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Three Up, Three Down: First strike
The offense stays hot, plating four in the first, Keller struggles but finds a way and Salvy celebrates his birthday in style.
The great thing about this game is things can look bleak early, but then fortunes can turn on a dime. Or some well-placed singles.
It looked like the White Sox would jump the Royals and Brad Keller in the first. After a fortuitous escape act, the offense set about doing their thing. They sent 10 men to the plate in the first, scoring four. It sure didn’t look like it at the time, but that would be all they would require to secure the victory. But because these are the Royals with a resurgent offense, they tacked on five more for good measure in a 9-1 victory.
The Royals are 11-27 on the season, but 4-5 on the current homestand. The bats are alive.
I have to be honest…Ten pitches into this game and I was not feeling optimistic. Oh, sure, the Royals’ offense has been hot on this homestand so it really feels like they’ve been in almost every game. That’s a reason to believe no matter what. Still, the first 10 pitches from Keller were mostly in another zip code.
Back-to-back walks to leadoff hitter Tim Anderson and number two Andrew Benintendi did not portend a crisp evening from the starter. With a little help from the home plate umpire and Luis Robert Jr. who looked completely adrift at the plate all evening, Keller was able to escape.
His first inning pitch chart was gross.
The curve on the left-handed side of home was the first pitch to Vaughn and that was called a strike. Obviously, that changed the completion of the entire plate appearance.
Then, every pitcher needs a hitter who offers at the slider like Robert was swinging on Wednesday.
Keller found a bit of a groove in the later innings and truthfully never felt like he was in danger, but that was largely thanks to the aggressive approach of the Sox hitters. These were the swinging strikes Keller threw. Most were with fewer than two strikes.
How about another swing and miss from Robert?
Take what the opposition provides I guess. Keller picked up a couple of swings and misses on the curve, but continued the trend of not throwing that particular pitch as frequently as he had earlier in the season. He threw just eight curves of his 88 pitches on Wednesday, relying on his usual slider/sinker combo.
The White Sox couldn’t square Keller up at all. Let’s say he was effectively wild. Keller walked four, struck out four and allowed just three hits. Only three batted balls had an exit velocity greater than 95 MPH and none were hit over 100 MPH. That’s how you dance around the wildness and the walks.
Somehow, Keller got through five innings. I wouldn’t have thought that possible after the first.
During the slow start in April, I found myself lamenting that the Royals never seem to have an extended offensive streak where the superlatives can be unleashed. They were bad and the offense was bad. It was grim.
But May? Oh, May!
Check out these numbers for the offense in the month of May (prior to Wednesday’s game) and where they rank in the majors:
Runs per game - 6.8 (1st)
Batting Average - .292 (3rd)
OBP - .369 (2nd)
Slugging - .358 (1st)
OPS - .907 (2nd)
Here’s the stat that just blows my mind: Entering play Wednesday, the Royals hit 14 home runs in May, second most in the majors. They added three more courtesy Messrs. Olivares, Pratto and Massey. They have now left the yard in each of the nine games of the homestand.
So consider what the Royals did overall in Wednesday’s victory. Nine runs. Thirteen hits. Seven extra-base hits. A couple of walks. Those already elevated averages above are increasing. This offense is smokin’.
If you want to make the argument the Royals are paper tigers given the competition has included six games so far against the Sox and the downtrodden A’s, that’s fine. Cynical, but fine. My argument is the Royals are still not necessarily a good ball club, but they are good enough to work over some of the lesser teams in the league. They are not as poor as we saw in April (although that was incredibly rough), but they’re not as good as we’ve seen of late.
Don’t discount the addition of Nick Pratto and Maikel Garcia. Garcia as noted in this space is just hammering the ball. He was off on Wednesday. Pratto, meanwhile, has the look of a hitter transformed. After collecting two hits in four at-bats—including his second home run of the season—he’s hitting .400 (16-for-40) with 5 extra-base hits and 12 RBI since his recall from Omaha on April 28. This is a different lineup with those two around
Massey, too, has come around. After going 3-4 on Wednesday, he’s hitting .340 (16-for-47) in his last 14 games.
Despite the offense running roughshod, they’re still just 4-5 in the month.
You know what, though? It just feels right.
How about a happy birthday to The Captain, Salvador Perez? Salvy turned 33 on Wednesday and celebrated by clubbing a pair of doubles and driving in the first run of the game for the Royals.
The double in the first had an exit velocity of 110.6 MPH. It was the hardest-hit ball of the night. The old man can still rake.
After advancing to third in the first, he TOOTBLAN’d when he broke for home on a contact play with a grounder to third. An unfortunate turn of events as the inning could’ve been a little larger than the four they finished with.
Except then Salvy stole a run in the sixth by running into another out. I’ll set the stage: With two outs, Vinnie Pasquantino singled and Perez followed with that second double of the night, advancing Pasquantino to third. Up next, MJ Melendez hit a chopper to third with both runners breaking with two outs. Perez was moving toward third baseman Hanser Alberto but pulled up when Alberto fielded the ball and moved to tag him instead of firing across the diamond for the force at first. That bit of baserunning allowed Pasquantino to hustle across the plate with the eighth run of the game. A bit of a brain freeze from Alberto, but fantastic situational awareness from the birthday boy.
The eighth run doesn’t matter when the White Sox can’t score, but it’s yet another example of how Perez plays the game. He doesn’t take a play off.
We are lucky to have Salvy on this team.