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Three Up, Three Down: Join me on a descent into madness
Brad Keller wobbled and the bullpen imploded. But do not despair! The Royals did score two runs!
These games just aren’t competitive.
I don’t think anyone realistically thought the Royals would compete in 2023. (Meaning, in the running for a postseason spot.) However, it wasn’t out of the realm of expectations that they would be competitive. With a new staff and another year of experience for the younger players, it would be fair to expect some innovative and occasionally inspiring baseball. No, they weren’t even going to push for a .500 record this year—that’s not what 2023 was ever going to be about. Yet improvement from the flameouts of the last two seasons was the lowest possible expectation.
There’s no finger-pointing here. The new staff deserves—and will get—time. Same for most of the players. But there is no denying that with just over 10 percent of the season gone, the Royals are playing some of the most uninspiring baseball we’ve seen in these parts for quite some time. Tuesday’s 12-2 loss was just the latest in a string of limp baseball. The Royals are 1-11 at home.
It sucks for those of us who care. And it sucks for those who want to care. There’s still plenty of time to turn this around…to find respectability…to play a brand of baseball that will make people care.
For now, though…It just plain sucks.
The Royals’ offense started brightly. Instead of hitting baseballs with beefy exit velocities to the warning track, those were flying to the wall. Not over the wall, mind you. To the wall. Against it. Maybe soon they’ll muscle up and hit a few over. (Yeah, they’ve hit a few dingers. Coming into Tuesday their .325 slugging percentage was the worst in the majors. You get it.)
Bobby Witt, Jr. hit a leadoff triple. Salvador Perez bashed a double. In between, MJ Melendez hit a sacrifice fly and the Royals were off to a roaring start.
The Royals scattered eight hits, which were seven more than they collected the previous evening. However, scattered is the keyword. They had the aforementioned two hits in the first, one in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, one in the sixth and one in the eighth. Even though the eight hits are tied for the sixth-most hits in a game in this young season for the Royals, it’s difficult to get a rally going when the offense is spread out like that.
Brad Keller came into his fourth start of 2023 having allowed eight walks in 16 innings. What is kind of notable about his walks is four of them came at the tail end of a couple of his outings when he was out of gas. He flipped that script right out of the box, missing well up and out of the zone on his first four pitches of the game.
Any potential rally was squelched as Keller struck out the next batter and rolled up a pair of ground balls to get out of the inning. The grounders and walks were kind of the theme of the night for Keller. He finished four innings (81 pitches) with five walks and seven ground ball outs.
Keller is normally up with his four-seamer, but on Tuesday he was wild up and out of the zone—and wild up in the zone—with his secondary pitches: his curve, his slider and his sinker.
The curve is obviously his new pitch, but look at his heat maps from last year to see where Keller normally locates his pitches.
Keller’s slider was crazy elevated all night. Same for his sinker, a pitch he threw just 14 percent of the time. As I’m writing this during the game, and not hearing directly from Keller, I can only speculate that he just didn’t have a feel for anything on Tuesday. His command was simply off. It happens. Credit to him for grinding through four, keeping the balls in play on the ground to limit the damage, and ultimately keeping his team in the game early.
And it feels like this should be noted given that Matt Quatraro seems to have a longer leash for his starters early in the season as they’re building up arm strength. While I’m sure he would’ve liked to have gotten five innings from his starter, Q did the right thing pulling Keller after four.
With Keller out of the game after the fourth, the bullpen would be required to navigate the final five innings of the game. The game disintegrated in the top of the six as Carlos Hernández gave up four consecutive singles before putting the capper on his outing by allowing a home run to red-hot Marcus Semien. Hernández threw 14 pitches and five were put in play. The Rangers couldn’t miss.
Of course, it helps when the pitches land in the meaty part of the zone.
Because I’m a nerd for Stathead at Baseball Reference, I will bless you with the knowledge that Hernández’s final line—5 batters faced, five hits allowed with a home run and five runs scored—had happened on 12 previous occasions.
Of course, you remember the last time this happened? June 25, 2019, for the Royals at Cleveland. A double and three consecutive singles opened the ninth against Brad Hand. And then Hunter Dozier cleared the bases with a grand slam. Yes, that Hunter Dozier. He was good in 2019. Take THAT, haters!
Josh Taylor served up another three-run home run in the eighth for the final margin. That’s just details. Really, like the night before, once the Rangers seized the lead, this one was cooked.