For the second night in a row, the Angels jump on the Royals' starter. Meanwhile, the bats went silent, leaving Ronald Bolaños as the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable late night.
It’s become increasingly clear the Royals are a team of extremes. Fourteen wins out of 21 games? Sure thing. An 11 game losing streak? Check. Thirteen wins out of 19? Done!
So I won’t keep you in suspense…After Tuesday night’s 8-1 loss to the Angels, the Royals have entered one of their valleys of the 2021 season. After Tuesday’s loss in Anaheim, the club has dropped four in a row. With another shaky outing from their starting pitcher and a night when the bats stayed in cold storage, the Royals looked just as futile as they did at points in their 11 game skid from early May.
It’s kind of wild to describe the Royals as a team of extremes given that they’ve hung around .500 for the better part of the last month. You would kind of expect a club like that to win a couple, lose a couple…everything’s even steven. But these Royals want you to experience the thrill of the roller coaster in this first season back from Covid-ball.
They dropped their fourth in a row, immediately on the heels of a five game winning streak. See what I mean? Buckle up. We have a ways to go.
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Here you go…
That’s a 42 pitch first inning from Royals starter Kris Bubic. That was seven batters, including a ten-pitch battle with Anthony Rendon and a pair of seven pitch plate appearances against Justin Upton and Max Stassi.
A six pitch sequence to Shohei Ohtani ended this way.
That’s 470 feet. And that’s what happens when you leave a 2-2 change middle-middle to one of the best hitters in the league.
Somehow…somehow through that slog of an inning that featured two walks and thirteen foul balls…those were the only runs the Angels were able score. Feats of Ohtani Strength aside, given the excruciating inning it felt like the Angels scored a lot more than two.
Coming on the heels of the disaster debut of Jackson Kowar, the first inning felt way too familiar. Bubic wasn’t missing as far off the dish as Kowar, but the Angel hitters were just merciless in their grinding of plate appearances.
It was a minor miracle that Bubic was able to rally and give the Royals four innings. So credit for saving the bullpen. But Bubic was leaving his change in a tasty part of the plate and Angels hitters were feasting. Other than that Ohtani undressing in the first inning, Bubic allowed three more dingers, all off the change. All four together were of the no-doubt variety. And look where all four pitches were located.
The Angels stacked their lineup with right-handed batters with Ohtani the lone lefty. So that cluster of three change-ups were all delivered to hitters from the right side. Plenty of extension on those pitches. And plenty of distance. You can’t live in the big leagues throwing that pitch to hitters on the regular.
Entering Tuesday’s start, Bubic had allowed just two home runs in 34 innings. That translated to a 0.54 HR/9 and a 6.1 percent HR/FB rate. If there were a couple of stats ripe for regression, those were probably two. Although to give it all back in a single start was a little extreme, Bubic was eventually going to get touched for a couple of bombs.
If you’re looking for a positive pitching performance, how about Ronald Bolaños? He came on in relief in the fifth and flat dominated. It was exhilarating to watch. He whiffed the first five batters he faced and got the sixth on a harmless popup.
He opened with a whiff of Rendon on a nasty slider with late action.
Bolaños threw 12 sliders on the night. Angel batters offered at six of them and failed to connect on four. To go along with two other called strikes, that worked out to a 50 percent CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs) on the pitch. That’s really, really outstanding.
Here’s how he started Taylor Ward.
A little elevated, but it seems to drop in. Sure, location is super important, but it appears as though Ward was looking for a first pitch fastball. He wasn’t planning to take the pitch, but he was caught off guard. Timing is everything.
Four of Bolaños strikeouts were on the sinker. Witness this obliteration of Phil Gosselin to close out the fifth inning…
That’s a pitch with 19 inches of vertical break to go along with 14 inches of arm-side run on the horizontal plane. How does anyone hit that? I guess by going off the above gif, the answer is no one. When Bolaños is throwing like that, no one is going to hit that pitch.
For real. The sinker comes in with that kind of break at 96 mph. The slider is in the mid-80s with around 37 inches of vertical break and 7 inches of horizontal movement that goes in the opposite direction from the slider. If you’re a hitter, you should probably just go up there and flip a coin. Just pick sinker or slider and sit on it. Don’t guess. You’re only going to be wrong.
Yeah, that’s a strike.
It was just a fantastic performance from Bolaños. And the perfect antidote to what we’ve seen from both starters in this Angels series. When the Royals acquired Bolaños from the Padres last year, I was hopeful he could fit into the rotation as another option as the prospects were filtering through the system. The stuff can be absolutely electric. He may struggle with consistency which could lead him ultimately to a bullpen role. But in a year where we’re going to be monitoring pitcher’s workloads coming off the shortened 2020, Bolaños should absolutely get the opportunity to start at some point. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. We won’t know until the Royals make a commitment.
