Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

I don’t have much for you today (which many of you might say ‘what else is new?) after a rugged weekend.

The Royals flat out wilted in the national spotlight on Friday night and gave the Saturday afternoon contest away via bunts, baserunning blunders and the idea that Raul Ibanez was the pinch-hitter you wanted in the bottom of the ninth of what was then the most important game of the year.

Of course, the Royals righted the ship on Sunday – the most important game of the year to date – in a game where, of course, Alcides Escobar got two more hits out of the lead-off spot.  Since moving to the top of the order, a move which statistically makes very little sense, the Royals’ shortstop is 13 for 38, with three doubles, a home run and, get this, TWO walks.

Batting behind Escobar in Yost’s new order has been Nori Aoki (only 16 for 34, with 4 walks).  Don’t look know, but Aoki has become exactly who Royals’ fans thought they were getting last winter.  Aoki now has the best on-base percentage of any Kansas City regular.

Oh yeah, and new number three hitter Lorenzo Cain is now 8 for 26, with a double, home run and three walks since moving to that spot in the order.  I don’t know, go figure on all that.

We move onto Cleveland, where the Royals hope to turn a loss into a win and have three outs to do so before playing a real baseball game after that.  At minimum, the Royals need to win two in Cleveland and three in Chicago.  That won’t get them the division, but it should keep Kansas City in one of the two wild-card spots.  They absolutely cannot let the Indians get back into the conversation.

One week to go, seven games (basically).  Five wins needed.

Finally, a really great read from our own Aaron Stilley can be found over at The Hardball Times.   Aaron compresses the history of baseball into one 24 hour day.   Cool and fun.  Read it instead of working:  America will survive.

Stretch Run

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It’s a Friday, in the latter half of September and the Detroit Tigers are coming to town.  It’s a big deal.  We have not had a big deal in September that involved the Royals in a while.  I think I like it.

Sitting one-half game behind the Tigers (1 full game really, when you factor in the pending loss coming up in Cleveland) and one-half game (or tied, really) for the first Wild Card spot, the Kansas City Royals pretty much control their own destiny.   Of course, so do the other teams in the race as well.

Just win, baby.

I do not see a clear path to the American League Central title that does not include the Royals winning at least two out of three this weekend.  Things happen, sure.  Strange things like continuing to hand the ball to Joe Nathan in the ninth inning.   Still, the Tigers finish up the season with seven games at home:  three with the White Sox and four with the Twins.

For reasons that only the baseball gods know, Detroit is just 8-8 against Chicago and an even worse 7-8 against the hapless, yes HAPLESS, Twins.   One could say those numbers might indicate the Tigers going 4-3 or 3-4 over the last week of the season.  Of course, one could also say that a team like the Tigers, markedly superior to both the Sox and Twins, might go 6-1, too.

The Royals, on the other hand, finish the season on the road.  Let’s just put the completion of the rain shortened Cleveland game in which they trail 4-2 in the bottom of the 10th in the loss column and move on.   After that, Kansas City plays three at Cleveland and finishes with four at Chicago.

Counting the ‘loss in waiting’, Kansas City is just 7-10 against Cleveland, but a salty 10-5 against Chicago.  You can take some solace in the fact that the Royals are 5-1 this year at Comiskey Park and there is talk that the White Sox are considering shutting Chris Sale down for the season as well.   Unfortunately, Kansas City is just 2-5 playing at Cleveland in 2014.   Adding to the problem, the Indians are still kinda sorta in the race.  Certainly, they’ll entertain thoughts that sweeping Kansas City in their home park would give them a shot at the Wild Card.

Basically, Cleveland is going to care.  Chicago and Minnesota?  Not so much.

On the Wild Card front, the free-falling Oakland A’s play three at home against the Phillies.  The old and ineffective Phillies.  They then play three home games against the Angels, who are probably the playing the best baseball of anyone, but who have also clinched their division and may or may not care at all.  The A’s finish up with four on the road against Texas, a team that just swept them at home.

On the season, Oakland is 8-8 against the Angels, but have dropped the last five games to LA.  They are 7-8 against Texas, but 5-1 when playing at Arlington.  Of course, all those games at Texas occurred in the first half of the season, back when Oakland was, you know, good.

