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Six straight against the White Sox
The Kansas City Star
After the Royals won their sixth straight game against the White Sox, Ned Yost was asked to explain the streak. Ned pointed out that the Royals have been playing pretty good baseball for the past six weeks. He has a point. For the “glass is half full” crowd — and if you have to watch every pitch of 162 games that’s probably the right attitude — the play over the last six weeks has been encouraging. When the Royals get decent starting pitching, they’re competitive.
Even on a night when the starting pitcher gives up five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings (Luis Mendoza‘s off-speed pitches were up in the zone and then sometimes up in the grandstands), the offense, defense and bullpen were good enough to pull this game out, 7-5.
In the first inning Mendoza gave up a single to Alejandro De Aza, then got Jose Lopez to ground out to the right side. That moved De Aza to second and left first open. It appeared Luis worked around the left-handed Dewayne Wise to get to Paul Konerko. That might not seem like a good idea, but Konerko came into the game hitting .188 against Mendoza and is also a double play candidate. Mendoza got Konerko to hit the ball on the ground, but it snuck past Mike Moustakas into left field. So the plan was good, it just didn’t work out.
Moose barely missed the grounder and did not dive to keep the ball on the infield — which is not Moose-like. Failure to keep the ball on the infield allowed De Aza to come around and score. Mike rarely plays a game without a dirty uniform, so my guess is the ball took some kind of unexpected hop.
With Wise on second, Alex Rios singled to right field. The Sox declined to challenge Jeff Francoeur‘s arm — a case where someone’s reputation saves a run and doesn’t show up in any box score. After a popup and a grounder, the inning was over and Wise never scored.
White Sox starting pitcher Francisco Liriano throws a nasty slider — he wanted it down in the zone, hitters wanted it up. Salvador Perez got a slider up on an 0-2 count and homered with Billy Butler on base.
Wise, the left fielder, was nowhere near the left field line, so it’s likely the slider — an off-speed pitch which would be pulled — was supposed to be a “chase” pitch and not thrown for a strike. If you don’t have a defender where the hitter will hit the pitch, the pitch is not supposed to be put in play.
Like the last time the Royals showed power on the road, this Perez home run was another home run that would not be out of the park in Kauffman. Don’t be fooled by the fact that U.S. Cellular’s left field foul pole is the same distance from home plate — 330 feet. In Kauffman the park continues to get deeper behind the foul pole. In U.S. Cellular Field the fence runs at almost a right angle from the pole.
No stolen base attempts — according to Joel Goldberg, Liriano is a 1.3 to plate. About a tenth of a second too fast for most runners.
Speaking of speed; according to Chris Getz — who’s played in both places — Chicago’s infield is slower than Kansas City’s. Balls that shoot by an infielder in KC are playable in the Windy City.
In the third inning Wise tripled on a slider down, but lefties hit balls down. Once again, a pitch that probably wasn’t supposed to be put in play found a huge gap. Jeff Francoeur was way off the right field line which is part of why Wise was tripled.
It’s no surprise Wise did this on a 1-2 count. Like Perez homering 0-2, the pitchers got ahead, tried to throw a breaking pitch down out of the zone, hung it and got it whacked into the unprotected part of the outfield.
Once again, Francoeur saved a run without making a play: following the Wise triple, Konerko hit a fly ball to right and Wise again decided not to tag up and challenge Jeff’s arm.
Wise did not show Johnny Giavotella the same respect, and Gio made him pay. After the Konerko fly out, Alex Rios hit a pop fly down the right field line and Johnny ran a long way to make the catch. Wise, probably figuring Gio was going away from home plate and would have no momentum on the throw, tagged and tried to score. Johnny made the catch, whirled and threw a strike to home plate, nailing Wise and saving a run.
(By the way, if you didn’t see it have you begun to figure out this was a really entertaining ball game?)
