Road warriors

The Royals are suddenly unwanted guests. Daniel Lynch found a different line of attack. Salvador Perez is selective. And Michael A. Taylor provides the defensive highlight.

The first two opponents the Royals will square off against on this road trip could not be more different.

The Cubs are capital “B” Bad. I mean they’re awful. As in, it’s a real good thing they held their fire sale at the deadline instead of during the offseason because with that roster we’re talking 1962 Mets bad.

The Astros, meanwhile, are capital “G” Good. Sure, they’re playing through their own version of the dog days here of late in August, but they still have the third-best winning percentage in the AL and hold a semi-comfortable advantage over the Oakland A’s for supremacy in the AL West. They will be attending baseball’s postseason.

Two teams…Two diametrically opposed levels of quality…And the Royals are just rolling through both like the biggest bully in baseball.

A week after taking three of four from those Astros at home, they unleashed the bats once again, delivering a complete 7-1 drubbing. Their record against Houston now stands at 4-1 on the season.

A different game plan

Maybe this is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy on my part—I have long held that starter Daniel Lynch would have the most successful career of the college arms plucked from the 2018 draft—but damn do I enjoy watching him pitch. It’s literally everything about his style and how he goes about his craft.

Not to go all Barbra Streisand at the US Open here, but Lynch is such a Zen Master on the mound.

This wasn’t Lynch’s most overpowering outing, nor was it even generally notable when looking at the box score line—he allowed six hits and three walks in five innings (plus two batters) of work. Of the five frames he completed, Lynch allowed at least one baserunner in four. That he worked in and out of trouble all night only lends credence to his Zen Master qualities on the mound.

Let’s start with his sinker because…mercy.

The arm-side run on this pitch is just insane. Astros batters saw 27 sinkers in total on Monday, they swung at just six of them. They didn’t miss, fouling off three and putting three in play.

Ah! I think I know what you’re going to say. “But Craig! You make such a big deal out of swings and misses. How can Lynch’s sinker be such a great pitch if he’s not getting any whiffs?”

Swings and misses are a big deal. But so is movement. So is location. So is catching your opponent somewhat off guard with selection.

So are a lot of different variables. And while Lynch wasn’t missing bats, I think we can safely say that when the Astros are swinging just six times out of 27 pitches, they were generally off-balance against this pitch.

Again!

This was against Yuli Gurriel in the third inning. It’s the first pitch of the at bat and it’s right down the chute. Honestly, it’s a dangerous location. It looks from the load and the way Gurriel tracks the pitch, he wanted to swing. It had to look particularly meaty from the instant it left Lynch’s hand. But there was something that held Gurriel back from the offering. Maybe it was the velocity. Maybe it was the spin. Maybe it was the movement. Whatever it was, this was a tasty pitch and Gurriel just couldn’t sink his teeth into it.

These are all 27 sinkers Lynch delivered on the night.

Several close pitches were taken for balls, but that’s because the Astros weren’t swinging the bat in general against the pitch. The three balls they did put in play all went for outs. Two were off the bat of left-handed-hitting Michael Brantley.

Harken back to Lynch’s last start, also against these Astros. In that one, he threw his sinker 15 times total. So he made a conscious effort to mix things up; give one of the most dangerous lineups in the league something different. I’d say they were a little unprepared for that sinker on Monday.

If it’s whiffs you crave, can I interest you in Lynch’s slider?

This is the stuff, right there. The bottom just…disappears. Lynch got 16 swings on the slider, six of them were whiffs. Overall, he had a 36 percent CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs) on the pitch, which is a very healthy rate of strikes.

The next gif shows all the sliders Lynch threw on Monday, with a highlight of those called strikes and whiffs.

Lynch kept a couple of those sliders up in the zone and they were noticed. But here’s the deal…only one of those pitches was hard-hit with an exit velocity above 95 mph. That would be the most elevated slider of the evening, a full count offering to Aledmys Diaz, Lynch’s final pitch on the night. Overall, his average exit velocity on the slider was 80.6 mph. That will work.

With the Royals’ six-man rotation and close to back to back series against the same opposition, there are going to be plenty of times where a pitcher faces the same opponent in consecutive starts. As I noted in passing above, Lynch altered his attack just enough to keep Astros hitters off balance.

Mostly, it was all about that sinker with the nasty arm-side run. He doubled the rate at which he threw that pitch on Monday. It came at the expense of his change and four-seamer, which absolutely makes sense, given that the slider is Lynch’s money pitch.

So when Lynch was in trouble, like he was in the third and fifth innings, there was never a moment where it felt as if events were going off the rails. Lynch was allowing hitters to reach base, but with his location, his movement and his pitch selection, he was able to control the moment. It wasn’t necessarily clean, but it was plenty effective. And fun as hell to watch.

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He’s just here to hit dingers…and walk

Isn’t this just the perfect road trip for Salvador Perez to add to his home run total? The wind was blowing out a couple of days at Wrigley, providing optimal dinger conditions, which Perez took full advantage of on Friday. And now playing at the pinball machine known as Minute Maid park provides another series of opportunities.

Perez smells dingers.

The man should make no apologies. When you ply your trade at Kauffman Stadium for 81 games, lord knows how many home runs you surrender to the acreage. Go get yourself some cheap ones.

Yes, anything hit into the Crawford Boxes is considered “cheap.” Fun ballpark you have, Houston.

The home run moves Perez up the leaderboard for most dingers by a catcher in a season in the divisional era. Since 1969, it’s the 20th time a backstop has hit 33 or more home runs in a season.

Perhaps even more impressive than the dinger was the fact that once again, Perez accepted two free passes. Two walks! That’s on the heels of a two walk game back on August 9 against the Yankees. If this newsletter was a reality TV show, I’d say this was just a stunning twist that no one saw coming.

But it is a stunning twist.

Perez has played 1,102 games in his major league career. Here is a complete list of how many times he’s walked twice in a game, with neither of those free passes intentional.

That’s it. Eight games out of over 1,100. And two of them have come in August of 2021.

It’s ok for walks to blow your mind.

Hi, may I help you?

Just another assist for Michael A. Taylor.

That was his ninth assist on the year, the most among center fielders. Starling Marte is second with six. Taylor’s offense with an 80 wRC+ hasn’t been good, but that glove? It’s, dare I say, golden.

Obviously, all assists are not created equal. We should probably give Carlos Correa some credit for not sliding. I mean, the entire play was right in front of him. Taylor didn’t catch the ball in a good position to make the throw, although I would imagine that’s mostly due to those columns and boxes at the trick ballpark. The throw was suboptimal, coming in to the shortstop side of the bag. But Whit Merrifield did a great job gloving the ball while in motion to second to apply the tag to a non-sliding Correa.

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Central issues

  • White Sox 1, Blue Jays 2

Lance Lynn shoved for seven innings, allowing one run on four hits, before giving way to Craig Kimbrel with the game knotted at one. Kimbrel gave up a leadoff single and then uncorked a pair of wild pitches, the second one allowed the eventual winning run to score. Alek Manoah allowed one run over six and the Jays bullpen shut down the Sox over three innings, striking out five and not allowing a baserunner.

Look at the Royals put some distance between themselves and the Twins!

Up next

Two games left against the Astros. Brady Singer takes the mound this evening against Luis Garcia. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 CDT. The finale will be Mike Minor and Lance McCullers on Wednesday afternoon.