Assuming the Royals don’t just implode in Cleveland, the only other team that is really in the wild card race is Seattle.  The Mariners play three games at Houston, four at Toronto and finish with three at home against the Angels.

Dayton Moore and Ned Yost should be sending all kinds of flowers, candy and beer to the Angels’ organization right now, encouraging them to continue to play their regulars the last week of the season.  That team could do more to help the Royals lock up a Wild Card spot than anyone (other than the Royals themselves, of course).

Anyway, Seattle is 9-7 against both Houston and LA and 3-0 against Toronto.  The Blue Jays, like Cleveland, may or may not really believe they are in the race.  However, again like the Indians, Toronto will likely view a sweep of the Mariners to be their way back into the hunt.

This is the time of year when you never are quite sure what a non-contending team is going to do and how much they care. You also don’t know what a team that is already in the post-season like the Angels will do, either.

What we do know, is that Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle and Oakland care.  Four teams, three spots. Win and get in.  You don’t need a spreadsheet or projections from here on out.  The games left (full games, mind you) can be counted on your fingers.

Seven wins, in any combination, makes the Royals a lock for some kind of post-season berth.  Six, gives them a shot.  Five?  That’s dicey.

I remember hanging on every pitch and scoreboard watching in late September.  I was young, had hair, ran faster and jumped higher back then, but I remember.  Let’s have some fun, boys and girls.

And for godssake, let’s win.

Since joining Royals Authority earlier in the season, I have been at a loss for what to say about this year. It has been such an insane roller coaster that I find myself just wanting to go along for the ride instead of analyzing it. Plus, I’ve had more important things to write about, like the greatness of Jason Grimsley. But the enormity of this series with the Tigers has motivated me to dust off Excel and make some pretty pictures.

It is not telling you anything new to say the Tigers and Royals have achieved their similar records by vastly different means—the Tigers with a big offense, a strong rotation, and suspect defense and relief pitching, the Royals with no offense, a decent rotation, and suffocating defense and relief hurlers. Still, I thought it might be instructive to contrast just how big the differences are. This first chart plots position player rankings in various categories in the AL (through September 17):

 

data from Fangraphs

It is almost comical. The only two things in which they are in the same neighborhood, average and strikeout rate, are relatively minor when it comes to actual run scoring.  How is it even possible that the team with the fewest home runs and walks is in a pennant chase? Royals Devil Magic (RDM), that’s how. Also by running the bases extremely efficiently, getting their hits at the right times, and playing better defense than anyone else.

Here is how the pitching staffs stack up:

data from Fangraphs

More of these rankings are close together than in the previous chart, but even that is somewhat deceiving considering how different the starters and relievers are between the teams. “SD” and “MD” are shut-downs and melt-downs, defined as the number of times a relief pitcher either gains or loses 6% win probability in a game. Tigers relievers have melted down 17 times more than Royals relievers while Royals relievers have 32 more shutdowns than their Tigers counterparts.

Enough numbers. I’m going to hop back on the Royalscoaster and hope the RDM keeps rolling for another six weeks or so.

Rebound

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For those still clinging to the canard that there is momentum in baseball, I offer as Exhibit A this week’s series against the Chicago White Sox.

Game One – A dramatic come from behind victory, featuring not one, but two runners improbably scoring from second with two outs and a ball not leaving the infield.

Game Two – A game so moribund, a game so dreadfully boring that it could be used as a Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit called “The Worst Games of All Time.”

Game Three – Up against a dominant starting pitcher, the Royals not only won, but the bats (sort of) came alive.

The result was a 6-2 win over the White Sox that pulled the Royals to a half game back of the Tigers for first in the Central. Which means this weekend’s series against Detroit moved from “huge” to “insanely massive” on the scale of importance.

Of course this win came against the Sox ace, Chris Sale. Sale is only one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the league. And the Royals tuned him up in ways he hadn’t been hurt this season.

— The five earned runs allowed were a season high.

— As Steve Physioc noted on the radio, Sale had only allowed four runs in a start twice all season. The Royals scored four runs against Sale in the third inning.

— Regular readers know how I love Game Score. Sale’s Game Score of 33 was his lowest of the season. By 11 points.

