Is the Royals' offense finally showing signs of life?
Sunday was the most productive day the Royals have had with runners in scoring position in over a week and they take two of three from the Red Sox. It's a reminder that winning baseball is fun!
What do you know about futility? That’s a ridiculous question. You’ve presumably been following these Royals for a few years.
Ah, futility! Coming into the weekend series against the Boston Red Sox the Royals had dropped 11 of 12. That’s…rotten. Really, really rotten. And when a ball club hits the skids that hard, it’s usually a total team effort. While that was absolutely the case, there is a special place in Slump City for the Royals’ offense. Particularly over the last handful of games heading into the weekend…And particularly with runners in scoring position.
Dating back to a week ago Friday when the Royals lost 4-3 at Oakland, they have turned in abysmal clutch performance after abysmal clutch performance.
6/11 — 0-10 with RISP
6/12 — 0-4 with RISP
6/13 — 1-9 with RISP
6/14 — 1-14 with RISP
6/15— 1-5 with RISP
6/16 — 2-7 with RISP
That’s a lot of futility. I’ll do the math for you…Entering the weekend’s series against the Red Sox, the Royals were 5 for their last 49. That translates into six consecutive losses where they were outscored 41-19. That’s 3.2 runs scored per game. That’s…just kind of awful.
We know the Royals won the series against the Sox, taking two of three. They won on Friday and Sunday and once again, are suddenly ascendant. Well, relatively speaking.
Still, let’s see how that offense did over the weekend with runners in scoring position.
Friday — 1-7 with RISP
See? Here I spend the entire lead discussing batting stats with runners in scoring position and it turns out hitting with RISP isn’t the end-all, be-all. The Royals had, what for them of late, was a very typical night production-wise with runners in scoring position. The lone hit with a RISP? An Adalberto Mondesi bomb that came with not only a runner in scoring position but a runner on first!
And this baseball was vaporized.
Have you ever seen a home run hit into the bar in right field? I’m not sure I have. The Statcast metrics on this were breathtaking.
Couple that with a Salvador Perez solo shot and a Whit Merrifield double that scored Nicky Lopez from first, and that’s how you plate five runs on only one hit with runners in scoring position.
Mondesi, as you know, returned to this lineup on Wednesday against Detroit. He hit a home run in that game, too. So, let’s reset…He was activated late on Tuesday, when it was apparent Ronald Bolanos would hit the IL. He was on deck to pinch hit when Michael A. Taylor struck out to end the game. He played on Wednesday and went 2-3 with the home run. The team was off on Thursday. Friday, he was 1-3 with the aforementioned home run.
Then…on Saturday he had a scheduled day off. Does this newsletter accept emojis? Because 🤔.
In a small way, I can perhaps see the method to the madness that is the Royals’ handling on Mondesi. Play Wednesday, off Thursday. Play Friday, off Saturday. Play Sunday, off Monday. With the scheduled off days on Thursday and Monday, it gives them a chance to really ease him back to action. But you simply cannot deny that the Royals are a better team with Mondesi in the lineup.
And then on Sunday, he left the game after he “felt something in his side.” No, really.
Again, I’m forced to write that I understand the frustration. He’s an exciting player, a true difference-maker…when he’s healthy. But this season he’s been anything but. And we’re left watching a team that struggles to plate runs on a consistent basis, knowing one of their most potentially productive hitters is on the sidelines.
I’ve been doing some pondering and wonder if these injuries don’t further frustrate because we can’t actually see them when they happen. The spring training oblique? Nobody knew until he told the training staff. The hamstring last month? Looked like a normal play that didn’t raise any alarms at that moment. And now feeling “something in his side?” Like, when the hell did that happen?
Layout for a fly ball, land awkwardly on your shoulder and need surgery? Everyone can see that. They understand. Injuries are part of the game. But these latest maladies? That’s a little more difficult to explain.
I want to be crystal clear: I’m not doubting Mondesi, nor am I questioning his toughness or desire. He’s 25 years old, coming off the best month of his major league career and looks like he hasn’t missed a beat in the limited action he’s seen in 2021. If the guy says he can’t go, I’m going to believe him. Maybe I’m naive that way, and maybe you disagree…maybe Mondesi is not tough enough. But I just have to think he wants to be out on that field.
With the off-day Monday, I figure the updates will be scant on Mondesi until the Royals go through a pregame workout in New York on Tuesday. We hope for the best. And fear the worst.
