Royals take the series from the Twins

Salvy doesn't hit a home run. That's ok because Andrew Benintendi is willing to put the entire offense on his back. Brady Singer struggles. Daniel Lynch adjusts. Bally Sports drops the ball. Again.

There’s a lot to cover in the Royals Universe this Monday as we hit the final stretch of the season. Difficult to believe there are just three weeks of the season remaining. Is it possible for the season to be so long, yet for it to fly by? I think so.

And credit to these Royals, they’re still playing as if these games count. They just finished a 4-3 road trip, splitting a series against the lowly Orioles and taking two of three from the Twins. Sure, both opponents currently occupy the cellars of their respective divisions, but you need to play the teams on the schedule. And while official elimination could come this week, the Royals are still making things plenty interesting.

Meanwhile, it’s been a successful rookie season for Into The Fountains, and I thank you for reading. And if you’re a subscriber, thank you for that! And if you’re a subscriber who enjoys reading, feel free to share with other Royals fans in your life. These newsletters depend on things like subscriptions and sharing for their survival.

Benintendi flips the afterburners

Ho hum…Just another Sunday afternoon for Andrew Benintendi where he goes 2-4 with an RBI. On the just-completed road trip, Benny hit a tidy .500 (14-28) while driving in 14 on the back of five extra-base hits. He posted a pair of 5 RBI games on this trip, one each in Baltimore and Minnesota.

The Royals want to spin the stats so Benintendi’s hot stretch looks a little bit longer than it truly is. (The team game notes from Sunday note that Benny is hitting .321 with an .884 OPS since August 15.) The actuality is, Benintendi reached the nadir of his offensive 2021 just before the Royals embarked on their seven-game road trip, dipping to his season-low in batting average, on base and slugging after going 0-4 with a pair of strikeouts on September 2 against Cleveland. I’m not discounting what Benintendi has done since…just that sometimes the arbitrary endpoints aren’t exactly arbitrary when someone is trying to convince you the hot streak is just a little bit hotter and a little bit longer than you might think. Set your first endpoint wherever you want…if you’re going to tack the week Benny had on to end, that stretch is going to look better no matter what.

Still, the damage Benny has done the past week is real and, at times, spectacular. He single-handedly won a couple of ballgames. He’s now the prime candidate to have a strong September that will allow the organization to point to him after the season and say, “See how he played down the stretch? That’s who we believe he can be for us all of next year.” Mark it down.

Offensive road trip wrap

With Benintendi absolutely scorching on this road trip, I thought it would be fun to break it out for all Royals hitters. Who’s hot? Who’s not?

Benintendi has been worth 0.8 fWAR just in the last week. That’s how insane he’s been on both sides of the ball. While Hunter Dozier opened the road trip hitting ninth and getting pinch hit for by Ryan O’Hearn, he’s done really well at the plate the past week, getting on base by any means. And Nicky Lopez just remains the professional hitter we all thought he was.

The flip side is a lot less appealing. Carlos Santana just continues to scuffle with no end in sight. He’s not even walking which completely submarines any offensive value he may have. Adalberto Mondesi was 0-16 on the road trip before he hit a home run in his first at bat on Sunday. He was scuffling on both of his previous rehab assignments in Omaha.

Location matters—not just for pitchers

Just ahead of Sunday’s game, the Royals recalled Kyle Isbel from Triple-A and placed Michael A. Taylor on the family emergency medical list. Isbel hit eighth and played centerfield. He went 1-3 in his return to the big club with a walk and drove home the go-ahead run on a single in the eighth.

It was a move that wouldn’t have happened had the Storm Chasers not been playing down the road in St. Paul against the Twins Triple-A affiliate. Isbel was able to take a short Uber to Target Field and get back into that starting lineup.

Difficult to say how long Isbel will have back with the Royals, but he has done well offensively for Omaha. After starting the year as the team’s Opening Day right fielder and getting sent down on April 21 hitting .270/.325/.324 with 15 strikeouts in 36 plate appearances, he’s hit .277/.352/.450 for the Storm Chasers. He’s whiffed 91 times in 450 plate appearances, a much more respectable 20 percent strikeout rate.