Francouer’s second at-bat illustrated part of what’s been going on with him this year. Frenchy worked the count to 2-0 and was clearly looking for a fastball on the next pitch. He got it: 93 mph and middle-middle (middle of the plate lateral and vertically). Jeff appeared to over-swing and missed his pitch. He got to a 2-2 count, still appeared to be in pull mode and hooked a change up into a 5-4-3 double play. Every pitch of the at-bat was middle-away.
When hitters over-swing, their muscles tighten up too much. That includes the muscles in the neck and shoulder. The swing pulls their head off the ball, and they miss their pitch. Recently, Jeff and I talked about how often he’s missed his pitch this year and still been at the plate, behind in the count.
In Billy Butler’s third at-bat, Liriano threw him an 87 mph change up. Throwing something other than a fastball in a fastball count is how a pitcher puts doubt in hitters’ minds. He doesn’t always have to throw off-speed in fastball counts as long as he proves he will on occasion.
Here’s a stat I got off TV: since Gordon moved to the three-hole he’s hit .322, Billy’s hit .357 and Salvador Perez has hit .348.
After Liriano walked Perez and Moustakas to start the 6th, Robin Ventura went to his bullpen and brought in right-hander Nate Jones to face Francoeur. It looked like Frenchy adjusted to the idea that they were pitching him away and letting him try to pull those pitches. Jeff hit the second pitch he saw — a 100 mph fastball — down the right field line for a double.
Eric Hosmer followed with a professional job of hitting, getting the ball in the air and scoring the second run of the inning.
Lorenzo Cain, who had already struck out twice and homered, got a 3-0 green light and did a bad job with it: a check swing that tapped the ball back to the mound. Hitters who get to swing 3-0 are expected to zone down and only swing at pitches right down the middle. Weak 3-0 hacks will lose a hitter the privilege of swinging away in that situation.
Lorenzo more than made up for the weak 3-0 swing by hitting his second home run of the game in the ninth inning. Hitting game-winning home runs in the ninth might get a hitter another 3-0 green light.
The Justice League
One of the things I admire about baseball is its remarkably efficient system of crime and punishment: commit a baseball “crime” and a baseball “punishment” will soon follow.
As we saw when Nelson Cruz admired one of his home runs a little too long (a baseball crime that falls under the heading of “showing up the opposition” ), baseball punishment followed when he got hit by a pitch soon after. Everyone involved claimed they were just “pitching inside” which most observers didn’t buy — including Cruz.
Actually, the unwritten rules say Cruz was supposed to accept his punishment, put his head down and jog to first. Instead, Cruz glared at Louis Coleman and made one of those “hold-me-back” moves to the mound that made everyone else follow the next step in the justice system protocol: coming out to protect their teammates. Bullpens and dugouts emptied, nobody really wanted to fight, but the baseball customs had been observed and everyone could then get back to what they were doing. Cruz committed a crime and was punished.
So why hash all this over again?
The last time the Royals faced the White Sox, Billy Butler hit a home run off Chris Sale. Apparently, Billy enjoyed that one a little too much and then got too much height on the subsequent bat flip. I think everyone who saw that bat flip wondered if there would be repercussions. The next day, Jake Peavy drilled Billy in the hip. What a coincidence. I didn’t talk to Peavy, but I’m guessing he was just “pitching inside” or the pitch “got away from him.” If the Sox were upset with Billy, I don’t know why Sale didn’t take care of it himself. He had the perfect opportunity to get back at Butler in the next plate appearance — an intentional walk. In any case, Sale didn’t hit Billy, and if I’m reading the situation correctly, Peavy took care of business the next day.
Once again, the rules were followed: Billy committed a “crime” and received punishment. Billy did the right thing: he took his base. The incident should be over — unless Sale still thinks he has something to prove. If Chris Sale hits Billy Butler without further provocation, expect trouble. Butler already got drilled once, the justice system says he’s already paid his debt to society.
Enjoy today’s game. And don’t leave the room when Billy Butler comes to the plate.