Just another Royals game.
Just another midsummer’s night at The K.
Lorenzo Cain goes 4-4, hits a monster bomb, and falls a triple short of the cycle. Mike Moustakas leaves the yard and drives in a total of three runs. Alcides Escobar nails a runner at home with another relay of perfection and made another run saving play in the field. Sal Perez nailed a runner wandering too far off first. Eric Hosmer continued rolling with a pure opposite field home run. Luke Hochevar was working a killer cutter and struck out three in 2.2 innings to pick up the save.
And let’s not forget the effort from Yordano Ventura to go six innings while generating eight strikeouts.
Just a total team effort. Not only a team effort, but an outstanding all-around game. Pitching, defense and the long ball. This game had just about everything. Honestly, if you’re just now hopping on the bandwagon, where the hell have you been?
I just… I mean… Holy crap. I’m running out of superlatives to describe this team and this season. This has been a special summer. No matter what happens in October, this has been a season to remember. I’ve been sitting here for the better part of a half hour, just staring at this blank page in my WordPress dashboard and I’m smiling like some kind of idiot. I can’t think of anything insightful to write mainly because this is straight up domination. Every facet of the game, almost every night. When this team is firing on all cylinders, there is nothing that can stop them. Nothing.
How about this relay from Escobar? Is there any shortstop in baseball who consistently makes this play like we’ve seen from Escobar? Doubt it.
When Cain was batting in the sixth with a 3-1 count, FSKC viewers were treated to this exchange:
Uncle Hud: Do you throw a fastball here, Monty?
Monty: I wouldn’t.
Uncle Hud: I wouldn’t either.
Monty: He could lean back on one.
Uncle Hud: Ohhhhh…
Cain didn’t get that fastball. He got a slider in the lower part of the zone over the middle of the plate. Cain murdered that baseball. According to Inside Edge, it had a velocity of 110 mph when it left the bat and travelled a total of 450 feet. According to Baseball Savant, three different hitters have had an exit velocity that high on a home run this year. Hosmer has hit two home runs that left the bat at 113 mph and another at 110. Kendrys Morales has one that was measured at 110 mph. And the home run on Tuesday was LoCain’s second at 110 mph. That’s a long-winded way of saying that what we saw off Cain’s bat doesn’t happen very often.
And thanks so much to MLBAM who doesn’t allow all video clips to be embedded. Way to spread the gospel of your game. How about a frame grab of the pitch location? That will have to do.)
Update: We have StatCast video! Behold, the beauty of the Cain Bomb.
And here’s the pitch sequencing. Slider lower half, middle. Ouch.
The guy is having just an outstanding all-around season. The crowd at The K broke out with the “MVP” chant, and while it may be a bit early he certainly is on the shortlist of candidates. Cain currently ranks fifth in fWAR and third in bWAR. A testament to his development as a top-tier player. The projection systems didn’t have faith in Cain at the beginning of the year due to his short track record and age. The projections aren’t always correct. That’s not always a knock on the computer. They only have the data Cain himself provided from his past performances. Sometimes, guys are outliers and are late bloomers. Cain, as we all know came to the game later in life. Maybe his development is behind the curve we’re used to seeing from guys who have been trying out for traveling teams since they were eight.
All I know is Cain’s breakout is real and it’s spectacular.
Now let’s take a moment to discuss Ventura’s outing. The eight strikeouts tied a season high set back on April 23. That was great. He also tied a career high with six walks. That’s not so great.
Ventura has made the 2015 season interesting, and he continued with this start. He threw a strike on his first pitch to 18 out of the 25 batters he faced. That’s an improvement over how he’s opened plate appearances this season. He was content to work up in the zone early in the count, but as the plate appearance evolved, he was commanding his pitches low. Check his pitch location from Brooks Baseball. I’ve included the pitch number in each at bat for reference.
Note how the pitches up and out of the zone were frequently the first or second pitch in an at bat. The pitches that were taken for balls low were generally pitches three, four and five. (There are a few sixes and sevens thrown in, but you get the point.) It’s some interesting sequencing and it’s so consistent that I would wager this was the gameplay from the start. Open with strike one or miss up with some high heat and then as the at bat progresses, start working lower in the zone. If you miss, miss low where it would be more difficult for the opposition to put the hurt on the pitch. It’s also a good place to get a swing and a miss and there are a number of them below the strike zone. Indeed, he generated 15 swinging strikes on Tuesday, just one off his season high, again set back in April in that start against the White Sox.
The walks aren’t going to play. Ventura became just the fifth starter this year to throw at least six innings while allowing six walks. Incidentally, every one of those starters’ team won the game. Yet if there was any way to minimize the damage of the walks it was to not follow them with base hits. We know about Ventura’s struggles with runners on base and pitching out of the stretch. He was still wobbly in that situation. Twice, he issued back to back walks. His defense bailed him out in three consecutive innings. In the fourth it was the Dyson to Escobar to Perez relay to gun down a runner at the plate. In the fifth, it was Perez with the pickoff at first. And in the sixth, it was a diving gem from Escobar to end with inning with a putout at second.
It wasn’t a pretty outing from Ventura. Nor was it especially efficient. Yet when the heat was turned up, Ventura kept calm and made the pitches he needed. Strikeouts or defense. Pick your salve. And that was the difference in this outing from other trips to the mound for Ventura. Back to back walks and an error to load the bases like we saw in the second had been an invitation to implosion. On Tuesday, he settled himself and recorded a strikeout and a ground out to escape.
Maybe when we look back at this start, we will say that Ventura was lucky to emerge without surrendering a run. In the Royals special summer, wasn’t it his turn to finally enjoy some good fortune?