Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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I have a hunch it was a pretty busy weekend for all of us.  College football was in full swing, the NFL started up and it was just about perfect weather just about everywhere in the Midwest.   On a far more important note, it was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which took up at least a few hours of most everyone’s weekend.

Along the way, the Royals were still playing baseball:  rallying from an 0-2 start against Seattle to win the final two games of the series.   A split with a team sporting a virtually identical poor record is not exactly front page news, particularly on a weekend like this past one.

It’s that time of year, folks.   The time when local sports radio might give you twenty minutes of Royals’ talk per show, if you’re lucky.   When the only baseball highlights (unless you can tolerate the ridiculous ‘look at how lively and funny we are’ Baseball Tonight show) revolve around teams that, you know, are still playing for something.    Short of Alcides Escobar catching a grounder in his hat and then drop kicking it to Eric Hosmer for the out, you won’t see a Royals’ highlight on any national media outlet until sometime next year.   Heck, you might not see many on any of the Kansas City stations!

I will have to admit that I paid minimal attention to the Seattle series myself.   We had a huge airshow up here in Lincoln (Blue Angels, baby!), the Huskers played at night, the deck had to be stained and Mom gave me an extra half hour each night before having to return to the basement.   All that said, the Royals did do some good things over the weekend:

  • Felipe Paulino struck out 11 batters over seven innings of work, allowing just two hits.   So much for concerns about his back.
  • My new prospect to hype, Everett Teaford, stepped up Sunday and threw five shutout innings in his first major league start.   Of course, Teaford was facing the Mariners who don’t sport a whole lot of anything offensively after Ichiro and Dustin Ackley, but it was a positive performance nonetheless.
  • By the time the dust settled Sunday, Alex Gordon was leading the AL in doubles with 45.  The last double on Sunday was his 70th extra base hit of the year.  For those of you new to the game, 70 freaking extra base hits is a lot.  When Gordon was a rookie, what were your expectations?  Something like .300/.400/.500 as a slash line?   Well, Alex stands at .299/.371/.500 right now.
  • Eric Hosmer hit home run number 17 in Seattle.   Get your prediction in now:  how many home runs will Hosmer hit in 2012?  I am setting the over/under at 29.
  • With a little luck, the Royals could end the season with four players who each have 40 or more doubles and 20 or more home runs.   While the offense has been somewhat spastic this year, it really is not the problem (which pretty much everyone knew already).
  • Neither has the bullpen.   After a bit of ‘rookie hitting the wall-itis’ the past few weeks, the Royals’ pen threw 12 innings in the Seattle series, allowing just 3 runs and 2 walks while striking out 22 batters.   They are not the problem, either, and are likely to be even better in 2012.
  • The problem, of course, is the starting rotation.  Again, we already knew that and in the coming months you can count on this writer coming up with six thousand and seven scenarios to make the rotation better.   I believe it is quite likely you will disagree with all of them.

I will leave you with one question for the day:  is the 2012 Opening Day starter on the current 40 man roster?

That was… Interesting.

A tough loss is a tough loss. It really doesn’t matter if you’re contending, rebuilding or rolling along with The Process. It’s no fun to cough up a 1 run lead and lose a well played game by a 2-1 count.

That being said, eyes on the prize, people. Eyes on the prize. Yes, Tuesday’s loss sucked, but remember what this season is all about. There will be a few more nights like that over the season’s final month. It’s going to happen. This is a young team that plays a ton of close games. Much has been made of the Royals record in one run contests, but that ignores the larger point that good teams don’t really play in that many one run games. Because they’re blowing teams out on a regular basis. The Yankees have an under .500 record in one-run games. But they’ve played only 34 games decided by a single run. The Royals have played 51 one run games.

You don’t find yourself in a pennant race because of your positive record in one-run games. You find yourself in a pennant race when you can avoid as many of those one-run games as possible.

As The Process evolves, the overall number of one run games should drop considerably. If it doesn’t, The Process isn’t working.

While I’m not going to get too worked up over the loss, at some point this has to stop. Today, it’s a learning experience. If you’re not careful, tomorrow, it’s a habit. The question is when do we raise the bar of expectations? Probably not September because too many crazy things happen with expanded rosters. Is it next April? Dunno, because we may not have the arms to contend again. How about April of 2013? Hell, by then it could be habit. At least we’ll still have Francoeur.

– I don’t understand why they keep pulling Johnny Giavotella for defensive purposes. If they’re emphasizing his need to work on defense (he told Steve Stewart on the pregame show on the radio he’s been doing a ton of extra infield work before games) why wouldn’t the Royals keep him in the field for the full nine innings? Besides, we’ve said this so many times… Getz is not a significant defensive upgrade. At last check, he was at -7 on the Fielding Bible +/- system on balls to his right and was turning fewer than 50% of his double play opportunities. Gio is raw defensively, but Getz isn’t appreciably better that he should be the go-to guy in the late innings when the Royals have the lead. Besides, this is a transitional year. There’s no pennant race and there’s no October baseball. Winning a game (like last night) would be nice, but in the big picture, it really doesn’t matter. Not yet, anyway.