— Sale had never allowed three hits in a game to a left-handed batter. Nori Aoki had three hits against Sale.

Speaking of Aoki, exactly how hot is this guy? Hotter than the surface of the sun? The Sox got him out twice in three games. He came to the plate 15 times in the three games and reached base in 13 of those plate appearances. He only scored three times, because this is still the Royals offense, but damn if this guy isn’t finally making things happen. It’s been an interesting season with Aoki. We had to wait something like 24 weeks, but that trade is finally paying a dividend.

And if that wasn’t weird enough, the Royals won a game where Raul Ibanez pinch hit for Jayson Nix. Wade Davis gave up another run. Baseball is a strange and mysterious game sometimes.

Worth mentioning also, was the performance of Yordano Ventura. As badly as the Royals needed the bats to come alive, it wouldn’t have mattered if Ventura hadn’t been able to steady the pitching ship. He delivered seven massively strong innings against the White Sox. Coming a year after his major league debut it was one of his best starts of the season in what undoubtedly was his biggest start of his professional career.

Bring on Detroit.

And the Royals missed an opportunity because of it.

Kelvin Herrera had not been charged with an earned run since June 24th and got tagged with two last night when Wade Davis allowed a three run triple.   Herrera allowed three baserunners and got just two outs in an uneven outing that spanned the last of the sixth inning and the first of the seventh.  Obviously, he was out of his element pitching in an inning that was not his own, right?

Let’s be clear here – and I’M TALKING TO YOU NED! –  that had nothing to do with it.  Herrera may be the ‘seventh inning guy’, but he hadn’t actually pitched in the seventh since September 3rd.  His previous four outings before last night all began in the eighth inning (it’s madness I tell you).  This was actually the sixth time Kelvin has begun an appearance in the sixth inning in 2014 and the very first time he was charged with a run.

I have some faith that most fans realize that pitching in the sixth did not cause ‘dome issues’ for Herrera, but I have very little faith that Ned Yost won’t revert back to the ‘Herrera pitches the seventh’ doctrine citing last night as the primary reason.

Speaking of THE DOCTRINE, we saw Wade Davis come on in the seventh and, as we are all painfully aware, blow apart his scoreless inning streak as well.  Davis had not been tagged with an earned run since June 25th and he had not allowed an inherited runner to score since July 31st.  He had allowed two doubles all season, no triples and no home runs.  Nobody is that good. These things happen.

Now, if you want to get all ‘mental’ about something, keep in mind that last night was the very first time all year that Davis has pitched in the seventh inning and just the eighth time in 65 appearances that he entered with runners on base.  If you are hell-bent on defending Yost and his rigid approach to reliever usage, here is your banner.  Wave it if you must, but I think you’re grasping at straws.

I don’t buy in to the idea that a major league reliever is so fragile that pitching an inning early causes him to be ineffective.  It should also be noted that two of Davis’ seven previous outings in which he entered the game with runners on base occurred earlier this month and he kept those runners from scoring.  It was a tough situation last night to be sure, but the result was more just a case of the inevitability of baseball than an unfamiliarity of the scenario.

It is likely I am preaching to the choir with this column.  The problem is, Ned Yost is not a choir member.

It’s been almost 12 hours. That’s 12 hours to digest what we saw Monday night. That’s 12 hours to make sense of the most improbable Royals victory in this most improbable of Royals seasons.

And I still don’t comprehend what happened.

Maybe this will help:


Source: FanGraphs
Nope.

Really, this is baseball, isn’t it? Sometimes the manager draws names out of a hat and posts it as a lineup and it goes out and scores seven runs. Other times, a team looks lifeless against what should be an overmatched starting pitcher, only to come to life against a bullpen in a most unconventional way.

I’m 100 words into this post and I still don’t know where to begin.

All I seem to understand is Mike Moustakas hit a one-out double and was lifted for Jerrod Dyson. One thing we know about Ned Yost is the manager loves him some pinch running. You get the feeling if he could stock his bench with nine speed guys – one for each inning – he’d do it in a second. So to see Moustakas removed for Dyson made all sorts of sense. That’s the tying run after all, and it seems Yost may finally understand the Royals are fighting for their October lives. After a ground out, the Royals were down to their final out.

