Games » Chicago White SoxAug6
The eighth inning
The Kansas City Star
The eighth inning started off with a Tony Abreu double. Ned Yost had decided that if Abreu singled, Chris Getz would bunt him to second base, but if Abreu doubled, he counted on Getz’s bat-handling skills to move Tony to third without giving up an out. Ned’s gamble paid off; Getz hit the ball to the right side of Abreu, singled up the middle and the Royals were in good shape, first and third, nobody out in a tie game.
Gordon was swinging away, got to two strikes, had to swing at an inside pitch and hit a soft line drive to Alexei Ramirez. One down, the runners held. The White Sox pitcher, Chris Sale, then attempted to pick off Getz at first, but the real point of the pickoff was to see if Alcides Escobar showed bunt. One down and a runner on third, late in a tie game, is a prime squeeze situation and the Sox wanted to know if anything was on.
Esky didn’t give the bunt away, so Sale pitched to Alcides and threw a fastball out of the zone. With the count 1-0, Ned Yost guessed that Sale wouldn’t want to fall further behind. That meant Esky would get a strike, so Ned put on the safety squeeze. Ned guessed right, Alcides got a fastball for a strike, but bunted it to the third-base side.
Paul Konerko was playing back, holding Getz, and Sale falls off toward third base. That meant the right side was wide open. The bunt being on the third base side meant that Sale was pulled to the line to field the ball just as Abreu tried to score. Sale picked up the ball and tagged Abreu. Lorenzo Cain took a hittable fastball on an 0-1 count, and the Royals’ best chance to win the game was over.
Suicide vs. safety
The suicide squeeze is more of a gamble than the safety squeeze: in the suicide, the runner sprints for home when the pitcher’s foot comes down. If the batter does not get the bunt down for any reason, the runner will be out. (Which is why it’s called a suicide.) It’s a bigger gamble to call the suicide, but in some ways it’s easier to execute.
In the safety squeeze, the bunter has to make a better bunt. In the suicide, if the batter gets the bunt down almost anywhere, the runner will be safe. In the safety, the runner has to make a judgment call about breaking for home (and Abreu may have made the wrong one). In the suicide, he just breaks when the pitcher’s foot comes down.
Some of what we’re seeing here is young players making mistakes, but the safety squeeze — even though it doesn’t seem as risky — can be a more difficult play to pull off.
Jeff Francoeur lined out in the second inning, and Salvador Perez, on first base, was headed the wrong way. As I’ve written before, the Royals’ policy is for the runner to go back to the bag on a line drive, not freeze. If going back to the bag means the runner only advances one base, so be it — at least you stay out of the double play.
Alexei Ramirez got hit on the hand and spent a lot of time on the ground for a guy who then got up and went to first base. Ballplayers frown on making too much of getting hit unless you’re really hurt. And if you’re really hurt, you generally don’t get up and take your base.
In the third inning Chris Getz made a couple of those plays that make his teammates hold him in high regard. Getz laid out for John Danks’ single to right, but didn’t come up with it. That seems like a nothing play, but teammates appreciate the effort. It did not escape anyone’s notice that Yuniesky Betancourt often didn’t dive on the same type of ball. As Mike Moustakas said, if you don’t dive, you don’t know if you could have made the play.
(I originally gave Yuni the benefit of the doubt on this, but after talking to a few of his teammates, I changed my mind.)
The second play of the inning that Getz made was a 5-4-3 double play. Chris turned the DP by stepping into the runner. Some middle infielders decline to do this, delaying their throw by going sideways or backwards to avoid contact. Stepping into the runner risks injury, and Getz avoided that on this play by getting airborne immediately after the throw. The middle infielder may get flipped, but with no weight on his foot, won’t break a leg or blow out a knee.
In the fourth, Alex Gordon went to the opposite field on Sale (see the preview below), but got a bad jump on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play. Alex did not break for second until Sale’s foot was almost all the way down.
Jeff Francoeur hit another opposite field home run, which is usually a good sign: it means the hitter is waiting, staying closed on the front side (shoulder not flying open) and has his weight back and behind the ball. Jeff also hit three more lines drives, one for a single to right. That makes Frenchy 4 for 12 with two home runs and a walk since his time off. Jeff was not happy to be benched, but admitted it may have been beneficial to get time off to work out some problems.
The Royals are last in home runs in the American league, but also last in strikeouts. The two are not unrelated. Hit the ball out in front and you’ll hit more home runs, but you’ll also get fooled more often.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Chris Sale falls off to third base side. Any time you see a pitcher fall off badly to one side or another, it’s an invitation to bunt. Chris Getz accepted that invitation and bunted for a single to the right side in the sixth.
Gordon Beckham homered on the first pitch in the ninth. Always watch the pitcher for any lack of aggressiveness after giving up home run. Mendoza walked Danks next. Youkilis lined the ball to right and Jeff Francoeur appeared to take a bad route to the ball. The outfielder wants to go to a spot deeper than the ball and come back to it whenever possible, but Frenchy appeared to take too shallow a route and the ball got past, allowing Danks to score.
Salvador Perez, usually so good at blocking pitches in the dirt, appeared to get caught in a bad position on Tim Collins’ wild pitch. On breaking balls, the Royals want their catchers to be very aggressive about moving forward and getting their bodies leaning forward, out over the ball. Breaking balls tend to bounce up, fastballs tend to bounce hard and low. Sal’s body stayed fairly upright and the ball hit him and bounced away.
When he’s taking signs from the catcher, Luis Mendoza holds his glove up and covers his face. After his last start I asked him if it helped him concentrate on the mound. Some pitchers try to visually block out everything but the catcher. Holding the glove up and wearing the hat low gives them a narrow view of the world — a world that includes the catcher, the catcher’s mitt and not much else. (Luis also thinks it looks cool.)
(Before his last start in Kansas City, I asked some of the Royals what they thought about the Chicago pitcher.)
Ask hitters about Chris Sale and you hear talk about his arm angle; it gives him lots of movement and that makes it tough. According to Jarrod Dyson and Alex Gordon, lefties need to let the ball travel. That’s the only way to tell the difference between his fastball and slider. Letting the ball travel also means hitting the ball the other way.
Billy Butler suggested getting a fastball early — you don’t want to let Sale get to his off-speed stuff. Sale has lots of moving parts and that can get him into trouble. Guys with a classic, clean windup have an easier time throwing strikes, but may lack movement. Guys who are all over the place during their delivery often have lots of movement, but struggle with control.
Whatever approach hitters take, it must not work — Sale’s 13-3 and has a 2.59 ERA.
It may not mean anything
But here are Jose Mijares numbers for his last four relief appearances:
0.0 innings pitched — 1 earned run
0.0 innings pitched — 1 earned run
0.2 innings pitched — 0 earned runs
0.1 innings pitched — 2 earned runs
That’s a small sample size, but big ERA. After his last appearance, I asked Ned Yost if there was any concern about Mijares and he said a little bit, but that Jose might just be tired this deep into a long season.