Sliding away to a complete victory

Lynch unleashed a dominant slider, the bullpen was nails and the kids got the job done on offense. Some days, the future looks bright.

I don’t know about you, but Thursday’s 3-2 victory by the Royals over the White Sox was my kind of ballgame. Some great pitching, some timely hitting and some fine defense is a crisply played game that lasted just a shade under three hours…give me that on the regular and I’m one happy ballwriter.

Coming on the heels of a great outing from Carlos Hernández where the Royals’ offense exploded for nine runs—the third time they’ve plated nine in a game since the All-Star break—and we roll into the weekend once again with a little bit of optimism about this team and the direction they’re moving.

Baseball can give you whiplash.

A tale of three starts

The first three starts of Daniel Lynch’s major league career went something like this:

Brutal. In every way imaginable.

But the next three starts have been something completely different.

In each of those last three starts, Lynch has come in with a different plan of attack. In his start against the Tigers, he featured a majority of four-seamers and complimented it mostly with the change. In his next outing against the Jays, he threw the four-seam and change an equal amount, showing an equal amount of sliders and sinkers as well.

On Thursday against the White Sox, Lynch pivoted from the change in favor of the slider.

In his first two starts since rejoining the big league rotation, Lynch had thrown 30 sliders (out of 202 pitches) and generated seven swings and misses. On Thursday, he threw the slider 33 times total. I’m going to bold the next sentence because it’s important: He got 15 total swings on the slider and 12 of those were whiffs. Seriously! Go back and reread that sentence to let it sink in. Lynch had an 80 percent whiff rate on the damn slider! Overall, 36 percent of his sliders were missed by White Sox bats.

Throw the three called strikes on the pitch, Lynch finished Thursday’s game with an insane 45 percent CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs) on the pitch. Honestly, I’m working really hard here trying not to get irrationally excited about what I saw on Thursday. But watching him throw that slider was like watching Danny Duffy carve up the Rays lineup on that August night five years ago. It wasn’t the same kind of dominance, but it still felt extremely special. Especially given the potential the pitch contains and the struggle it was to get to this point.

Lynch threw the slider early in counts…

On the occasion the counts ran a little deep…

And, naturally, as a hammer of a putaway pitch…

The only thing that was disappointing about this outing was that the Pitching Ninja didn’t immortalize any of those sliders. Shame on you for sleeping on that, Mr. Ninja.

The slider is Lynch’s key pitch and we saw exactly why that’s the case on Thursday. It is a hard pitch with late bite, boring into those right-handed hitters. When it’s on, it’s an absolute wipeout slider. And to pair that with a front door sinker to a lineup stacked with righties…Just absolute dominance. He was locating that slider so well that he was able to miss location like on the pitch to Garcia in the first gif above. Cam Gallagher set up down and in…you know, where most of Lynch’s sliders finish…but Lynch left it in the middle of the zone. But as the first pitch in that location, it locked up Garcia.

Lynch actually missed in that location twice in the Garcia at bat in the third. He threw three sliders total. The first one above, Garcia took for the first strike. He swung and missed on a killer slider on the back foot on the second pitch. And the third?

Gallagher was looking for that pitch to be delivered about 58 feet. I have no idea what Garcia was looking for, but it certainly wasn’t that pitch in that location. Again, there are things a pitcher can get away with when he’s flexing the dominant pitch with brutal efficiency.

I’ve seen enough from these last three starts that it’s fine if we never reference the first three starts of Lynch’s career ever again.

Entering—and exiting—the danger zone

The danger for Lynch came in the fourth inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Cesar Hernandez but recorded two quick outs. However, the next five pitches he threw resulted in a walk and a hit batter to load the bases. With the Royals hanging on to a one-run lead at that point and with Lynch suddenly battling his control the next pitches were the highest pressure moments of the night.

Lynch met the challenge.

You already know how it ends. Lynch whiffed Adam Engle to end the threat. But how he did it was something else. It was a clinic of location and mix. And under the highest pressure of the evening.

Four-seamers inside, sinkers outside and mostly low, with a slider thrown in to see if he could entice a little swing and miss action. It was the ultimate high-wire act.

Lynch fell behind 2-0 missing on a four-seamer in and the sinker away. The pivotal pitch here was the third one: the sinker on the outer edge. With the count in his favor, Engel was looking to do some damage. Lynch dropped a pitch in a perfect spot.

The slider came next and since Engel didn’t offer, Lynch was now behind 3-1. The next sinker was out of the zone, but again, with Engel geared up for action, he wasn’t letting a 95 mph pitch go by if it was close.