With the hero Nori Aoki up, Dyson breaks for third on the first pitch. Well, just watch…

There is so much that is great about that highlight. The immediate switch to the camera behind home plate, so we can see the action. Ryan Lefebvre’s call. And Uncle Hud’s cheerleading punctuated with a primal “Yeah!” as Dyson glides on his belly across the plate. And then letting the crowd take over. It’s all there. That’s a Maxwell Grand Slam kind of highlight for me.

(I run so hot and cold on Uncle Hud as an announcer. I seem to love him during the wins and barely tolerate him during the losses. I’m probably not alone. It’s because he’s a cheerleader. You may not like having an unabashed homer as one of your announcers, but I don’t mind. And Uncle Hud is genuine. Whatever. I loved it on Monday.)

Then, with the game tied, Aoki laces a double down the left field line. It capped a perfect 4-4 night (with a walk thrown in for good measure) with some of the most bizarre swings you’ll see. That sets up another pinch runner in Terrance Gore. I know there was some questioning of this move, as Aoki possesses some speed of his own. I thought Yost made the right call here. This way, you can do some defensive shuffling, allowing Dyson to stay in the game and letting the new third baseman hit in Aoki’s spot. And while Aoki is fast, Gore is pretty much a sure thing on a single. So as bad as Yost was at pushing the buttons on Sunday, he got things right on Monday. Funny game, baseball.

So when Lorenzo Cain chopped an infield single up the middle when Gore was breaking for third, it was over.

Go ahead. Take your time. Try to make sense of what you saw last night. I don’t think you can. But that’s OK. September baseball, baby. September baseball.

Suddenly, the first six innings were forgotten. The putrid at bats. The suspect defense. Washed away in roughly 10 seconds. The time it took Dyson and Gore to go from second to home. The time it took the Royals to go from losers to winners.

There isn’t a nice way to say this, so I’ll just put it out there.

This series was a disaster for the Royals.

Yes, they’re still in contention for the AL Central. Yes, they’re still in pole position for the Wild Card. Yes, there’s still two weeks left in the season, and damnit, the Royals are in a better position they’ve been in at this point in the season for decades.

But to drop three of four to the Red Sox (and six of seven overall), a team that lost one of their key starters to a trade and another of their key position players to injury, and have pretty much mailed in the rest of 2014… That’s not a good look for a club that fancies itself a contender.

I’ve asserted all along, there are so many flawed teams in the playoff hunt this year, Scorching hot Angels aside, no team is playing with distinction down the wire. It’s cliched to say it, but with four teams (Tigers, Mariners, A’s and Royals) fighting for two to three playoff spots, it’s going to come down to the team – or teams – that make the fewest mistakes over the last two weeks of the regular season.

I don’t have much hope for Ned Yost. As we saw firsthand on a brutal Sunday afternoon at The K, he’s not what you would call “mistake-free.”

Let’s make one thing clear. Yost is no different from 27 or 28 or 29 other major league managers. These guys all do things a certain way that became accepted over time. There’s no rhyme or reason why some moves have become baseball gospel. That’s just the way it is. Doesn’t make it wrong. And it certainly doesn’t make it right. Take, for instance, Terry Francona. Beloved in Boston for managing two Red Sox teams to the World Championship, Francona, the other day in Cleveland, bunted in the first inning. Giving away an out in the first inning. Playing for a single run when you have eight more innings to play. Bunting in the first inning is so criminal, there should be a constitutional amendment denying that as a managerial strategy. Yet there’s Francona, bunting away in the first.

Ned Yost did the exact same thing just a few days ago.

It’s also fact that in today’s baseball, relievers really, really like to have defined roles. It goes beyond The Closer. Now you have The Set-Up Guy, The Seventh Inning Guy, The Mop-Up Guy, and apparently, there’s The Sixth Inning Guy as well.

We learned on Sunday the Royals Sixth Inning Guy is Aaron Crow.

I implore you to read McCullough’s recap. It’s baseball writing at it’s best. Just great work. It brilliantly captures the insanity that is currently rattling around Yost’s dome.