Let Gio stay in the game. Removing him isn’t doing him, or the team, any favors.

– I’ve been as big a critic as anyone on Ned Yost and his bullpen management, but I’m not sure he had a ton of options last night. Strike that… He had plenty of options. None of them were good. Greg Holland being the exception.

Maybe part of this boils down to how Yost handled the pen in the early part of the season. Remember how Aaron Crow was on pace to appear in something like 110 games? Yost and the Royals are paying for that now, as Crow has allowed six runs in six innings this month. Opponents are hitting .346/.485/.577 against him this month. Yikes. And this is after the Royals acknowledged he battled a sore (or stiff) shoulder following the All-Star Break.

After Louis Coleman lost his mind (and his control) to walk the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth, I tweeted that this would be an ideal time to use the closer. I was only half serious because Joakim Soria is far from a slam dunk. (Honest. If there was ever a situation tailor made for a closer, I would think it’s in the ninth inning of a tie game with the bases loaded and two outs.) Yost turned to Crow, which turned out to be a good choice.

– I’m sure Yost would have preferred to use Blake Wood in the ninth and into the tenth, but Wood, like Holland, is on Yost’s good side. Wood had thrown 61 pitches while making appearances in three of the last four games. I’m thinking he was available only as a last resort on Tuesday.

– By the way, is it time to be concerned about Coleman? His last four appearances:

8/21: 0.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO
8/24: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, 1 HR
8/27: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO, 1 HR
8/30: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO

He’s thrown 60 innings this year, after throwing over 90 last summer, so it’s not like we can use the excuse he’s been worked more than in the past.

Whatever is wrong with him, the way Yost drops relievers, we may not see him for awhile. It will be the perfect opportunity for him and Nate Adcock form a bullpen friendship.

– Speaking of Adcock, he last appeared in a game on August 19. He was named as one of the Royals who will play in the Arizona Fall League. I guess they need someone to keep the seats in the bullpen warm in Arizona.

– Other Royals named to the Surprise Saguros in the AFL are Jeremy Jeffress, Brendan Lafferty, Bryan Paukovits, Clint Robinson, Christian Colon and Wil Myers.

– August 19 was also the last time Everett Teaford saw action. And the Royals have a 13 man bullpen because?

If the Royals aren’t going to use Teaford in the majors, shouldn’t he be working in the minors? Stretch him out and let him make a couple of September starts when the rosters expand. The Royals are going to need someone because they’re going to shut Danny Duffy down for the winter in a couple of weeks. Seriously, it does Teaford no favors when his butt is glued to the bullpen.

It wasn’t a 22 run, 3 grand slam outburst, but if nine runs is enough for a win (as it should be) I’ll take it.

Some quick notes from Thursday’s game:

– All Clark has to do is write a nice post about the man we know as Country Breakfast, and he collects four hits in five plate appearances. Billy Butler’s .374 OBP is tops on the team and he’s second in wOBA at .364. The guy has been on fire the last month and a half. Not surprisingly, my Twitter feed is void of Butler hate.

– I don’t know that Johnny Giavotella would have been my first choice to bat leadoff with Alex Gordon out of the lineup, but Nervous Ned does so many things that defy logic, it wears me out to get irritated. Although the way the top of the order has been clicking, I don’t know who you would drop into that spot. Gio it is!

– By going with that 13 man bullpen, it exposes a thin bench whenever anyone needs to leave the game. It happened again last night when Jeff Francoeur got drilled right below the knee cap in the top of the ninth. That forced Alex Gordon, himself nursing a bruise after being hit by a pitch the previous night, into the field. The good news, we’re less than a week away from when the rosters can expand, so we won’t have to put up with this nonsense much longer. The bad news is, Omaha’s season ends September 5, and they’re probably going to the playoffs. It could be the middle of the month before we see anyone in Kansas City.

– Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game, his third in a row and fifth in his last eight games. Same approach as I wrote about on Wednesday… Laying off the high fastballs. The strange thing was, the Blue Jays didn’t give him a ton of off speed pitches down in the zone. Almost every slider he saw this series was up in the zone and they hardly threw any change-ups.

– I don’t know if I even want to discuss the disaster known as Joakim Soria. I was surprised to see him in the game in the non-save situation, but figured this was Yost’s way of getting him so low pressure work in an attempt to boost his confidence.

It was just two pitches, but when the first bad pitch is a low cutter over the middle of the plate (That was absolutely ripped. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ball squared up like that.) and that’s followed by a slider up in the zone… Well, that’s how two pitches turn into two runs. Although, it should be noted the slider was away and Encarnacion basically muscled it to the opposite field.

Soria is still striking out hitters, but when he’s missing, he’s been way too high in the zone – like he was to Encarnacion. It’s not a coincidence that his worst two months of the season (May and August) have seen more fly balls in play against Soria than ground balls.

– Strong showing from Jeff Francis even if the wheels came apart in the seventh. His pitch count after six was relatively low, so I wasn’t surprised Yost sent him back for the top of the inning. I was surprised Yost let Greg Holland throw two innings in that situation. Unfortunately, by throwing 45 pitches, he’s going to be unavailable for the start of the Cleveland series.

