The Salvy Show rolls along as the Royals take the series from the Mariners

Salvy stays scorching hot. Singer turns to his change. Carlos Hernández continues to shove. And the Royals are positioning themselves for their traditional strong September finish.

The Royals’ second-half surge continues.

Since getting swept at home by the Cardinals and looking completely lifeless in the process, the Royals have reeled off wins in 10 of their last 14 games. Included in this stretch were three victories against the team formerly known as the Chicago Cubs. That’s just the advantage of scheduling, another team’s fire sale and laying waste to what is now one of the worst teams in the league. But they’ve also taken four of seven from the AL West-leading Houston Astros, outscoring them 28 to 26 in the process. Houston will be alright. They have a 14 game stretch coming up where they play the Angels, Rangers and Diamondbacks.

And now the Royals may have just polished off what had been the dim postseason aspirations of the Seattle Mariners. Despite dropping Sunday’s series finale by a 4-3 scoreline, the Royals won the first three games in the Pacific Northwest to take the series.

So yes, that second-half surge is happening. After finishing the first half with the third-worst record in the AL, the Royals have flipped the script in the second half. They own the AL’s third-best record since the All-Star break.

This is an intriguing table. For one thing, their Royals 168 runs scored since the break is the fewest among their rivals in the AL Central. Yet their 166 runs allowed is the best mark in the division, tied with the Tigers. Their +2 run differential yields a Pythagorean record ever so slightly above .500, but with the Royals four wins to the good on the break-even point, it’s not as if they’re wildly outplaying their expected record.

It sets the stage for an intriguing September. The club has nothing to play for, and with the AL Central all but settled and just three games remaining against the White Sox, A’s and the fading Mariners, the schedule isn’t exactly packed with class opponents. Will we see the familiar surge continue which sets the Royals up as paper tigers for 2022? It wouldn’t be a surprise.

Stay hot, Salvador Perez…please

Friday’s edition of ITF was entirely devoted to the events surrounding Salvador Perez’s grand slam.

In that article, I wondered why Mariners reliever Joe Smith avoided throwing his slider, which is his best pitch and one Perez has shown a proclivity to chase.

Seeing how Perez polished off his weekend, I’m not sure it would’ve mattered what pitch Smith threw. The dude is simply crushing dingers.

On Friday with the bases loaded again, starter Logan Gilbert did turn to his slider against Perez. Three times, in fact. The first two weren’t close to the zone: Perez spit on slider number one for a ball. He swung over the top of the second one that was down and well out of the zone. The third one?

Liftoff.

Grand slams in back-to-back games. This alone is ridiculous enough, but Perez wasn’t finished, hitting home runs in each of the next two games. He’s currently riding a five-game dinger streak. And these home runs mean something. The grand slam from Friday (I can’t believe I need to qualify which grand slam!) tied the game. Thursday’s won it. I can’t remember a time a hitter has combined this kind of power with this kind of clutch.

The slider from Gilbert was in a good location…if the hitter was human. The problem for Gilbert, Salvy Perez lately most decidedly is not.

Perez is now on a stretch of five consecutive games launching one out of the yard. What is the most astonishing about this run is Perez is doing it against all types of pitches in all types of locations. Fastball up, offspeed down…it just doesn’t matter.

The above is the location of Perez’s last five home runs. I’ll have to continue to ask: Why is anyone throwing Perez a center-cut sinker? Good lord. The pitch he launched on Sunday was the elevated, inside sinker. This is how it looked off the bat.

The swing is a thing of beauty to be sure, but from this angle and at this speed, you get a taste of the launch angle. Honestly, if you saw this gif and didn’t know the outcome, what would you think happened? It sure looks like a harmless fly ball to left. Except when the batter is Salvy Strong, that harmless fly ball has some kind of carry. Indeed, his dinger on Sunday left the bat at a launch angle of 39 degrees. It’s apex reached 148 feet. The ball left the atmosphere.

I apologize for the hyperbole. Of course the ball didn’t leave the atmosphere. Physics means that if that had actually happened, it would’ve burned up on reentry.

Wait. I’m not certain it didn’t.