Let’s just start here:

“It’s frustrating that we were one out away from getting to Kelvin Herrera with a one-run lead,” he said. “That was frustrating.”

There you go. There’s Ned Yost’s managerial career in a tidy little 20 word quote.

Yost is a “manage by numbers” type of manager. Meaning he is as automatic as the sun rising in the east, Nickleback putting out rubbish music, or members of the KC media questioning fans for not attending games. All season long, Yost has had the luxury of the Three Relievers of the Apocalypse. Kelvin Herrera in the seventh. Wade Davis in the eighth. And Greg Holland in the ninth. He’s also had the luxury of having a strong rotation where the starters can usually give him six easy innings. I’ve written about it a number of times this year. Yost’s baseball formula is to get a big hit in the early innings, rely on your starter to keep the opposition off the board and then turn to the Three Relievers of the Apocalypse. Game over. Automatic.

When starter Jason Vargas faltered in the sixth, Yost turned to his recently minted Sixth Inning Guy, Crow.

Initially, according from a postgame Tweet from McCullough, Yost went to Crow because he was looking for a strikeout.

That pretty much says it all. Crow’s first two seasons in the league, he whiffed over 9 batters per nine innings. That’s pretty good. Last year, his SO/9 total dropped to 8.3. Not a crazy drop. This year, Crow owns a 5.0 SO/9.

Ummm…

Not only are Crow’s strikeout numbers way down, his velocity has tumbled. Last year, his fastball averaged a shade over 96 mph. This year, he’s averaging 93 mph on his fastball. Last year his average slider was 85 mph. This year, it’s averaging 83 mph. And his sinker last year routinely clocked in at 95 mph. This year, his average sinker is 92 mph. Basically, his three most common pitches are all off by about three mph.

And by the way, his velocity has dropped even more in September. He’s down another two mph from his seasonal averages. That’s not a warning sign. That’s an obnoxious red flag. Something isn’t right.

The good news is Crow actually got Allen Craig to strikeout swinging. Victory. We are now at the point in the above Ned Yost quote about being one out away from handing the ball to Herrera. At this point, Yost had three decisions he could make.

One, he could stick with Crow. After all, he’s apparently The Sixth Inning Guy.

Two, he could go to Herrera. That would require his Seventh Inning Guy to pitch an inning and a third. That is something that seems to go against the managerial handbook of defining bullpen roles. Nevermind that Herrera last saw the mound on Wednesday. Nevermind in the last week, he had thrown just 41 pitches. Going to Herrera here makes all kinds of sense. He’s the first prong of that three headed bullpen beast. He’s showing solid command, is difficult to hit and not a single hitter has taken him yard this year. Why not go to him early?

Three, he could have gone with a left-hander. With the expanded rosters, Yost has three lefties in his pen: Francisley Bueno, Scott Downs and 2014 first round pick Brandon Finnegan. He current hitter is Daniel Nava, a switch hitter. Here are Nava’s career splits: vs RHP – .290/.384/.425 vs LHP – .210/.287/.301 Nava’s been even worse against left-handers this year than his career splits, hitting just .158/.200/.193 against them this year. The Royals have publicly been cautious with the handling of Finnegan, although there has been much talk of adding him to a 25-man postseason roster, should the Royals qualify. If they’re talking about it, he should be ready for a baptism by fire. And what better fire than the bases loaded, two outs with a favorable platoon matchup? You can’t shield the kid in September and expect him to handle the heat in October. Besides, we’ve seen his work. He looks like he can handle the moment.

Three choices. Two that would seem to give the Royals a favorable advantage. One that doesn’t. Guess which one Yost chooses. If you aren’t sufficiently depressed, go back and read the choices again.

Let’s see what Red Sox manager John Farrell thought about Yost’s decision:

Flashback to July 18, the first game after the All-Star Break when Yost pulled James Shields for Scott Downs with two outs, a runner on second and the Royals holding on to a one-run lead with Jackie Bradley, Jr. approaching the plate. That was when Farrell countered with Jonny Gomes and Gomes blasted a home run that was the difference in the game. You remember that one. The one where Yost “outsmarted himself.”

I guarantee you this is rattling around Yost’s dome in the top of the sixth. Two months ago, he made a boneheaded move and got burned. He wasn’t about to make a move again. He was going to stick with Crow. He was going to stick with his Sixth Inning Guy.