– Two Royals wins and zero appearances by either Aaron Crow or Tim Collins. When was the last time that happened?

Squeezed

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Who hates the Yankees? Me! A couple of notes from last night’s marathon loss.

– Obviously, the Yankees are poised for another October run, but color me unimpressed with their starting pitching. Ivan Nova and AJ Burnett just don’t look like they should be in the rotation of a team with post season dreams. But when you’re scoring 5.4 runs per game, I suppose you can live with that. Plus, it seems like Girardi has his bullpen rotation down. He’s gone Logan, Soriano, Robertson and Rivera – in that order – both nights of the series.

– It stinks that seven runs isn’t enough.

– I loved the Ned Yost ejection in the fourth inning. One of my favorite things is baseball is when the manager makes a visit to the mound, not to talk with his pitcher, but to give the home plate umpire and earful when he comes to break up the meeting.

At this point in Tuesday’s game, Danny Duffy was hot. He was getting battered around by the Yankee lineup like speed bag and on top of that, he was getting squeezed by home plate umpire Kerwin Danley. Let’s be honest… Danley was awful behind the plate. Here is how MLB Gameday charted Duffy’s pitches to Russell Martin in the second inning:

I’m not entirely sure what Duffy had to do to get the low strike. I’m sure that was on his mind in the fourth when he didn’t get a borderline call against Mark Teixeira on what would have been strike three. (To be fair, Duffy was lucky the plate appearance got that far. His first pitch was a fat, juicy hanging curve that Teixeira was out in front of and yanked foul. Yanked is the wrong word… He crushed that pitch.)

Anyway, Duffy is frustrated and you could see it. Yost comes out to give his starter the pep talk and uses the opportunity to give Danley a piece of his mind as the two were walking off the mound and gets run. Loved it. Yost was out there protecting his pitcher. Duffy thought he was getting squeezed, was getting hacked off (you could see it in his body language) and that was good enough for his manager. I know I criticize Yost a ton, but that was necessary and perfect.

– Danley’s zone was awfully tight. I know we’re not supposed to take these charts as gospel, but it sure looks like he missed a ton of pitches that were in the zone.

– Duffy struggled in a way we haven’t seen recently. He threw a total of 90 pitches and got just three swing and misses.

Of course, the back breaker was the 12 pitch at bat to Robinson Cano immediately following the Yost ejection that culminated with the ball leaving the yard. Cano fouled off four consecutive fastballs, two sliders and another fastball before he crushed a flat slider that was about belt high.

– With summer winding down, it seems like I spend a ton of time in the car, so I’ll tune into the opposing team’s radio broadcast to see what they’re saying about the Royals. Sometimes, I’ll really enjoy the rival announcers. (Plus, I need relief during the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings… Why, those are Bob Davis’ innings!) Other times, I revel in the train wreck of awfulness. As huge as the Yankees are, you would think they would have a decent announcing tandem. You would think wrong. Things I learned listening to the Yankee broadcast, courtesy of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman:

1- Alex Gordon has a “awful” arm in left field. Yes, Sterling actually said this. They then discussed how this was possible given he used to play third base, and you would think a third baseman would have a strong arm.

2 – Joakim Soria has been “horrible” this year and has been on the DL twice. Twice. I don’t know… I follow the Royals fairly closely, so it comes as a complete shock to me that I missed the Soria transactions. Besides, while it has been far from Soria’s best season, but horrible seems to be a strong adjective. He has a 2.22 ERA since June 1 with 27 strikeouts in 28 innings.

Anyway, they used the Soria character assassination as a springboard to discuss the greatness of Mariano Rivera.

3 – Both Sterling and Waldman spend half their time clearing their throat. Jeez… Invest in a lozenge or something.

– Finally, the Royals are now 4-11 in the month of August. They have scored 58 runs (3.9 R/G) and allowed 71 (4.7 R/G). Their .309 OBP this month is their worst mark of the season. Remember, OBP is life…

One of the more interesting moments from Thursday’s fourth and final loss to the Rays came in the top of the seventh inning. At this point, the Royals were down 3-1 and got a leadoff single from Melky Cabrera.

(Let me join the crowded chorus of those who continue to be amazed at the career renaissance experienced by the Melk Man. A line of .306/.339/.471 currently represents a career high in batting average and slugging, and it’s his second highest OBP since his rookie year in 2006 when he finished at .360. His current wOBA of .354 is the highest of his career. Well done, Dayton Moore… Cheap and productive.)

After Billy Butler flied out to right for the first out of the inning, the Rays went to the bullpen to play the platoon match-up and brought in the left handed JP Howell to face Eric Hosmer. Howell threw two pitches, Hosmer swung at both and on the second pitch, knocked it into the opposite field for a single, putting runners on first and second with just one out.

(Absolutely the right call to bring the lefty in to face Hosmer, who does the majority of his damage against right-handed pitching. He’s batting .300/.356/.508 against right-handers and just .220/.271/.250 versus the lefties. Obviously, in that situation you don’t want to give up a game-tying home run. It likely wasn’t going to happen with Howell on the mound. All 10 of Hosmer’s homers have come against right-handers.)

