, over time I would gain experience and just know what to do without thinking. This is what all ballplayers go through: they have to play enough games to have the right reaction at the right time without thinking it through—the game goes way too fast for players and coaches to stop and consider. That needs to be done before the pitch is thrown.
I eventually got better and would just know what to do and often had to go back and examine how I knew what I knew. Last night I knew Hosmer would score as soon as the ball made it through the infield and when I thought about why I knew, it was simple: Angels centerfielder, Peter Bourjos was moving sideways to field the ball. Sideways movement = weak throw. (And if you had the same experience we should all thank Doug Sisson.)
Eighth inning: Billy Butler leads off with a double and represents the winning run. Mike Moustakas wants to hit the ball to the right side so Billy can advance to third, but Moose tries to pull a fastball on the outer half. That results in a pop up on the infield—no advance. When Betancourt flies out to left field, Mike’s failure to advance Billy probably costs the Royals a run (you can never tell with Billy).
Moustakas is then seen dropping F-bombs (I’m a great lip-reader as long as it’s profanity) in the dugout. Mike’s intensity is one of the reasons people see him a future team leader. A team leader has to hold himself to high standards first, then he can get on teammates about their effort. (Which is why nobody ever took Jose Guillen’s rants too seriously.)
In the bottom of the inning with the score tied 3-3 and two outs, Greg Holland gives up a single to Alberto Callaspo and then gets Izturis to pound the ball into ground. The ball takes a giant hop over Hosmer at first base and goes down in the right field corner for a double. (Got no clue if this was the case, but teams sometimes make the area around home plate really hard if they have guys who tend to pound the ball straight down. They can also make it soft to deaden the ball for guys who like to bunt. Wonder if they ever have arguments between players who want the grounds keepers to take care of their kind of game, not the other guy’s.)
The key to the inning is a four-pitch walk issued to Peter Bourjos. As Ryan Lefebvre predicted last night, the focus this morning is on Kendrys Morales’ bases loaded three-run pinch hit single. (I’ve got no idea how you drive a runner in from first base and only get to first base yourself—I’m assuming Morales still isn’t running well.)
But the problem was walking a guy who is 0 for his last 12 and hitting .223 to get to a guy hitting .280.
The Royals lose 6-3.
I watched and scored the game last night and then hit the hay, leaving the writing and number posting until this morning. This pattern will probably be repeated during night games on the West Coast.