Friday’s pitching intrigue
The scheduled starter for Friday was Jackson Kowar. After a couple of disaster starts and with the Royals on the skids, they really couldn’t afford another start like Kowar delivered in his previous two outings. Still, it was kind of a surprise to see him up in the bullpen late on Thursday. Matheny pretty much ruled him out after that game for Friday, but the starter remained a mystery until the Royals released their starting lineup.
Hello, Kyle Zimmer as The Opener.
We’ve discussed this before that should the Royals decide they would use an opener, Zimmer has profiled as perhaps their best option. The stuff just seems to play well in the short bursts and he’s built to go multiple innings. He went two innings, throwing 34 pitches, tying a season-high. He scattered hits, as he will do, but worked around base runners with strikeouts and a double play.
The slider was working exceptionally well for Zimmer. He got eight swings on the offering and four misses. He had total confidence in the pitch. Enough to throw a 3-2 strike to Rafael Devers leading off the second.
Even though Zimmer went two innings, it just kind of felt like he set a tone for the game. Or maybe it was just huge the Royals got through the first couple of innings without falling behind. It was just nice to see a starting pitcher experience some success, even if that starter was just acting as The Opener.
Saturday — 0-11 with RISP
See what happens when Mondesi isn’t in the lineup? (And, for good measure, Andrew Benintendi.)
The RISP cause wasn’t helped by Whit Merrifield advancing to third and then getting thrown out at home—not once, but twice—while running on contact on Perez ground balls. The first one is where I have to question the Royals’ decision-making.
Perez is an extreme pull hitter when he puts balls on the ground. This year, 80 percent of his ground balls have been hit between second and third base.
Knowing this, the Red Sox infielders were shifted and positioned in for the play at the plate. Generally, when the infield is in, a batter’s average will increase. That’s just given the positioning of the infield. But with the infield in and a shift on?
I haven’t seen the data, but I have to think the defense isn’t giving up that much to the hitter. Putting the contact play on in a shift just doesn’t strike me as a wise strategy. Now, maybe on the rare chance Perez grounds one to the right side…maybe then you can go. But that isn’t a true contact play, I suppose. It just seems as though the odds were against the Royals on both plays.
On the second one, it’s a little less egregious to me because the ball was hit to the right side of the pitcher and hit with some velocity. Still, for that to happen twice in three innings with the exact same players…only the Royals can pull off something like that.
It should be noted the Royals only run scored just previous the second Merrifield TOOTBLAN at home. It came on a ground out from Carlos Santana that scored Nicky Lopez. Of course it did.
Saturday’s pitching intrigue
After getting roughed up by the Tigers in the first inning of his previous outing, Brad Keller was looking strong through the first four innings Saturday. He gave up a little damage in the first on an Alex Verdugo double followed two batters later by a Xander Bogaerts single, but it was a decent escape. He worked around a spot of trouble in the second and then went on to retire seven in a row up to the start of the fifth inning.
The fifth was all too familiar where Keller lost his feel for location, walked a couple of batters and was made to pay on both.
Keller just hasn’t been an effective starter this year. The hits allowed are way up to 11.5 H/9, the walks are up to 4.2 BB/9 and the home runs are astronomically elevated at 1.3 HR/9. It’s just too many baserunners and too many dingers. That the misery unfolded in the fifth shouldn’t have been a surprise. Keller is really losing steam around pitch 75.
Now, he’s been so poor on occasion that he hasn’t hung around long enough to even throw 75 pitches in four of his 15 starts, but still…the evidence is strong that he’s fading as he gets deeper into his pitch count.
Keller opened the fifth at 58 pitches and the bottom of the order due up. He should be ok, right? Well…He walked Kiké Hernández to lead off the inning and then gave up the triple to Bobby Dalbec to give the Sox a 2-1 lead. With the pitch count climbing and the Sox flipping their order over the third time, Keller should’ve been on a short leash. A ground out scored the second run of the inning and gave Keller a clean slate. But he walked Alex Verdugo. Then, on pitch number 83, this happened with J.D. Martinez at the plate.
Location-wise, it wasn’t bad. Perez wanted it inside and Keller got it in. But it was just a flat pitch, with nothing on it. It almost looks like a hanging fastball if that was such a thing. But again, I have to question the Royals’ strategy here. Miss in that location and you’re tempting fate.
Martinez crushes those belt-high pitches on the inner half. And he wasn’t going to be denied on a 94 mph sinker almost completely devoid of sink.
Sunday — 4-16 with RISP
Now we’re talking! Now we’re getting somewhere! Still not great production given the number of opportunities, but after what we’ve seen the last week-plus it’s a start.