The Royals have a little something going now in the late innings, and this brings up Jeff Francoeur. The Rays go back to the bullpen for Joel Peralta. Here’s the pivotal point in the game for the Royals.

The Frenchman works the count to 2-2 and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, Cabrera and Hosmer are off and running. Francoeur swings through strike three and Hosmer is thrown out at second to end the inning. Just like that, what looked like a promising inning is over.

According to data from Pitchf/x, Peralta threw pretty much the exact same pitch five consecutive times to The Frenchman. All five pitches were recorded as 91 mph fastballs, yet, he couldn’t so much as get his bat on the ball. Francoeur has earned his reputation as a free-swinger, but his strikeout totals reflect someone who more or less makes contact. He’s whiffed in just over 17% of his at bats this year and makes contact on 80.8% of his swings. (League average contact rate is 80.9% so he’s right there.) It’s his walk rate that we have an issue with, but we knew in that situation, he was up there swinging.

(He took a walk in the first and his walk rate for 2011 is now a career best 6.4%. File that one under “Miracle, Minor.”)

Of Francoeur’s 85 strikeouts this year, here’s how they breakdown according to Bill James’ Baseball IQ:

Swinging 80%

Swinging out of the strike zone – 49%

So The Frenchman doesn’t get cheated. When he goes down, he goes down swinging. Now, half the time he’ll chase out of the zone, but I would imagine that’s pretty close to league average. With two strikes, you have to expand the zone.

As you can see from Gameday, Peralta pounded the zone. He wasted the first pitch up and away then threw a pretty good pitch low and away for strike one. He missed the same spot for ball three and then attacked with a fastball up and in for the second strike. He finished him off with a pitch that was down the heart of the plate in the lower third of the zone. Francoeur may have gone up there to swing, but he wasn’t undisciplined.

I guess they were decent pitches, but Peralta was living dangerously. After the first strike, the next two where in areas where The Frenchman makes his living. Here are his hitting zones from Inside Edge. Notice that Francoeur second best hitting quadrant is in the exact spot where he swung and missed against Peralta. And Francoeur doesn’t do too shabby against that inside high strike, either. Given this data, along with the location of pitches he saw in that at bat, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t at least put the ball in play.

Swinging in the strike zone – 31%

Finally, The Frenchman doesn’t swing and miss at a “true” strike all that often. And for Francoeur to swing and miss at that pitch – in that location – for a third strike… Well, let’s just say the result of that plate appearance was surprising. Usually, if he’s swinging and missing at the third strike, it’s when the pitcher busts him up and in. He hardly ever misses the pitch that was in the location of the third strike from Peralta. Again, from Baseball IQ, here is the heat map of the location of third strikes against Francoeur.

If you want to strikeout The Frenchman, you attack him high in the zone or get him to chase low and away. You don’t leave a pitch where Peralta left his. Yet, as we’re reminded, this is baseball and execution actually counts. My gut told me it was a dumb play to put the runners in motion with The Frenchman at the plate late in a game, looking at the data, I’m not sure it was as crazy as it seemed at the time. Peralta left a pitch in a great location for Francoeur, and he just failed to execute like he usually does given the location of the pitch. It happens. So while my gut told me it wasn’t the right move to put the runners in motion, after looking at the data, it doesn’t seem like such a bad call after all.

Sadly, it was the last chance for the Royals to avoid the sweep.

Last night’s five run debacle in the bottom of the ninth brought back memories of some really, really bad Royals’ teams of the past.   Although charged with just one error in the inning, the Royals committed enough gaffes and bobbles to make one wonder if the ghost of Chip Ambres was not lurking somewhere near.

Let’s start at the beginning.  

After Melky Cabrera mashed a three run homer in the top of the ninth to give Kansas City a four run lead, Ned Yost opted to go with Aaron Crow instead of Joakim Soria to start the bottom of the inning.    Soria, who had not pitched since throwing 11 pitches on Sunday, was already warm when the decision was made to switch to Crow.  I can only assume that the primary driver behind this decision was that the bottom of the ninth was no longer a save situation.  

I did not like this move at the time (my wife will sign an affidavit stating such).    Crow jumped ahead of both Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon 0-2, but yielded ground ball singles to both.   Does Chris Getz get to Joyce’s ground ball?  Maybe, but more on that in a minute.

In comes Soria, entering a game in the middle of an inning for just the fourth time this season and just the second time since April.   Now, it should not matter to an expeirenced reliever when they come in, who is on and who is up.  In the convuloted world of closers and bullpen management, however, relievers seem to have all sorts of comfort zones and I am pretty sure the Royals were outside of Soria’s at this point.

Don’t get me wrong, going to Soria was the right move at this juncture.   The problem was that Yost should have stuck to his plan despite Cabrera’s home run and let Soria start the ninth inning (particularly considering Crow has been nursing a dead arm or sore shoulder or whatever we are calling it this week).  