Isbel is a guy who, under the old rules and minor league schedule, probably would’ve been back up in the majors once rosters expanded in September (and once the Storm Chasers finished their season), so it’s nice to see him back. Even if it is for a brief cameo appearance.

Singer with a torch song

You know it’s been a long season when my Singer puns have reached a point where they’re quite a reach. After he gave up five home runs in Saturday’s start to the Twins, he was torched and…I got nothing else. It took me almost 48 hours and that was the best I could come up with.

Anywhoo…Singer became the second pitcher this year to cough up five dingers in a start. Kyle Freeland serenaded the Reds with five of his own back in June. (OK, I’ll stop.) It’s a minor miracle Singer allowed only six runs. Four of the dingers were solo shots, the final (and second) one allowed to Jorge Polanco in the fifth came after a single to Byron Buxton.

This is just gross.

Three on sinkers, two on sliders. Four of them came on a 2-2 count. The other pitch was at 1-2. All five were in the middle of the damn plate.

Singer entered the game with a 9% HR/FB rate, which was the seventh-lowest among pitchers with at least 100 innings. He was sporting a 0.7 HR/9. After Saturday’s misadventure, those rates increased to a 13.1% HR/FB% and a 1.04 HR/9.

It sounds simplistic to write this, but I do think that we saw regression rear its ugly head in a large way on Saturday. Singer has proven himself to be adept at using that sinker/slider combo to generate some ground balls, so his overall home run rate should probably hover around 1 HR/9. It’s the HR/FB rate that was far too low given the pitches that he’s been serving. With his stuff, it seems that he should be right around league average on the HR/FB%. And now, that’s where he is. League average is currently 13.7% HR/FB%.

Besides, it was bound to happen at some point. Saturday, it was a start where Singer just wasn’t firing on his slider. He had only three whiffs on 22 swings against the pitch. He left far too many in the zone for it to be effective. Again…this is where having just two pitches is going to hurt Singer as long as he’s in the rotation. If the slider (or sinker, take your pick) isn’t going to work, he’s going to have to come up with something else, or there’s just no way he’s going to survive five innings.

Ah…there he goes again! Blathering on about Singer utilizing that third pitch. Well, about that changeup…He threw just five of them on Saturday. I’m starting to wonder if the manager and pitcher are on the same page when it comes to the changeup.

Matheny, after the game:

“One of those days he didn’t have a feel for it (the slider). A lot of times it was just spinning and backing up over the middle of the plate. You turn into a one-pitch pitcher at that point. He tried to get that changeup going a little bit, but it’s one of those days that once again reinforces the fact of that third pitch, how important that’s going to be.”

Singer:

“Changeup felt good…It had the good action to it. I felt comfortable with that. I felt like we called it at the right times, too.”

It’s certainly too early to give up on Singer in the rotation, but damn if he’s not pitching himself into a career as a reliever.

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Making adjustments and finding success

It’s impossible not to compare Singer’s start to those of his fellow 2018 draftmates. Take Daniel Lynch and his Friday night for example. The first four batters of the game went like this:

  • Home run

  • Double

  • Single

  • Home run

Yikes. Four batters into the game, Lynch had not only not recorded an out, but thanks to the dingers, all four touched home.

From that moment, Lynch steadied himself, came to the conclusion he needed to pitch with more conviction, made the appropriate adjustments and was fantastic the rest of the way.

“I think there was a couple of mental lapses in the first inning where I threw some pitches I knew I shouldn’t have thrown, and I kind of did it anyway. (There were some) where I didn’t shake off or where I could’ve stepped off and changed the pitch.”

It’s an interesting comment from Lynch explaining that he and catcher Sebastian Rivero weren’t exactly in sync with what to throw to the first several batters of the game. Lynch expanded.

