Boston has been a dangerous place.
For whatever reason, it’s been difficult for the Royals to grab a win there. I think we all remember last season, when the Royals opened the second half at Fenway and promptly dropped three in a row. They did win two of three back in 2013, sweeping a doubleheader, so maybe I’m exhibiting a recency bias. Maybe because the Red Sox used to be Eastern Division bullies, throwing their money around with abandon, winning pennants and championships while beating up on the poor (literally) Central teams is fresh in my mind. At any rate, the Royals didn’t do much to change my opinion, dropping the first two games of this four game series. It didn’t help that both losses were lackluster.
The Royals knocked that bias on it’s head on Saturday, as Yordano Ventura threw a solid game, holding the Sox bats in check. Ventura now has a 3.55 ERA in his five starts since his one day demotion to Omaha. In those starts he has 31 strikeouts in 38 innings and is holding opponents to a line of .229/.297/.396. Good numbers all around, especially if you consider there are two clunkers included in those six starts.
Ventura didn’t throw a clunker on Saturday. As I wrote on Friday, the Red Sox aren’t a good team, but their offense is an area of strength. The six innings Ventura threw felt like a bit of a grind, but credit where it’s due as he battled around scoring opportunities in the first and fourth, before allowing a single tally in the sixth. There’s been a lot of internet bandwidth taken up with the examination of Ventura’s struggles – particularly with runners on base. Over the last three starts, it certainly seems as though he has addressed those concerns.
This is obviously great news.
The other bit of news to come from Saturday was Salvador Perez’s opposite field home run. When Perez first came up to the majors, his power was actually to all fields. Seven of his first 15 home runs were hit to right or right-center. Here are his home run plots from Hittracker Online from the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
His big power was to left-center, but he was hitting a number of pitches down the left field line. This isn’t unusual for a right-handed hitter. Power is to the pull field. Studies have shown that nearly 75 percent of all home runs are pulled. It’s the opposite field power that is special. It’s a sign of a player who is a complete hitter. And that’s certainly what we thought Perez was – or at least we hoped he could be. Indeed over his first two seasons (spanning 115 games and 463 plate appearances) Perez hit .311/.339/.471.
Since then however, it’s been a story of steady decline. It kind of tells you about his lost promise as a hitter as when the ball cleared the fence, I immediately hit Baseball Reference to figure out the last time he actually hit one out to the opposite field. Let’s jump into the Wayback Machine to April 27, 2013.
That’s correct. Over two and a half years ago.
Look at how he’s transformed his power profile in the last two seasons. The 2014 season is on the left, this year is on the right.
Quite the change.
At any rate, this isn’t to declare Perez as some kind of new hitter, or that he will now kick on the offensive afterburners and will now revert to the stylings we saw his first two partial seasons in the big leagues. This is really just to point out how rare an event it is, to see Perez hitting with power to the opposite field. I hope you got to witness it on Saturday. Who knows when we will see it again.
Sunday was a different sort of story, with a different offensive star. A grey, dreary day at Fenway saw the Royals fall behind early. Edinson Volquez wobbled a bit in the second, allowing two runs, but settled into a groove in the middle innings which allowed his team to chip away at the deficit to crawl back into the game. Boston’s defense and Mike Moustakas’ double in the fourth gave the Royals a brief lead.
Speaking of opposite field power, it was Moustakas going the opposite way in the sixth, to extend the Royals lead. For all the talk about Moustakas learning to go to left field, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his home run production hasn’t exactly followed. Moustakas has always been a pure pull power hitter. To expect this change in approach where he goes the other way more frequently to come with a similar change in his power profile wouldn’t be reasonable. Indeed, the home run on Sunday was only his second home run to left this year. His other came on Opening Day.
This one came on the ninth pitch of the at bat.
He fouled off a couple of hittable pitches before he found one on the outer half. This was like April Moustakas, going with that pitch and taking it the other way. The difference was, this was hit with authority.
It was a big day for Moustakas. He tallied three hits – all for extra bases – and drove in four. He was undoubtedly the star of the game. Yet I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some questionable decisions that were made in this game that could have cost the Royals the victory.
The first was when Ned Yost send Volquez back out to the mound in the seventh inning. The Royals were short in the bullpen which necessitated sticking with Volquez for what amounted to an inning too long. Luke Hochevar was ill and Ryan Madson was unavailable. So, too, apparently was Greg Holland. Certainly, it can be frustrating watching the game, seeing the starting pitcher wobble in the middle innings, and not have the manager bring in relief. Sometimes, we don’t have all the data. All I can offer is that in a similar situation in October, Volquez wouldn’t have gone back out for the seventh, because everyone in the bullpen would have been available. And that’s the Royals luxury. They are positioning for October.
The Royals were down to their final three outs when Omar Infante stepped to the plate. Infante snapped an 0-31 skid on Saturday and added another hit on Sunday. In the ninth, he lofted a high fly ball to left that was misplayed and took a crazy bounce toward center. Infante, perhaps rested from almost a month of not needing to run the bases, was cruising with abandon. By the time he reached third, third base coach Mike Jirschle was waving him home. He was out by a mile.
That was a serious lapse in judgement. Down two in the ninth with no one out, that is a run you desperately need. Why in the world would you send him? There is absolutely no reason to take that chance.
Fortunately, the Royals were able to kickstart the rally. Back to back singles by Drew Butera and Alcides Escobar put two on. After another out, Lorenzo Cain loaded the bases with a single of his own before Eric Hosmer tied it up. The Royals were jumping all over Boston closer Junichhi Tazawa, swinging early in the count and doing damage.
After Kendrys Morales walks to again load the bases, up steps Moustakas. Just a brilliant plate appearance where he fouled off pitch after pitch. Finally, 10 pitches in, he got what he was looking for: A fastball in the meaty part of the zone. He didn’t miss.
Moustakas fouled off five consecutive pitches before driving the ball to the gap in right-center for another double. Just an outstanding pair of plate appearances. His bat won this game.
This was where Jirschle’s nightmare of an inning continued. He decided to send Morales home for another run. Since 2012, Morales has been on first base 25 times when a double has been hit. He’s scored exactly twice.
I don’t expect Jirschle to know those kind of numbers, but there’s a reason Morales doesn’t make that trip very often: He’s just not that fast. Built for comfort and not speed, it would have been fine to keep Morales at third. Sure the next batter is Alex Rios, and we all know how he’s performed, although it feels like his bat is warming of late. Still, I know the Royals want to be aggressive on the bases, but that just wasn’t a smart send.
Somehow, the Royals scored four runs in the ninth when they had two runners thrown out at home. Royals Devil Magic is alive and well.
In the end, it’s a win. A great comeback win.
The Royals magic number is now 28.