Okay, Soria is in and promptly is tagged on a ‘double’ by Evan Longoria.  I note the ‘double’ in that Melky Cabrera, who had spent the ninth inning changeover yapping at some fans who had been razzing him, fielded the hit and threw to third instead of second.   Does Longoria go to second if the throw is headed that direction instead?  The angle on television I saw was not clear, but both Ryan Lefevbre and Frank White (two guys who make a living generally making excuses for the players) seemed to think that Cabrera threw to the wrong base and allowed Longoria to turn a single into a double.

The relevancy of that play immediately came to light when Ben Zobrist grounded out to second baseman Johnny Giavotella.  There are a lot of variables that come into play, but there was a chance that, had Longoria been standing on first this was a double play ball.   I don’t know, the defensive positioning, the pitch selection and likely Zobrist’s approach at the plate all are different given where Longoria is on the bases, but I do know that there is a much better chance to turn a double play if the runner is on first instead of second.

Next up is Casey Kotchman who grounds to Giavotella’s right and right into the play that, according to Lee Warren  is the most troublesome for the rookie second baseman.   Johnny bobbles the backhand, turns and jump throws to first to give Kotchman a hometown infield single.  Again, not sure Chris Getz does or does not make that play:  Chase Utley does and probably a fair portion of major league regulars at the position do as well.

After Soria strikes out B.J. Upton (easily one of the most dislikable players in the league), Sam Fuld triples into right center.   Fuld is fast and that ball was a triple from the beginning even with Jeff Francoeur fielding the caroom well and firing a strike to cut-off man Johnny Giavotella.

Now, Giavotella is young and just failed to make a play and, as you might expect, tries to make up for it.   His throw to third was good right up until the time that it hit the sliding Fuld’s foot.   The two good throws gave the Royals a slight, slight mind you, chance to throw out Fuld, but I’m pretty sure he’s safe regardless.   Let him have his triple and hope that Soria gets Kelly Shoppach and the Royals at least get to play more baseball.

At any rate, here is a question that I don’t have the answer to.   Where was Joakim Soria in all of this?  Obviously, he would have been moving to back up home as soon as Fuld hit the ball, but once the play started heading towards third, should Joakim have been up the line to back up an errant throw to that base?

I will be honest in that one replay of what happened was enough for me to turn off the television before seeing if I could locate Soria on any of the replay angles.   I do know that in the bottom of the eighth, in a similar situation, Greg Holland could be seen busting his tail up from behind home up to third to back up a possible play there.   Again, not so much a criticism as a question and, honestly, maybe not even a relevant one.

At any rate, it was simply a horrific display of baseball in the bottom of the ninth, but these sorts of innings even happen to good teams sometimes and to young teams more often.  The latter, of course, is what the Royals are:  young.

Ned Yost could have inserted Chris Getz into the game for defense in the ninth, but that does not do Johnny Giavotella any good in 2012.   I know, a lot of you are tired of playing for next week or next year or the year after that, but the Royals need Giavotella to learn what he can and cannot do and when he should and should not do it.     That is what this seven week experience is all about for both him and Salvador Perez:  getting used to making big league decisions in the big leagues.

Let’s face it, with the possible change of one outfield position, last night’s lineup is going to be the 2012 lineup and could very well be the 2013 lineup as well. They are going to have some ugly innings out there.   That they do post a stinker more often than we would like is not an indictment of the lineup or, dare we say it, The Process.

Last night sucked and there might be others like it as the Royals play out the string in 2011, but I can live with that if this same group or something close to it makes the move from ‘young and promising’ to ‘youthful and good’ by next year.

Getting swept…

Getting swept at home…

Getting swept at home by a National League team…

Yep, this week has pretty much been one for the dumpster.

If you’re looking for a silver lining in last night’s game, I guess we could find one in the fact that Felipe Paulino somehow pitched into the ninth inning. Kind of surprising, given he’d thrown 108 pitches through eight. To me, that move seems rather Hillman-esque, but I feel we can cut Nervous Ned some slack because this is Paulino we’re talking about. It’s not like the Royals are grinding a $12 million starter to the ground. It’s the little things.

The most notable thing that’s come from this series is the lineup shake-up. For the second consecutive game, Melky Cabrera led off, followed by Eric Hosmer. Funny… You can juggle the lineup all you want, but you still can’t prevent regression to the mean. That’s exactly what’s happening with guys like Jeff Francoeur who has expanded his strike zone to include a four state area. Then, there’s the learning process that’s ongoing with Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. That was evident in the ninth inning on Wednesday, when Hosmer was first pitch swinging with two out and the tying run on base in the ninth.

What it boils down to is unless Bud Selig turns his head to the advances made in genetic cloning, the Royals still have just two hitters in this lineup that can be counted upon to produce: Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. That’s it. The rest of the guys can run hot and extremely cold.

This will change over time. It’s all about The Process. Soon, we can include Hosmer and Moustakis in this group. Throw in a few arms and we may be in business.

For now though, we’re in familiar territory. The Royals are staring the second consecutive month where they’re playing under .400 ball firmly in the face. After averaging 5.1 runs per game the first month of the season, they’re plating just four runs per contest since. That one run makes all the difference in the world, especially with our starting rotation.

