The Benintendi Show

Andrew Benintendi came up with the key hit and defensive play. Kris Bubic kept Baltimore hitters off balance. It was just enough to secure a victory for the Royals.

A September matchup between the Royals and the Baltimore Orioles? If you’re reading this, congratulations. Count yourself among the most diehard of Royals fans.

The Royals kept the game close, rallied late and held off a late home run threat to take the first game of this week’s four-game series by a final of 3-2. It was actually an entertaining game for a late-season matchup between teams that have essentially been eliminated from the postseason for months. Nothing too flashy. Nothing too exceptional. Just a win against a team that is on pace for 111 losses.

As they say in 2021, that’s baseball!

Benny on both sides

Hitting .254/.300/.403 with an OPS+ of 89 over 109 games interrupted by a rib fracture, it’s safe to say that Andrew Benintendi’s debut season as a Royal has been a disappointment. Sure, there have been flashes here and there, and while his 2021 has been a massive improvement over a disastrous 2020, it wasn’t quite the rebound the Royals were counting on when they traded for him ahead of 2021.

Still, he possesses the ability to impact the game on both sides as we saw on Monday.

Let’s begin with his day at the plate. Benintendi opened by reaching base in each of his first two plate appearances. He doubled with one out in the second against Baltimore starters Zac Lowther and followed that up with a two-out walk in the fourth.

The double came on a high, 92 mph fastball on a 3-2 pitch. Benintendi just missed leaving the yard.

The high fastball will be a theme of Benintendi’s day. More on that in a moment.

It was good to see Benintendi get around on an elevated fastball. He’s hitting just .240 against heaters in 2021 with an xBA of .246. When the pitch is elevated, he’s even less productive, with a .206 BA and .219 xBA on fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone. Those xBA numbers are an indictment against Benintendi. It’s not like he can point to some bad luck. He’s just not getting around and striking those pitches in that particular location with any kind of authority. So for him to hunt fastball in that situation, get the pitch and do some actual damage…that’s a good plate appearance.

And it was just the appetizer to the main course.

In the eighth, with the game knotted at two following a Salvador Perez bloop single, Benintendi came up with runners on first and second with two outs. Baltimore reliever Cole Sluser started Benintendi with a fastball up and out of the zone before throwing a changeup in the dirt. Benintendi chased an elevated change and fouled it off to push the count to 2-1. Here’s what Benintendi had to say about that at bat:

“He (Sluser) throws fastballs up and changeups down. And he’s got a little sneaky fastball, too. It plays up a little bit…I had a feeling that if I was to get another fastball it would be up in the zone so I had my sights set up there and got a pitch.”

The fourth pitch was an elevated fastball, right in the middle of the plate. At 94 mph, Benintendi was ready and yanked the pitch down the first base line for the go-ahead single.

I’m not sure we’ve seen a game this year where Benintendi turned on not one, but two elevated fastballs for base hits. It’s a little late in the year and as dedicated followers of Royals baseball we know all about September paper tigers, but hopefully Benintendi can use a productive final month of the season as a building block to 2022. It remains to be seen whether or not it will actually happen. He’s hitting just .222/.253/.378 in 191 plate appearances since his return from his fractured rib in early July.

Now if I may continue my fine dining metaphor from a few paragraphs ago, if the go-ahead single was the main course, this was the dessert.

Notice the marking on the wall at 364 feet. Obviously, that’s insanely shallow for a power alley. Since it was a few feet toward center, the ball flew a little further than that. But not much. Let’s check in with my newest favorite Twitter feed for the details.

One of those parks it would have left was Camden Yards. It was a catch that saved what would’ve been a completely demoralizing, cheap dinger.

By the way, don’t you love parks like Camden, where at least part of the outfield wall is low enough that it provides opportunity for the catch to steal of home run? It adds an element to the game that is highly entertaining. We need more stadiums with short walls.

A final thought on Benintendi…Monday we saw the type of player I think we all hoped he would be for the Royals. Solid and steady. A guy coming through with the occasional clutch hit or the stellar defensive grab. Someone you could count on in a key situation to grind and give you a good result. We haven’t seen that consistently this year and even though it’s September, it’s better late than never. And as I wrote previously, it would be nice if Benintendi finishes with a solid final month of the season.

Swinging and missing

There wasn’t much flash from Kris Bubic on Monday, but like Benintendi, it was just a steady performance. The kind you like to see out of a pitcher who rides a 91 mph fastball and compliments it with a plus-change.

Bubic had both pitches working, recording 14 swings and misses, his second-highest total on the season. Yes, these were the Orioles (it seems like I have to provide that caveat before every bit of praise for a Royal), but it still counts.

Here’s a 2-2 change that ran away from the hitter in the first.

That’s pulling the string and making the ball dance. And how about an elevated fastball on a 1-2 pitch in the fourth?

As much as the changeup off the edge of the plate is a fun pitch, I personally enjoy watching a fastball with a little bit of rise finish up and out of the zone. It has to be such a tasty looking pitch to a hitter that it’s irresistible. Often to their detriment.

Bubic got couple of swinging strikes from pitches in the heart of the zone, but for the most part was picking up the whiffs from working the edges. He was more up/down than side to side, but the change was playing off the fastball quite well.

Bubic finished with a 36 percent whiff rate on his fastball (!!!) and a 21 percent whiff rate on the change. Overall, he had a 28 percent CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs), which is a solid rate. It’s one that will keep you in the game, which is exactly what Bubic did on Monday. He pitched well enough to keep his team in the game.

Nothing flashy, but it got the job done.

Central issues

  • Tigers 3, Pirates 6

You have to hand it to the MLB schedule maker. Royals visit the Orioles and the Tigers play the Pirates on the same holiday weekend? Be still my baseball-loving heart. Bryce Wilson surrendered three runs over six for Pittsburgh and his bullpen backed him up with three shutout innings to lock down the victory. Ke’Bryan Hayes went 3-4 with a pair of runs driven in.

  • Twins 5, Cleveland 2

Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco went a combined 6-10 from the top of the Minnesota lineup and scored four of the Twins’ five runs. Bailey Ober started and went four and was backed up by a bullpen that threw five scoreless frames, allowing just two hits and one walk against five strikeouts.

Up next

After the holiday, the series moves to night games for the next three. The Orioles have not set their rotation. Here’s how the Royals will line up.

  • Tuesday — Jackson Kowar

  • Wednesday — Mike Minor

  • Thursday — Carlos Hernández

First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 CDT.