This isn’t hindsight. This isn’t second guessing. This is examining the options before the manager and deciding he made the wrong choice. It was something everyone who follows baseball closely knew was wrong at the moment it happened. Everyone knew Crow was the wrong guy in that situation. Except Ned Yost.

Ballgame.

I said at the top of this post that Yost isn’t all that different from the majority of major league managers. I believe that. I still do. I also believe that smart major league managers will eventually adjust when their teams are in a pennant race or post season series. There comes a moment when a manager is forced out of his comfort zone of the random series in May and is introduced to the tension of September and October. The best managers – the Franconas of baseball – will make adaptations, using their players in the most favorable match-ups gleaned from the previous 140 to 162 games. The other managers, the also-rans of the baseball world, will continue to stubbornly adhere to their tattered baseball gospel. And they will watch the other team celebrate.

The final word of this post goes to McCullough. This is just some great prose that neatly wraps up what we saw on Sunday.

The rules of major-league baseball do not include a provision barring a seventh-inning reliever from pitching in the sixth. But the dogma of baseball managers does preclude such a maneuver. Yost falls in line with the game’s traditions. Relief pitchers receive roles, and managers are wary of deviating from them.

The practice aided the Royals during the second half, as Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland formed a suffocating trio. Yet Yost’s adherence to his doctrine hamstrung his team on Sunday, exposing Crow and granting Nava a chance to further sink Kansas City’s hopes in the American League Central.

Amen.

“There’s no focus issues.”

Royals’ manager Ned Yost rebuffed any thoughts that his team was not focused last night after a big win to salvage the Detroit series the night before.

Everyone on the infield except Omar Infante had an error last night, but there are no focus issues.

It could be true:  some nights teams just don’t play well.  Errors sometimes come in bunches.  Even Alex Gordon has crappy plate appearances sometimes.  Hell, Josh Willingham of all people, swung at a first pitch on Thursday night.  It was just a plain old awful game.

Still, Ned, really?  Could you be any clumsier in public?  And, while you’re at it, would you mind maybe having a pitcher warming up in the bullpen behind the unpredictable Aaron Crow when you are down by just a single run in the top of the eighth? I mean, you have a 16 man pitching staff right now.

Ughh.

I guess if you are going to play bad defense and not hit, doing so on the night when Liam Hendriks is pitching is likely good timing.

Some random notes:

  • Eric Hosmer committed his 10th error last night.  Now, errors is a poor indicator a player’s defensive range and what he does when he gets to those balls, but they are a very good indicator of how one handles routine plays.  In the last ten to twenty years, it has gotten pretty hard to get tagged with an error in the major leagues.  My guess is that if you were scoring your local slow-pitch game you would be far harsher towards the 43 year old guy with a tallboy in the dugout trying to play third because the college kid (ringer) you brought in didn’t show up than official scorers are towards a major league third baseman.  That said, Hosmer’s 10th error ties him for second in the majors with the Cardinals’ Matt Adams.  Hosmer gets to balls a lot of first basemen don’t.  He does a nice job of handling errant throws to first.  Still, he has too many mental gaffes and, particularly in the last week, has simply booted two easy grounders. Do better, Eric.
  • Omar Infante is going to bat second for the bulk of your natural born life.  If you ask me who I want hitting second instead of Infante my answer would be ‘everyone except Moustakas.’
  • Billy Butler sat again last night.  Yes, Billy is 1 for his last 20, but he was 4 for 13 with two walks and two hit by pitch before that and hit .288/.347/.450 in the month of August.  You can make a case for playing Hosmer and Willingham in front of him, but when you case starts with the phrase ‘Billy has been awful’, well….
  • Alex Gordon is 0 for his last 15 and 1 for his last 22 (although he does have 7 walks over that time).  Until last night, I generally saw Alex having good plate appearances, but he looked pretty bad last night.  Anyone else feel Ned contemplating moving Gordon in the order?  Of course, Infante has to stay at second, but otherwise…..

Well folks, you wanted a pennant race and this is what one feels like:  agony and jubilation every night.  Stop trying to be cool and calm (it may make you feel superior, but it pretty much just makes people think you’re a bit of a douche).  Get on the roller coaster and enjoy the experience.