“I thought Sebastian did a really good job of calling pitches, but sometimes there was something I wanted to throw that maybe he didn’t see and so I think I did a much better job of sticking to my guns and throwing what I felt comfortable with and felt confident with.

Sebastian has caught me a lot throughout my career, but I think the way that I’m pitching is just a little bit different that what I did coming up.“

The pitcher/catcher relationship is one that is so important and from Lynch’s comments, it looked as if both were able to make adjustments almost immediately. After the Josh Donaldson home run, Lynch allowed just three hits—all singles and only one of which was hit with any kind of authority—and didn’t walk a batter.

Check out this wipeout slider delivered to Buxton the second time they faced each other.

Or how about a knuckle-curve:

Brent Rooker did not expect to see that pitch. And he totally swung.

Or how about some trusty ol’ high heat?

Again, it’s just not possible to compare and contrast pitchers like Lynch and Singer, if only because they come from the same draft class and possess similar pedigrees. One is able to lean on five different pitches and make adjustments based on the scouting reports. The other just seems kind of lost when one of his two pitches isn’t working.

Salvador Perez…did not dinger

This has to be the upset of the weekend, power-hungry Salvador Perez did not leave the yard while the Royals were playing in Minnesota. Perez, as you are surely aware, has hit more home runs at Target Field than any other park outside of The K. He’s a lifetime .318/.349/.577 hitter with 19 bombs against the Twins in Minnesota. He blasted two out of the yard there earlier this year.

Alas, he was just 2-11 over the weekend. Both hits were singles.

Perez, with 42, is now two home runs behind Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the AL home run race.

I can’t imagine Perez getting a day off as long as he’s within shouting distance of the title. It’s insane to consider, but he’s missed just one game all season. Sure, he’s been the DH 32 times which has undoubtedly kept him fresh, but his required presence is the Royals’ lineup just underscores how pivotal he is to an offense that has struggled to consistently find its groove.

Bally Sports is a train wreck dropped into a dumpster fire

Another game, another fail from our friends at Bally Sports. This time around, they dropped the feed for the Royals game in the top of the ninth. Reminiscent of a moment earlier in the year when it felt as though the game window was open on a timer and once that time expired and the window closed, they switched programming and there was no one around in mission control to re-open that window. So if you were viewing over cable, you were out of luck.

Look, I get it. It’s a Sunday afternoon when the NFL is back and the Royals are playing the Twins in a battle for fourth place supremacy in the AL Central. It’s not as if there are a ton of eyeballs on the game. Plus, Bally Sports and Sinclair takes care of a lot of those eyeballs by limiting the availability of their product. Still…how difficult is it to just show the whole freaking game? These snafus are amateurish. They’re fourth-rate. And it’s embarrassing.

If I’m the Royals, I’m calling on Sinclair and demanding answers.

Missing out on the Wild Card fun

Have you been following what’s happening in the AL East? I meant the AL Wild Card? Toronto has been on an absolute tear over the last month and has surged to join the top of the heap along with the stumbling Red Sox and fading Yankees. It’s a long shot, but the A’s and the Mariners are lurking, positioning themselves to take advantage should one (or two) of the beasts of the East crash. This is setting up to be a thrilling finish.

Since the expansion of the Wild Card in 2012, 16 different teams have captured a Wild Card (I’m excluding the shortened 2020 season). Here’s the breakdown of qualifiers by division:

  • AL East - 8

  • AL Central - 3

  • AL West - 5

The best path for a team out of the Central remains winning the division. It’s just so strange with at least two or three teams a year either rebuilding or just plain awful, a second team in the division can’t take advantage and make some postseason hay.

Here’s how the Central has performed as a group since the All-Star break:

The Royals play in a division that, while not exactly up for grabs every year, should be in play more often than not. There is plenty of talk about “windows” in sports and how a team has a “window of contention” open for a set amount of time. Sure, sometimes it aligns perfectly as we saw with the Royals from 2011 to 2017. Except you can’t help but think that in the Cental, the window doesn’t really exist because it’s open all the time. At least with the right plan.

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