Again, it’s not about lineups. It’s not about Bruce Chen. (That was probably the funniest thing I heard all week when Nervous Ned tried to pin the Royals May and June swoon on the absence of Chen due to injury. Hilarious. Maybe if he was Albert Pujols. Stay calm, Ned.) And it’s not about the young players.

Right now, this team just isn’t built to win games.

Unfortunately, this leaves us in an all too familiar position… Worst record in the American League by two games and the third worst record in all of baseball.

Welcome home.

As I get older, I learn to appreciate a few things that would have been unthinkable in my youth…

Add well pitched ballgames to the list.

That’s why I thought Tuesday night’s game was – for the first six innings – brutal.

Trevor Cahill in particular was just awful. He threw 96 pitches, but just 47 strikes. It was the worst pitching performance I’ve seen (non-Royal category) since any Daisuke Matsuzaka start over the last three seasons. And it wasn’t like Cahill was getting squeezed. He was all over the place… I mean, when he wasn’t throwing the ball 55 feet and bouncing it in the dirt, he was airmailing pitches to the backstop.

Cahill has struggled lately. He’s giving up home runs and walking batters like crazy. In his four starts prior to Tuesday, he had thrown 22 innings, allowed 14 walks, five home runs and 15 strikeouts. Opposing batters have been teeing off, hitting .337/.425/.551 against him during this stretch.

I wonder if the Royals knew about this. This is a question I’ll ask again and again, now that the team does all of their advanced scouting by video. What exactly are they watching on these videos? Because if they’re watching the TV broadcast feeds, they’re doing it wrong. I’m sure there are different camera feeds available, but how much of a pain is it to watch an entire game isolated on a starting pitcher to see how he’s standing on the mound, if he’s tipping his pitches, his delivery time to home, etc… And then have to switch to another feed to see how the infielders are positioned, or how the play is made in the outfield. I imagine, if you were doing a thorough scouting job, it would take you six hours to scout a single game by video.

I bring up this scouting issue again, because Royals hitters seemed to take the wrong approach from the beginning.

Take the first inning. Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer saw a grand total of eight pitches. That’s not exactly working the count. Gordon offered at a tough pitch out of the zone, Melky swung at a ball (shocking) and Hosmer offered at a pitch down and away on an 1-0 count that he would have been better off taking.

Not a good start.

The second was, in some ways, worse. That’s because after he walked Jeff Francoeur (which should be a warning sign for anyone watching a ballgame that this particular pitcher doesn’t have it) Billy Butler had an outstanding plate appearance. This was one of the few times of the night Cahill was spotting his pitches. The first three were low and away… off the plate for balls. These were pitches thrown with good intent in that if Butler makes contact with those and puts them in play, he’s grounding into a double play. The Frenchman negates that possibility by stealing second on the third pitch of the Butler at bat. Then, Butler takes two called strikes on pitches low and away, but deemed in the zone by the home plate umpire, Bill Welke. (I’m not sold on the first pitch, but the second one was good.) He fouls one off and then takes ball four.

You now have two hitters who have walked to lead off an inning against a pitcher who has had command problems in the past. You have a young hitter coming up and the lower third of the batting order coming behind him.

You make the call…

If you’re Nervous Ned Yost, you bunt.

Huh?

Bunting in the second inning with your rookie stud, against a starting pitcher with command issues and with Matt Treanor and Chris Getz immediately following? That’s mismanagement of the highest order.

(At least I’m assuming he ordered the bunt. We don’t know because neither the KC Star story or the MLB.com story has this info. I Googled, but couldn’t come up with the answer if the bunt was called by Yost or Moustakas freelanced. The fact that neither game summary included the word “bunt” is slightly surprising, considering the Royals sacrificed three times Tuesday.)

Instead of setting up for a potential big inning, you’re playing for one run in the second inning… Frustrating. And guess what? It worked when Coach T grounded out and brought Francoeur home.

The Royals encountered a similar situation in the fourth. Runners on first and second and no outs, but with Chris Getz at the plate. In that situation, I have no problem with asking Getz to sacrifice – which he did. Because letting Getz hit is a little like asking the pitcher to swing the bat. With a 91 percent contact rate and a 51 percent ground ball rate, he would seem to be a double play candidate. (Although a quick check of the numbers shows this isn’t exactly the case. In 34 double play opportunities this year, Getz has grounded into just one double play. Although it helps he’s sacrificed an AL leading 10 times.)

Again, this sacrifice worked as Alcides Escobar put the ball in play and hit a weak chopper to third. Moose, running on contact, was able to score easily.

I fear this sort of stuff is putting the wrong ideas in Yost’s head.

Anyway, Cahill’s struggles are issues for Oakland bloggers to address, but it seems we have our own problems with Danny Duffy. Everyone will make a fuss over his first major league win, but that glosses over the fact that he really labored in the fourth and fifth innings. In his first 39 pitches (innings one through three) he tossed 26 strikes. He wasn’t helped by his defense in the second when Moose made an error at third, but then was bailed out by The Frenchman and his cannon of an arm in right.