The Mariners’ broadcast said the ball hit the foul pole. I’ve watched this clip more times than the Zapruder film and I’ll be damned if I can see that happen. I don’t see the ball at all. Maybe I need to adjust by prescription or buy a better monitor, but I’m starting to think Perez truly obliterated Sunday’s dinger. Hit enough and it’s bound to happen.

Speaking of which, the above homer was number 38 on the season. It’s time to update the single-season home run record board for catchers because Perez has overtaken the fast lane of this freeway.

He’s now the HR record holder for American League catchers, passing Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk on Sunday. (Although with the advent of interleague play, these types of distinctions don’t hold as much appeal for me as they used to.) The next single-season milestone? He’s two dingers away from becoming the sixth different catcher to bash 40 in a season.

Olivares returns…again

On Friday, the Royals announced the Toronto Blue Jays claimed outfielder Jarrod Dyson off waivers. With the absence of the waiver trade deadline, there’s no post-July 31 trade deadline wheeling and dealing. It’s now just clubs placing veteran players on the waiver wire and letting them go without compensation to teams who could use a particular player. Not that Dyson would’ve netted the Royals any kind of prospect in return. It’s just a way for teams out of contention to give a few veteran players the opportunity to play on a team with eyes on October.

As Dyson departs, that creates another chance for Edward Olivares to add to his frequent miles program, joining the Royals for the sixth time this year.

And now, with the absence of Jorge Soler who had his share of reps in right field, Olivares should finally see his name in the major league lineup every day. He came off the bench Friday to provide the game-winning, two-run dinger in the top of the 12th.

After laying waste to Triple-A pitching to the tune of .298/.370/.524, Olivares is now hitting .231/.271/.462 in 70 major league plate appearances sprinkled throughout the season. It will be nice to see what he can do over the final 32 games of the season. Assuming the Royals don’t decide his services are needed back in Omaha.

Yes, Olivares made an error in right field on Sunday that eventually led to a run but he absolutely needs to be in this lineup down the stretch. Word is, the organization is internally split on Olivares’ future. Can he hit major league pitching with consistency? Will the power play? The answer to those questions will determine whether he’s a regular or a fringe player who burns up the highway between the big leagues and Triple-A. Now is as good a time as any to get a little bit of clarity.

Changing up with Singer

Speaking of Sunday’s game, it’s time to give a little credit where it’s due. Brady Singer is incorporating that change into his repertoire and he’s finding some success. He pitched six innings on Sunday, allowing three hits and two runs—one earned due to the Olivares error. Overall, he threw 102 pitches, of which 11 were classified as changeups.

He didn’t really have command of the pitch, missing Perez’s target frequently. For the change he hit Mitch Haniger with in the third, Perez set his target low and away, Singer came up and in.

There were a couple like that that got away from Singer. The good news was he kept the ball down when he was in the zone and got a couple of ground ball outs off the pitch. Just the presence was enough to keep Seattle hitters aware. They couldn’t just sit on one pitch and adjust to another…there was an actual third pitch in the mix. This is the kind of pitch usage chart you want to see…the green line for the change is trending up.

The Mariner batters didn’t bite all that much on the change—they swung at just three and put all three in play—but they didn’t do any damage against the Singer change. It remains a work in progress, but progress is being made.

Hernández continues to impress

With the Royals’ bullpen continually taxed, it fell to Saturday’s scheduled starter, Carlos Hernández to hold the game on Friday when starter Kris Bubic couldn’t get past the fifth. All Hernández did was shove, throwing 5.2 innings of one-hit ball, striking out six. He retired the first 14 batters he faced, allowing his only baserunner in the bottom of the 10th when Abraham Toro singled.

The move meant the Royals six-man rotation was momentarily realigned with Daniel Lynch and Brady Singer moving up a day. But that’s ok. Hernández just continues to be the most impressive young arm on this staff.

Lovelady is sidelined and it doesn’t look good

Prior to Sunday’s game against the Mariners, the Royals announced they placed reliever Richard Lovelady on the IL with a strained ulnar collateral ligament. This is about the worst possible news for a pitcher; a UCL strain is generally a precursor to Tommy John surgery. Lovelady will undergo further evaluation before a decision on treatment is made.