It’s too easy to say, “That’s why they acquired James Shields.” But I think it would be accurate.

On Wednesday, after the Royals dropped the first two games of the series to Detroit to fall out of first place, Shields threw a brilliant start. He allowed a leadoff single to Ian Kinsler, picked him off first and then retired the next 18 batters in a row. Shields exited after 7 innings, 98 pitches and no runs.

And he probably saved the season.

That my be some serious hyperbole on my part, but this is September, this is a pennant race and damned if I remember how to react to seeing something like that. I do know it was one of the more clutch pitching performances I’ve seen by a Royals starter.

I wrote about Game Score the other day in reference to Jeremy Guthrie’s stinker in the series opener. On Wednesday, Shields finished with a Game Score of 80. That is tied for his third best start of the year. He has a pair of starts that tallied 83 on the Game Score meter, including his start last Friday in New York. So let that sink in for a moment. In the biggest road trip of the Royals season, Shields made two starts. He threw a total of 15.1 innings. He allowed five hits. He recorded 14 strikeouts. He surrendered one walk. And he didn’t allow a single run.

Big Game? Damn straight.

I sent out a Tweet midway through the game that I’ve spent the last four months reconsidering my original takes on The Trade. How could you not?

Maybe at some point in the offseason, I’ll dive a little deeper into the impact, but on the surface the Royals have realized a massive short-term dividend from this deal. Shields has been inconsistent at times this season and had a stretch of starts from mid-May through all of June where it looked like he was fatigued. Maybe the result of so many innings in past seasons. Yet aside from a single stinker of a starter in that make-up game against the Yankees at the end of August, he’s been brilliant down the second half of the season.

Of course I’m thinking of other aspects of The Trade. The Wade Davis Experience came on to pitch another lock-down ninth. And other intangibles as well. Yeah, I’ll go there. Later, though. It will be fun.

As I mentioned in the lede, it may be simplistic to say that’s why they acquired Shields, but maybe sometimes the best explanations are also the easiest explanations.

Just like that night in New York in his last start, Shields mixed his pitches in a most effective manner. Fastball, cut fastball, curve, sinker and that wonderful change-up. He kept the ball down in the zone and got a ton of swinging strikes at pitches that darted down and out of the zone. Detroit hitters had no chance.

And because of that start, the Royals are back in first.

The Royals dropped into a tie for first last night with a dreadful ninth inning gaffe courtesy of Jarrod Dyson.  Craig detailed it perfectly last night/early this morning and you don’t need me to pile on.

Instead, let’s go back to the fifth inning against Max Scherzer.  The Royals, enjoying a rare night where Omar Infante actually got on base, had runners on first and second with one out.  Alex Gordon strode – yes, he strides now, because he’s earned it – to the plate.

Gordon takes two fastballs, one for a strike and one for a ball and then jumps on a curveball over the plate and misses a three run homer by about two feet.  Gordon thought it was out, so did Scherzer.  It was majestic and, sadly, it was foul.  It was after that, however, that Alex did a very un-Royal like thing:  he walked.

Against a pitcher like Scherzer, after missing a home run like that, taking three pitches and jogging to first is a hell of a plate appearance.  It looked like this:

5th Inning Gordon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, bases loaded, on out and your four and five hitters coming up.  That’s exactly how a real baseball man anticipates his lineup working.  Surely Billy Butler and Josh Willingham, two professional hitters, will drive in some runs, right?  Oh, that’s right, Ned Yost manages the Royals, so it is Salvador Perez (a very good player who has no business batting fourth) and Eric Hosmer who bat.

Perez hits a ball out of the dirt relatively hard, but really?  His plate ‘appearance’ looks like this:

5th Inning Perez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then up comes Hosmer, who has been in the lineup each and every day since returning from the disabled list.  Every…stinking…day.  He strikes out on a pitch that never once was headed towards the strike zone.  It looked like this:

5th Inning Hosmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above details just one inning in just one game, but it is sadly representative of way too many Royals’ innings this year.  All this, and Omar Infante still bats second, because changing that would just be ‘kind of dumb’.

 

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