It was a Very Royals Win.
And it provided a much needed opportunity to exhale. Starting pitching that kept the team in the game and a couple of timely hits formed the base. Stellar defense and a lock-down bullpen was the icing on top. And a little offensive luck was the powdered sugar. My god, the Royals baked a cake. The Royals recipe for 2015.
Let’s start with Kris Medlen, because damnit, this team needed a decent start. He pretty much cruised through his first six innings. The only hiccup came in the first inning, with a one out double from Lindor and a two out walk to Santana. After he retired Chisenhall on a grounder back to the box, Medlen went into cruise control for the next five innings, allowing just two baserunners.
Medlen has been getting more than his share of ground balls. For the season, batters have put the ball on the ground 53 percent of the time when they put it in play. That’s above his career rate of 47% and it’s a mark that’s just off the the highest rate of his career. This is relevant. On Tuesday, on a night when the Royals desperately needed a quality start (not a Quality Start, the Royals actually needed a start of tremendous quality) Medlen got 11 of his first 12 outs on the ground. The only ball hit with any kind of authority was the Lindor double that one-hopped the wall in left-center.
Then, Medlen tired just a bit and the Clevelanders were able to drive the ball a little further and with just a bit more authority. Five of the next six outs came in the air. There was a noticeable drop in Medlen’s velocity starting around the end of the fourth inning at about pitch number 55. His fastball up to that point was living around 92 mph with a high of 93 mph. Pretty consistent. Then, he lost really just a single digit off his velocity. Not enough to give Cleveland any kind of offensive advantage, but enough to allow them to barrel the ball just a little better.
The off-speed offerings were his money pitches on Tuesday, especially the change. Medlen threw it 19 times, got three swings and misses (he had five total on the night – none on his fastball), and of the seven change-ups that were put in play, all resulted in outs.
Medlen needed just 81 pitches to get through six innings. And as mentioned, they were easy innings. That, combined with the recent post-pox struggles of one Kelvin Herrera, I wasn’t completely surprised that Yost allowed Medlen to return to the mound for the seventh. Had this been October, Medlen would have out of the game in place of the relief corps for sure. Although given the recent run of form, it’s difficult to see why Yost didn’t treat this like October. This team needed a win. Thankfully, Yost had Medlen on a short leash and after back to back one out singles, he went to his pen.
Enter Ryan Madson. Madson has been solid all year for the Royals, and has become Yost’s true fireman. You remember the fireman, right? The reliever who used to come in with runners on base and the game on the line? That’s Madson of late. In his last three appearances, he’s inherited eight base runners. Eight. He’s allowed just one to score. Madson dispatched both batters he faced with haste, striking out both and setting the stage for The Wade Davis Experience in the eighth.
While all this was happening, let’s not forget the Royals stellar defense. Particularly Mike Moustakas. The Royals third baseman made an outstanding diving play in foul territory in the seventh.
18.9 mph? Yowsers. I had no idea Moustakas could move that fast. There are a few great defensive third basemen in the league, but I’m not sure any of them make plays in foul territory I’ve seen Moustakas make the last couple of seasons. It’s a combination of fearlessness and awareness. He’s something else. Oh, and he also made another great “conventional” defensive play for good measure.
Now at the plate, it’s a different story. In the second inning, Moustakas was at the plate with two outs and a 3-0 count. If you’ve watched the Royals for any amount of time, you know that Yost isn’t going to reign in his hitters on a 3-0 count. Especially if the team is pressing for wins. Green means go, baby. And on 3-0, Moustakas was swinging.
I’m not necessarily opposed to letting it rip in that situation. Except it needs to be a better pitch than the one he saw. Much better. Moustakas got under it and sent it into the stratosphere. I guess Gomes truly needed a telescope because he couldn’t find the ball. Neither could Tomlin. Same for the home plate ump, who was nearly hit upon reentry. Given a reprieve, Moustakas drilled a fastball to deep center that Almonte seemed to have difficulty tracking. Double. A wild pitch and a Salvador Perez single brought home the game’s first run.
The second run of the contest came from an unlikely source in Alex Rios. Perhaps that’s harsh. After all, Rios is hitting .303/.325/.447 over his previous 21 games entering Tuesday. He’s “Rios Hot” which means he simply doesn’t suck anymore. I know McCullough mentioned he thought Rios was going to be left off the first playoff roster, but that’s not happening. Not now.
Rios turned on an 1-0 fastball and sent it to the promenade in left. That was the last hit of the game for the Royals.
(Let’s take a moment and put to rest the idea the Royals wouldn’t have the fortitude to keep Rios off the roster. This isn’t the 2009 Royals. They know they are “going for it.” That means they are truly seeking upgrades. With Rios finding a groove, he is now the best option for the team in October. If he can maintain his current pace. I know this is difficult for you to hear, but he’s a better option than a Dyson/Orlando/Gomes platoon. Gomes’ defense means if he’s around in October it will be as a pinch hitter. I can see Yost removing Rios late in games, for Dyson as a defensive replacement. But you should probably prepare yourselves for Rios to play in October.)
Finally, we have our Greg Holland Anxiety. He entered the game to close it out in the ninth and opened by throwing 89 mph fastballs. Holy shit.
He walked the first batter, then allowed a single on a ball to short that Escobar really should have fielded. Thankfully, noted baseball savant Terry Francona was at the signals for the Indians and he decided it would be a good idea for Mike Aviles to bunt. Again… baseball convention is sometimes a steaming pile of crap. Yes, the situation may call for a bunt to move the runners, but you have a reliever who, in a few short pitches has established: 1) diminished velocity and 2) questionable command. Why would you give up an out when you have a pitcher on the ropes? Whatever. That’s Cleveland’s problem. I just sit at a computer and tip my cap. Aviles can’t get the bunt down and pops to Holland – who drops the ball – and gets the out at third.
From about that point, from the velocity chart above, you can see Holland pretty much scrapped his fastball, going exclusively slider. Until he jumped ahead 1-2 to Urshela. Then, Holland reached back and unleashed a 93 mph fastball up in the zone. Swing and a miss. Disaster averted. Ballgame.
The Royals magic number is now nine.
And for one night, things are right in the Royals Universe.