Games » Seattle MarinersJul28
The Kansas City Star
Poor fundamentals cost the Royals this ballgame. The winning run was scored because a leadoff batter was walked, a stolen base was allowed (possibly through inattention) and a sacrifice bunt was mishandled. The Mariners scored what proved to be the winning run without benefit of a hit. It’s one thing to get beaten by your opponent. It’s quite another to beat yourself.
First inning: With one down, Alcides Escobar drops a bunt for a hit and moves into scoring position on an error by the third baseman, Kyle Seager. That pays off when Billy Butler singles and Escobar scores. Seattle starter Kevin Millwood gets all three outs on strikeouts looking. That might suggest good movement on Millwood’s pitches, but the Royals appear to have another theory: bad umpiring.
In the bottom of the inning Mike Moustakas makes a diving stop down the third base line. Throwing from his knees, Moose does not get an out. But Mike’s stop means the batter, Casper Wells, is on first base, not second. Not every great defensive play gets an out. Some save a base.
Before the inning is over, Jordan Baker, a minor-league umpire filling in behind home plate, yells at the Royals dugout. Apparently, the Royals have been chirping about the strike zone and Baker tells them to cool it. New umpires sometimes try to demand respect instead of earning it.
With Wells on first base and Jesus Montero at the plate, Brayan Pena blocks a slider in the dirt. Montero singles. Pena’s block and Moustakas’ play at third mean Wells ends the inning standing on second base instead of being in the dugout after scoring a run.
Second inning: The Royals have two lineouts in the top of the inning. That may be bad luck for the Royals or good positioning by the Mariners, but when you’re losing, it always seems like it’s one or the other.
Mike Moustakas is out of the game (right knee sprain, day to day). Yuniesky Betancourt has moved from second base to third and Chris Getz has come off the bench to play second. With two down, Getz makes an error and that costs Bruce Chen nine more pitches in the inning.
Third inning: With two down and a runner on first, Bruce Chen tries to get inside on the right-handed hitter Montero. Part of Chen’s success comes from his ability to run his cutter in on right-handed batters’ hands. But when Chen doesn’t get the cutter far enough inside, righties can get the bat head out and do some damage. Chen doesn’t, Montero does and the Seattle DH hits a two-run home run.
Still with two outs, Kyle Seager hits a fly ball to left field and Alex Gordon, battling the sun, lets the ball drop for a double. Gordon, normally so good at playing balls in the sun, turns sideways and goes to one knee in an effort to get a new background behind the ball. Neither trick works and Seager scores when Miguel Olivo singles. Mariners up 3-1.
Fourth inning: Billy Butler singles and Brayan Pena walks. Jeff Francoeur, at the plate with two outs, works the count to 3-2. This is a semi-big deal because it will allow Butler to take off from second base with the pitch. Billy, not the fleetest of runners (which is a polite way of saying he’s slow), needs the jump. Francoeur gets a fastball on the outer half, but instead of driving it to right, Frenchy hooks it to short and an easy 6-3 ends the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Trayvon Robinson leads off with a single. Brendan Ryan tries to sacrifice bunt, but can’t get a pitch in the zone. Chen walks him. Ryan wanted to give the Royals an out in exchange for moving Robinson into scoring position. Ryan didn’t have to make a sacrifice. Chen’s walk moved Robinson to second without getting an out.
This is the kind of basic mistake scuffling teams can’t afford. The Royals, short on money and talent, need to play smart, mistake-free baseball. The Boston Red Sox could afford to have Manny Ramirez miss the cutoff man because Manny was going to hit a three-run home later. The Royals don’t have that luxury…their players have to hit the cutoff man. The Royals players probably won’t make up for mental errors with physical talent.
Fifth inning: The third inning in the game in which the Royals go down 1-2-3. They may be losing, but they’re doing it quickly. (Only someone that has to watch every game can appreciate that.)
In the bottom of the inning, Bruce Chen gets two outs on two pitches. Kyle Seager then takes two strikes. Seager may have been talked to after Friday night. In that game, with Luis Mendoza on the mound, Casper Wells and John Jaso made two outs on three pitches and Seager took a hack at the first thing he saw. Someone may have told Seager he needed to take a pitch or two when that happens. Seager eventually lines out in the inning but may have become a better ballplayer in the process.
Sixth inning: Billy Butler gets his third hit of the game. It’s probably no coincidence that Butler’s hitting the ball to right field. While the rest of the team is struggling during this road trip, Butler has had 10 hits, three pulled and seven up the middle or to right.