What we do know is that when he’s on, Bolaños can definitely get big league hitters out. Just another weapon on the Royals’ pitching staff.
A little sparkling defense
The Royals defense hasn’t really changed much from our discussions early in the season when it was established that it wasn’t all that good. They currently rank 24th in Defensive Runs Saved with a mark of -5 according to The Fielding Bible. Third base has been a problem spot where Hunter Dozier has graded poorly (-6 DRS). Same for right field where the club has inexplicably run Jorge Soler out for the majority of innings (-5 DRS). And the pitchers haven’t distinguished themselves either, with a collective -6 DRS.
One area of strength has been center field where Michael A. Taylor (with an assist from Jarrod Dyson) have put up at +9 DRS. That mark leads the majors among center fielders. And it’s probably because of plays like this:
Taylor leads all center fielders with a +7 DRS. As we’ve been watching all year, he’s been exceptional at going back on the ball and coming in on the shallow flares and liners. No, he’s not Lorenzo Cain who played the position with absolute grace, but Taylor has been a delight to watch patrol center.
Bouncing in the dirt
Does it feel like Salvador Perez (and Cam Gallagher) are having to block a ton of balls in the dirt? I’ll say it does!
Entering Tuesday’s game, Royals’ pitchers had uncorked 35 wild pitches on the year, good for second-most in baseball to this point. The Tigers and Cardinals are tied for the lead in MLB with 37. (Maybe the polarities of the Earth’s axis are such that it’s causing pitchers to spike more baseballs in the state of Missouri?) Piling on the misery, Detroit catchers have also been charged with six passed balls. The Royals have just one thus far.
Of course, it’s not a wild pitch (or passed ball) unless runners are on base. Fortunately, Baseball Savant is here to help record all pitches thrown in the dirt. The Royals lead the league here by quite a wide margin, both in total and by percentage.
Honestly, I don’t know if it means anything that Royals pitchers are getting so many baseballs dirty, other than they’re abusing the hell out of poor Perez and Gallagher.
This just doesn’t look like much fun.
Scott Barlow throws a lot of sliders in the dirt, although he’s not the prime culprit. Here are your Royals’ leaders.
Wednesday’s starter Brad Keller opened 2021 spiking sliders and hasn’t slowed down. His pitch chart on balls in the dirt and swings on balls in the dirt doesn’t pack any kind of surprise.
A byproduct of this is it seems to be a fairly good indicator of which staffs have an issue with the base on balls. League average walk rate this year is 8.9 percent. The Royals have the third-worst rate in MLB at 10.4 percent. Revisit that first table and you’ll find the Cardinals (11.6%), Reds (10.9%) and the Royals all at the bottom of walk rate leader board. The Pirates and Braves are above average at 9.2 percent. Only the Padres at 8.4 percent are the exception.
Just another issue for Cal Eldred to try to solve.
Mariners 3, Tigers 5
Eric Hasse hit his eighth home run of the season, a two-run blast in the first, to pace the Tigers to the victory. He’s hit six dingers in the first five games of the month. I’d say he’s on a tear.
Blue Jays 1, White Sox 6
Two of the top offenses in the AL battled to a 1-1 draw through the first seven innings. Thankfully for the Sox, they sometimes play the full nine. Chicago exploded for five in the eighth on the back of a pair of sac flies and a two-run triple from Leury Garcia. Carlos Rodón danced around trouble in his five innings of work, striking out eight.
Yankees 8, Twins 4
The Yankees beat the Twins. In other news, water is wet.
Fine, it’s not October but the Yankees deployed a little small ball to secure the victory. Sac bunts, a bases-loaded walk, a run scored on a wild pitch… that’s not exactly how New York normally scores. Although they did add a couple of home runs.
The late rally came against Taylor Rodgers and Griffin Jax who combined for two innings of work and five runs allowed.
Cleveland 10, Cardinals 1
Shane Bieber battled through leg cramps early but managed to complete six in a Cleveland win. José Ramírez hit his 14th home run of the year, a three-run blast, in the third.
The Royals close out the first stop on their road trip in Anaheim, looking for the series win. Brad Keller goes to the mound against Griffin Canning. First pitch is 8:38 CDT.
It looks like their rotation is set for the remainder of the trip which shifts to Oakland starting Thursday. If you like to set your schedule in advance here’s how things are shaping up.
Thursday - Mike Minor
Friday - Brady Singer
Saturday - Jackson Kowar
Sunday - Kris Bubic