Just another frustrating bump in the road for Lovelady, who, since his recall from Triple-A, has emerged as one of Matheny’s better options out of the bullpen. With a ground ball rate of over 55 percent, he’s ideal if the team is in a jam and needing a double play. By posting a 2.6 BB/9, he’s not hurting his own cause by issuing too many free passes. And as a left-handed option, he’s holding same-side batters to a paltry .156/.229/.250, which is 65 percent better than league average. Lovelady struggled in his debut season of 2019, posting a 7.35 ERA in 20 innings with just a 7.7 SO/9. He barely got a cup of coffee last year, appearing in just one game before spending the rest of the truncated season at the alternate site. It seemed as if he was on the organizational outs. His performance this year should change that perception. But now this…

This is just another blow to a pitching staff seemingly rocked by injuries of late. Using the Baseball Prospectus Injury Ledger, we can see the Royals have had a difficult time keeping their pitchers healthy this year. With Jake Brentz, Greg Holland and Brad Keller all going on the IL in the last couple of weeks, the numbers have sharply increased of late. The data presented below is days on the IL through August 27.

The fact that now both Lovelady and Brentz are sidelined leaves Matheny without a left-handed option in the bullpen. That was exposed on Sunday as Matheny stuck with Tyler Zuber (Lovelady’s replacement on the roster) after he allowed a two-out single to Mitch Haniger in the seventh. Zuber, facing the left-handed-hitting Kyle Seager, surrendered the tie-breaking home run. Over the course of his career, Seager slugs 20 points less against lefties.

The Royals are just going to have to ride this out until Brentz is healthy enough to return. And they’re going to have to hope for the best that the UCL strain suffered by Lovelady is not severe enough to warrant reconstructive surgery.

Mondesi’s imminent return

As the Omaha Storm Chasers continue to collectively rake, it should be noted that Adalberto Mondesi, down on a rehab assignment, has gotten in on the offensive action. He played in back-to-back games over the weekend for the first time since early August and homered in both. Since his return to the Triple-A lineup after being brought back to Kansas City for an evaluation, Mondesi is 7-22 with two walks and four strikeouts.

I would wager he’s activated before Tuesday’s game against Cleveland.

This will create some kind of playing conundrum for the Royals. It’s been over two months since we’ve seen Mondesi in a major league uniform and while Nicky Lopez performed admirably in filling in for Mondesi during his first and second stints on the IL, it’s been during this third Mondesi absence that Lopez has really come into his own, both offensively and defensively. Especially defensively.

Do the Royals move an exceptional defender off shortstop to accommodate Mondesi? (Honestly, it’s completely bizarre to me that I’m even posing that question.) The Royals absolutely have to keep Lopez in the lineup, so would they shift him back to second? That would of course push Merrifield to the outfield, which would marginalize Olivares once again. Hey! I just wrote a whole section on how Olivares should be playing every day at the major league level!

Even though this has been a frustrating and lost season for Mondesi, he really needs to see if he can finish out the final month of the season. Although Dayton Moore has rightly said the Royals can’t count on him, they at least have to try. Even while they’re playing out the string. On the other hand, you really hate to see them move Lopez and Merrifield around defensively, especially after they have established themselves as a pair of top defenders.

Central issues

  • Red Sox 5, Cleveland 7

Cleveland salvaged the series finale by scoring three in the eighth, the final tally coming across in a bizarre play where Oscar Mercado was interfered with as he was running the bases. Before that, Cleveland was held hitless for over five innings by Boston starter Tanner Houck. This game also featured a three-hour rain delay prior to the first pitch.

  • Blue Jays 2, Tigers 1

In the third one-run game of the weekend series, the Jays prevailed behind the starting pitching of José Berríos who whiffed 11 in seven innings. Bo Bichette and Kevin Smith each hit a solo home run as the Jays took two of three.

  • Cubs 1, White Sox 13

Good grief, the Cubs are awful. The Sox battered their North Side rivals and took the season series five games to one, outscoring them 51-30 in the process. Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez and Brian Goodwin each drove in three. Robert homered twice.

  • Brewers 6, Twins 2

The Brewers hit four doubles and two dingers against Twins starter Griffin Jax, avoiding the sweep. Milwaukee relievers combined for four shutout innings with nine strikeouts.

Up next

The Royals have an off day on Monday before opening a six game homestand against Cleveland and the White Sox. They have yet to set their rotation against Cleveland.