(I tweak the Royals for ditching their advance scouting department, but I wonder if other teams have done the same… Uhhhh, you don’t run on the outfield arms. Unless you want to be thrown out. Does anybody playing baseball ever watch baseball?)

Then in the fourth, after the Hideki Matusi home run, it all went to hell for Duffy. Over his final three innings, he needed 65 pitches and threw only 37 strikes. Not to mention, his velocity really dipped as the game progressed.

Was that the effect of adrenaline? His family and girlfriend made the trip from nearby Lompoc, his hometown. Who knows.

Still, it was a good night for the Royals at the plate. The Shortstop Jesus can suddenly hit and picked up three while driving in two runs. He looks like a different hitter at the plate. Hosmer broke an 0-fer with a pair of hits. And Moose got the first two-hit game of his career. The bullpen was solid as well. Greg Holland had a lock-down seventh, but wobbled in the eighth with a couple of bad breaks before Aaron Crow picked him up. Then Soria finished with a challenging, yet successful performance.

What we do know is that Duffy, despite getting that first win, has a ton of work to do. Same for the manager.

It is always nice to see your team battle back from a big early deficit as the Royals did yesterday, but let’s face it:  Sunday’s 10 inning loss to the Cardinals was just plain brutal.

Thirteen walks, a hit batter, two errors, two ejections and another base-running blunder – just awful.   Home-plate umpire Angel Campos did the Royals no favors, but he is hardly the first umpire to have a ridiculous strike zone and an apparent ax to grind and teams manage to get through a game without giving their opposition SIXTEEN free base runners.

The truly awful thing about Sunday’s loss, which capped a 2-5 homestand, was that this seems to be more than just one loss.   To begin with, it knocks Kansas City to two games below .500 for the second time this season and does so as the team is about to embark on six game road trip to Baltimore and Texas.   One could envision a Royals team coming off a come from behind series win over St. Louis going on the road and winning three of six, holding firm at the .500 mark and still, however marginally, in the conversation when it comes to contending in the AL Central.

After losing yesterday, it seems far more likely that the Royals, 5-11 on the road thus far in 2011, might well flail their way to something like a 1-5 road trip and entrench themselves in the lower half of the division for the rest of the year.   Certainly this may be an overreaction on my part and perhaps yesterday really is just one game out of 162, but it had the feel of one of those ‘tipping point’ games.

Now, a number of writers and commenters throughout the Internet whom I respect have long held true to the line that the Royals would not contend in 2011 and, even when they were near or at the top of the standings, that the Royals were really not contenders.   Those opinions would seem to be closer to getting validated as the month of May begins to wind down, but those opinions don’t really matter.

All that matters, is that the Royals thought they were contenders.  Yes, they can spin the ‘Eric Hosmer was ready and we would have made the move no matter what the standings said’ line all they want and use the same logic with the Danny Duffy promotion, but the truth is the organization was going for it in 2011.

Without question, Eric Hosmer was ready for a promotion and there is validity in the idea that you can keep a player at one level for too long, but the only reason to promote Hosmer when the Royals did (as opposed to waiting three weeks to avoid Super Two status) was that Dayton Moore believed this team had a chance to compete.    I think it was worth the risk and am not criticizing the move at all.   In fact, in some rough plotting of future Royals’ payrolls, you have to go out a long ways before Hosmer’s salary, no matter how outrageous an award he may receive in arbitration, actually begins to be a hindrance to the organization making additional moves.   The only problem with the plan was that someone forgot to clue Ned Yost into the updated situation.

I do believe it is possible to ‘build’ and ‘compete’ simultaneously, but sometimes you have to sacrifice a little of one to do the other.  Case in point:  Alcides Escobar hitting with two outs in the bottom of the 1oth yesterday with the tying run on base.

While we all know that Yost had been ejected earlier in the game, we also all know that the ejected manager usually goes exactly one step beyond visual range in the dugout tunnel.   Certainly, if Ned had wanted to pinch-hit for Escobar in this situation, he could have made his thoughts known to bench coach John Gibbons.     That he did not, forces us to rely on Yost’s stated position of a week or so ago that ‘Escobar needs to learn how to hit in those situation’.   Well, of course he does, but Escobar doesn’t necessarily need to learn how to hit in every one of those situations. 

I say that, knowing that Escobar has been hitting better lately (5 for his last 17 at-bats), that he was 2 for 4 on the day, and that the pinch-hitting option was Melky Cabrera (5 for 39 in his career as a pinch hitter and, after all, Melky Cabrera), but I like Cabrera better than Escobar in this situation.    For all his faults, there was certainly a much better chance that Melky catches a ball flush and drives it than there was for Escobar to do the same. 

If the Royals were 24-21 entering Sunday afternoon (or 19-26 for that matter), than by all means let the kid hit and try to figure it out, but yesterday was a big game and I don’t know that you can spin it as anything but a big game.   You make the move for Cabrera and hope he ties or maybe even wins it with one swing.  If it is a tie and you have to play the 11th with your defensive whiz shortstop on the bench, then so be it:  at least you are playing the 11th instead of taking a shower.