Before I met Jeff Francoeur for the first time, I asked Clint Hurdle if he had any message for Frenchy. (Clint was Jeff’s hitting instructor in Texas). Clint told me to tell Jeff that “RCF is the key.” In English that means set your sights on right center field and then adjust in.
Seventh inning: Brayan Pena singles and then tries to stretch a single into double with nobody out. The ball got away from right fielder Casper Wells, but not far enough away. The base running rule of thumb is to take no chances with no outs. With two outs, Pena’s play might make sense—depending on the situation. With no outs, it’s a mistake.
Francoeur then goes the other way for a single and Mariners manager Eric Wedge brings in a lefty from the pen to face Eric Hosmer. Hosmer, who hit the ball hard all day with one single to show for it, grounds into a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.
In the bottom of the inning Kelvin Herrera replaces Bruce Chen. Ned Yost has used this pitcher sequence before: the soft-throwing left-hander Chen, followed by the flame-throwing right-hander Herrera. Kelvin goes 1-2-3.
Eighth inning: Gordon hits his 34th double, which leads the league. Escobar triples, driving Alex in and, with one out and the tying run on third, Chris Getz grounds out to second base. The infield was in and the Royals did not appear to have the contact play on. Butler is intentionally walked—ignoring the “never put the winning run on base” rule—and Betancourt grounds out to end the inning. Mariners 3, Royals 2.
Lefty Jose Mijares comes in to face the left-handed Michael Saunders and makes one of the most basic mistakes in baseball: Mijares walks the leadoff hitter. Mijares compounds the mistake by appearing to fall asleep and allowing Saunders to steal second. With first open, Mijares works around Montero and walks him as well.
Once again, the Mariners try to give the Royals an out and the Royals refuse to accept the gift. Kyle Seager bunts, Mijares picks up the ball, bobbles it and then tries to go to third instead of taking the easier out at first. Bases loaded, nobody out and Greg Holland comes in. Holland entered the game with 54 strikeouts in 37 and two-thirds innings. If Holland can strike out John Jaso (pinch hitting for Miguel Olivo), the Royals are a double play away from getting out of the mess Mijares created.
Instead, Holland gets a force-out at the plate and the runners move up. Bases still loaded, one down. Then, needing a double play ball, Holland instead has the ball hit to the outfield by Ryan Carp. Carp’s sacrifice fly scores what will prove to be the winning run. The Mariners get the run they need without benefit of a hit.
Ninth inning: The Royals add a run in the ninth, but the early mistakes prove to be too much. Mariners win, 4-3.
If Ned Yost disagrees with some of the recent bunt attempts by Alcides Escobar, why doesn’t he stop him?
I don’t know for sure, but I can take a semi-educated guess.
The Royals want their ballplayers to be focused while on the field. If every bunt is signaled from the dugout, it’s easy for a player to mentally tune out. Why pay attention to the third baseman’s positioning or the thickness of the infield grass? The bench will tell you when to bunt.
The same goes for the green light on a stolen base. The Royals want their players thinking about the footing, their jump and whether they’re getting a good read on the pitcher’s move to first. First base coach Doug Sisson supplies them with the pitcher’s delivery time, the runner knows what he can beat and it’s up to him to decide whether he can make it.
Sisson doesn’t even yell “back” when the pitcher tries a pickoff at first. By the time Doug recognizes what’s happening and yells back and the runner reacts to Doug’s warning, the runner will be out. If the runner knows it’s up to him to watch the pitcher, he shouldn’t fall asleep 12 feet from first base.
So why all the player autonomy?
Well, the Royals do have “no go” and a “must steal” signs if they need them. They can also call specifically for a bunt. With a runner on second and nobody out, they can signal the hitter to “drive him in” or “move him over.” If the hitter gets the move him over sign, it’s up to him how he does it. If he thinks he’s got a good chance of hitting the ball to the right side, the hitter can do it that way. If he thinks a bunt is a better bet, he can lay one down. If Alcides Escobar thinks he can bunt for a single and move the runner, he can try that.
But they’re putting a lot of responsibility on young players for a reason: They want them to develop. What we’re seeing is a young team sometimes making mistakes on the base paths and at the plate. The Texas Rangers and the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone through the same learning curve. They also made a lot of mistakes in order to develop the players that now appear headed to the playoffs.
Clearly, the Kansas City Royals are a long way from the playoffs—this year. But they hope to be there soon and when they get there, they want players who are ready. Unfortunately, the only way to get them ready for the future is to watch them make mistakes now.