That looks like an incredibly difficult pitch to hit in that location. Engel was well over the sinker, managing to foul it off.

A four-seamer up and on the inner half followed for another foul and then came the finish: The sinker down and away, right on the edge.

Even if Engel had been able to make contact, he wasn’t doing anything with that sinker. It was the perfect pitch in the perfect location at the perfect time.

I don’t have to point this out to you. If you watched this game (or Lynch’s starts since returning from Triple-A) it’s obvious this is a different pitcher. As much as I hate to crawl into the psyche of a professional athlete, he just looks different on the mound. More confident. More focused. The pitches are sharper and thrown with a purpose. He’s commanding not only the strike zone, but the situation. This is the guy we were hoping we’d see in 2021.

Time to let the kids play

The offense was provided by Emmanual Rivera, whose batted ball to center in the first turned into a knuckleball that turned around Engel every which way. It plated two runs and staked the Royals to the lead they would never relinquish. Rivera returned in this series from a left hamate fracture suffered in late June in Boston.

Edward Olivares tacked on some insurance in the seventh with a home run that barely cleared the fence—and Engel’s glove.

After crushing Triple-A pitching for most of this season and while yo-yoing between the majors and the minors, this should be Olivares’ first extended look. All he’s done in the limited sample since his latest return is collect five hits in 15 at bats, three of which have left the yard. It looks like he’s playing with the freedom where he’s not looking over his shoulder, wondering when he’s going to be ordered back on I-29.

As Flanagan noted in his tweet, it’s time for both players to get an extended look over the final two months of the season. Oliveras needs to be in the outfield every day. Rivera needs to be at third. They can let Hunter Dozier (who is fading at the dish again) be the DH. Rotate that spot between him and Ryan O’Hearn. Whatever. It doens’t really matter. What matters is getting the kids some regular time down the stretch. If both Rivera and Olivares can stick, doesn’t that make the future just a little brighter. And wouldn’t you think the club would want to know what they have?

Matheny’s bullpen mastery continues

It’s beautiful when a plan comes together, isn’t it?

I’ve written about this since the start of the season last July, but I continue to be mostly impressed with how Mike Matheny has managed his bullpen. Yeah, he’s been leaning on some guys probably a little too much, but that’s going to happen when he’s developing that Bullpen Circle of Trust. What has really captured my attention is how he’s put different pitchers in different situations at different times of the season. It’s mostly worked.

Thursday he opened with Josh Staumont in the fireman role. That’s a unique situation for Staumont. The last time he came into a game with a runner on base? Try May 4th. That’s a string of 26 games between inherited runners.

The seventh belonged to Greg Holland. It was just the fourth time he entered the game as early as the seventh inning going all the way back to late May.

The last pitcher to record a save for the Royals before Thursday night was Scott Barlow. He locked down the eighth, allowing a run on an Eloy Jiménez double down the line on a slider off the plate, but a little elevated.

That left the ninth inning to Jake Brentz. I don’t know how anyone can make contact against this guy.

It’s beyond filthy.

It was the first career save for Brentz and the seventh different reliever Matheny has used to record a save this year for the Royals.

Central issues

  • Red Sox 1, Tigers 8

The Red Sox are fading after the trade deadline and Detroit took full advantage. robbie Grossman ripped a leadoff home run. Victor Reyes hit a pair of triples—one each from both sides of the dish. And Tarik Skubal threw five innings of shutout baseball. Since May 7, the Tigers are 44-35.

  • Cleveland 0, Blue Jays 3

It was the Bo Bichette show. The Toronto second baseman hit a two-run dinger in the fourth and followed that up with a run-scoring single in the sixth to plate all three Blue Jay runs. Cleveland is 7-12 since the All-Star break.

  • Twins 5, Astros 3

The Twins capitalized on four singles, a double and a run-scoring ground out to plate four in the second inning to take the first game of a four-game set from Houston. Griffin Jax didn’t strike out a batter in 5.1 innings, but scattered just three hits. The Astros have dropped four of their last five.

Up next

The Royals travel to St. Louis for a three-game set against their cross-state “rivals.”The Cardinals are 53-55, 11.5 games back in the NL Central.

Friday — Mike Minor vs. Adam Wainwright at 7:15 CDT

Saturday — Brad Keller vs. Kwang Hyun Kim at 6:15 CDT

Sunday — Kris Bubic vs. Jon Lester at 1:15 CDT

The Cardinals are scoring 3.99 runs per game, ranking 26th in the majors. The Royals are just ahead of them at 4.12 R/G. St. Louis pitchers have an 11.1 percent walk rate, highest in MLB. Kansas City pitchers have a 10.1 percent walk rate, which places them third.