And let’s start with the key at bat of the entire game: Jarrod Dyson’s 10 pitch battle against Nathan Eovaldi in the bottom of the third. It was truly a situation where the Royals needed to score multiple runs in an inning. Anything less would’ve been failure along the lines of what we’ve become far too accustomed to seeing.
The Royals opened the inning with a Merrifield single. He advanced to second on a Santana ground out and scored on a Perez single to tie the game. I love it when a pitcher can’t get the slider far enough on the plate with Perez up to bat.
So far, so good, right? And from how the Royals tend to operate these days, that’s probably all we should have expected.
But that man Mondesi was in the lineup, hitting cleanup behind Perez. So he went ahead and lined a ground rule double off the second baseman.
Here’s a list of things consumed by the tarp at Kauffman Stadium:
An Adalberto Mondesi ground-rule double.
I mean, there’s more, but I’m not going to top a Ken Harvey reference, so let’s just continue.
The ground-rule double put runners at second and third against a struggling starter with one out in a tied ballgame. If there was ever an opportunity for more runs, this was it.
First up, Kelvin Gutierrez.
Gutierrez swung at one of these pitches. Ok, ok…let’s not get derailed by the process. It’s the result that matters here. He walked to load the bases.
That brought up Hunter Dozier.
I’m not going to be too hard on Dozier in this situation. He had a good afternoon at the plate, scorching a pair of singles and looping a double to short center where he was able to take advantage of a collision between the shortstop and the center fielder to grab that extra base. It was Dozier’s second single of the afternoon that came with the bases juiced in the sixth that plated the Royals’ final run.
Rewinding myself to the Dozier at bat in the third… This is how Eovaldi got the count to 2-2.
He started off with a pair of sliders away at 85 mph. Dozier fouled off a couple of curves at 79 mph sandwiched between a 96 mph fastball up that was a pure show pitch. So in this at bat to this point, Dozier saw three different types of pitches, most of which were away. Here’s the sixth and final pitch of the at bat:
So you think you can be a professional hitter?
It’s been a brutal season for Dozier on all fronts. Sunday was just his second three-hit game of the season. His first came on June 9 against the Angels. Lest you think two three-hit games in the span of two weeks signals a hot streak, he threw in a six-game stretch entering Sunday where he was 0-21 with a walk. It’s just been that kind of year for Dozier.
Sunday’s pitching intrigue
No intrigue here. Mike Minor delivered his second quality outing in his last three starts, going 6.2 innings and truly scattering nine hits while striking out six. It was a typical Minor start, retiring the side in order only in the sixth inning and flirting with disaster all afternoon.
He turned the game over to his bullpen with runners on first and second in the seventh. Scott Barlow, pitching for the second time in the series got out of the jam by striking out the dangerous Bogaerts on three pitches.
Greg Holland locked down the victory on six pitches in the ninth. Tidy.
In between Carlos Hernández took the ball and was just wild and ineffective. I’m thinking that Matheny would have stuck with Hernández to get the final six outs, but it was immediately clear that it just wasn’t working for the right-hander. That’s what happens when you play Bullpen Roulette.
A brief blip on what was otherwise a very successful series. The Red Sox came in playing some impressive ball in a super-competitive AL East while the Royals were on the skids. That they were able to actually produce with runners in scoring position while getting some quality bullpen work (and a solid start from Minor) says that these victories were well-deserved indeed.
Cleveland 2, Pirates 1
Harold Ramirez hit his third dinger in two days and Josh Naylor provided the go-ahead hit as Cleveland was able to salvage a win in Pittsburgh after dropping the first two games of their three-game set.
White Sox 2, Astros 8
The White Sox were swept out of Houston on the back of a five-run third inning. Chicago entered the series with the best record in the AL, but after dropping all four games by a combined score of 27-8, that honor now resides with the ascendant Astros.
Twins 4, Rangers 2
Byron Buxton is back and the Twins polished off a three-game sweep of the Rangers in that airplane hanger they play baseball in in Texas. Buxton, in his second game off the IL, homered and hit a double.
The Royals are off on Monday before heading to the Bronx for three against the Yankees. Here’s how the probables are looking:
Tuesday — Brady Singer vs Gerrit Cole
Wednesday — TBD vs Michael King
Thursday — Brad Keller vs Jameson Tallion
The open spot following Singer was last filled with Zimmer as The Opener on Friday. The pitcher intrigue shall continue. And let’s not forget we’re due a Mondesi health update!
During the Saturday game, I questioned the reasoning behind playing Dozier in left and Merrifield in right. What game experience has Dozier had playing LF? It looked like he ran a bad route that led to Dalbec’s triple.