The entire plan is a bit of mystery to me as Yost, in other situations, has clearly focused on the now.  He moved Hosmer into the three spot in the order, opting to bolster the offense over protecting the rookie, and Yost has squarely put Aaron Crow into the ’8th inning setup man’ role to the exclusion of any other development in order to win games.   Those are moves made to win now that run counter to things like not pinch-hitting for Escobar and continuing to rotate Wilson Betemit with the Aviles/Getz mess in order to get both of the second baseman at-bats.

Pick a course of action and go with it.   If you are determined to bat Escobar in critical late-inning situations, then it would seem reasonable to try to stretch Aaron Crow out now and then.    Again, it is very possible to devise a plan under which you try to win in 2011 and develop your team for 2012 and beyond, but I am not sure I can envision any plan that has Alcides Escobar batting in the 10th inning yesterday.

What a game… Dead for eight plus innings, the Cardiac Royals plate one in the ninth and one in the tenth. Unreal.

They won, despite the reappearance of the the 2009 vintage of the Royals. Not the team I once called, “Fundamentally worse than a junior varsity high school team.”

But, damn if they aren’t back. At least on the bases.

– In the first, Alex Gordon was caught stealing with Eric Hosmer at the plate.

– In the sixth, Melky Cabrera was picked off first when he broke for second too early against the left-handed throwing Holland.

– In that same inning, Jeff Francoeur was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double.

One word about the caught stealings… The Royals no longer use advance scouts. Instead, they rely on video. I recommend they invest in an internet connection. One quick check of Baseball Reference reveals that Derek Holland has had 84 stolen base opportunities against him this season. Meaning, there have been 84 instances where a runner has been on either first or second and the next base has been open. Of those 84 chances to steal, opposing runners have made the attempt only two times. Two out of 84. In other words, nobody is running against Holland this year. And when they do… they’ve been caught. That’s right. There hasn’t been a successful steal against Holland all year.

If the Royals only had internet connection at the K, they could have avoided two outs on the bases. If only…

So of course, three batters into the game, the Go-Go Royals try to run. Of course.

There’s aggressive base running and there’s stupid base running. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. And guess which side of the line the Royals have been falling over the last week.

Sure, those pickoffs in the ninth on Wednesday’s game were balks. But Aviles should have been aware of what was going on. Then, I just have a real difficult time moving past Coach Treanor getting picked off of second base on a snap throw by the catcher on Tuesday. I can understand it happening at first… But second? Seriously?

While the base running has been fundamentally awful, the defense has been solid with Alcides Escobar taking charge up the middle. That play in the fifth where Betemit knocked down a line drive and Escobar came over from short to pick the ball up and get the force at second was just the kind of heads up play we never used to see. This kid is worth the price of admission to watch him with the glove.

The outs on the bases and lack of scoring overshadowed the best start of the year for Luke Hochevar. The only blemish was a fat second inning pitch to Chris Davis who sent it into the right field bullpen. The thing was, Hochevar seemed to get stronger over the final third of the game. He retired nine in a row before a soft single in the ninth – and then a rocket finally chased him from the game.

He struck out only four – two of them in the top of the ninth – so I wouldn’t call his performance dominant. But he was doing a great job of locating his pitches and setting up hitters all night. His sinker was doing it’s job – he got 11 ground balls compared to nine in the air – and it was enough to get him through 8.2 innings on a season-high 113 pitches.

It was a savvy performance. Good to see.

Then there was the ninth…

Hosmer led off with a single that was scorched up the middle. Hammered. Dustin Pedroia thinks he used to put on Laser Shows? He has nothing compared to Hos. Then, Francoeur reaches on a single. That was practically a given. In 15 ninth inning plate appearances this year, Frenchy has four hits, five walks and two sac flies. A nice piece of hitting where he went with the pitch and lined it to right.

That sets everything up for Billy Butler… I thought he was on track with a seventh inning single. Sadly, it was not to be as he elevated just a bit too much on a late swing (although he was likely trying to send the ball to right) and hit a soft fly out. Then Feliz ran the count to 3-2 on both Betemit and Aviles. Aviles had a 10 pitch at bat where every Feliz offering was between 97 and 100 mph. Straight gas and Aviles hits a perfectly placed dribbler back up the middle to score Hosmer to tie the game. Tons of credit to Aviles there. His last hit was Saturday in Detroit. He battled, fouling off heater after heater before just putting the ball in play. Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Back to back blown saves for Feliz. He won’t get a chance for a third… Not after throwing 32 pitches to get two outs.

And the tenth…

The second best thing about the tenth was the fact we got to see another Escobar highlight pick at short. And Hosmer flashing the leather on the short hop was something to see as well. Just a fine defensive play from those two. I can see that happening several times over the next six or seven seasons.

The best thing about the tenth was the fact the Royals had the top of the order… This was there chance. I just can’t say enough about Hosmer. That kid is just ice. And then Frenchy… I don’t want to, but I love the guy.

The team was frustrated for eight plus innings, but Hochevar kept them in the game and they pushed through in the ninth and tenth. Just a great game. Really – aside from the boneheaded base running – an outstanding game to watch.

No balks tonight. Just a win.