Two weeks ago, I think the Royals’ community would have unamiously accepted a 3-3 start to the season. That is what good teams do: play .500 ball on the road and take care of business at home, right? As ugly as yesterday’s 12 inning loss to Oakland was, Kansas City accomplished step one of that theory. Sure, you hate to lose a game like that, but it is, after all ‘just one game’.
Except ‘just one game’ begins to add up after while.
I am not sure that Denny Matthews came up with this theory, but he refers to it from time to time and I think it makes some sense. Denny will say that every baseball team plays 50 games that they win no matter what, 50 games that they will lose no matter what and the determination of a team’s season is what they do with the remaining 62 contests.
Using that theory, I think it is safe to say that the season opener against Jared Weaver was one of those 50 that the Royals were just plain going to lose. The following two games, in my opinion, would both fall into the category of the 50 that the Royals were destined to win, ditto for the 3-0 rain shortened game on Tuesday night. However, yesterday’s debacle and Monday’s 1-0 loss to Tom Milone have to fall into the critical 62 game column. There, after just six games, the Royals are 0-2.
Let’s touch very briefly on Monday once more (because a little salt goes well with that open wound from yesterday afternoon). Tom Milone is a promising young pitcher, don’t get me wrong. If you pull up his minor league resume, you will be impressed. However, one thing pops out when you do so is that Milone is something of a strikeout pitcher. Two years ago in AA, Milone struck out 155 batters in 158 innings and then followed that up last year in AAA by striking out 155 in 148 innings.
So, when Milone throws eight shutout innings without striking out a single Royal, I have to think that is a missed opportunity. Especially when the Royals ran into three outs on the bases that night: two in a mind boggling inning in which Milone walked two batters and still needed just TEN pitches to get through the inning. Yeah, let’s put that as a loss in the 62-game-decide-your-season column.
Then along came yesterday and our good friend Jonathan Broxton.
I raved about Broxton’s Sunday appearance in Anaheim on Monday. His velocity was up, his slider was unhittable and certainly Jonathan’s confidence had to be high. After the Royals scored in the top of the 12th thanks to a Billy Butler double and some smartly aggressive baserunning, my confidence was high as well.
Enter Broxton to save the game in the bottom of the 12th. While his velocity was not consistently as high as it was on Sunday, he still greeted Daric Barton with a pair of 94 mph fastballs, got him to foul off a slider, showed him a 98 mph offering out of the zone, missed with a slider and then got Barton looking with 95 mph heat. Good start, all is well.
Then the unthinkable occurred: an Alcides Escobar error. Okay, it happens. Ozzie Smith made errors, you know. Nobody on and Escobar botches Seth Smith’s weak offering at an 0-1 slider. No big deal, Broxton. It’s not like Escobar isn’t going to make that up to you in spades as the season goes on. Except it must have been a big deal to Jonathan Broxton.
I mentioned that Broxton threw a slider (the third of his appearance) to Smith. That is noteworthy because Broxton would only throw one slider the rest of the inning. Four straight fastballs to Jemile Weeks for balls and, to be clear, they were not even that fast. All four whistled in at 92 or 93 mph: well below what Broxton was throwing in his dominant outing on Sunday. At that point, you have to start to wonder what is going on and maybe, just maybe, Aaron Crow might be an option.
Eric Sogard enters the batter’s box and Broxton pumps the velocity up a little: seven straight fastballs between 94 and 96 mph. Sogard never swings the bat and walks when Broxton misses with a 94 mph 3-2 fastball. Okay, it is officially dicey at this point. Bases are loaded, one out and Broxton has thrown 8 of his last 10 fastballs out of the strike zone.
Now, we all know the new improved rules of baseball demand that once you insert your closer, you are duty bound to live and die with him. I hate the rule. I hated it last year when Joakim Soria was struggling and I hate it even more when the Royals’ closer may or may not be the best arm in the bullpen. Still, I have to admit that I don’t pull Broxton here, either.
Coco Crisp comes up, takes a 94 mph fastball for a strike, fouls off a 95 mph offering and then takes a 96 mph four seamer for a ball. Okay folks, here it comes, the last slider of the day. Crisp hacks at an 89 mph slider and hits a bouncer to second where the only play is at first for the second out and the tying run scores. Hey, on another day, Crisp hits the ball to Betancourt’s right instead of his left and the Royals turn a game ending double play. I hate the saying more often than not, but in this case, well, that’s baseball.
Now, runners on second and third, two outs and the game is tied. Disappointing, yes. Devastating, no. Get the third out and let’s play inning number thirteen.
Yeonis Cespedes is up. Yeonis Cespedes will swing and generally miss anything that breaks at all. Hell, pretty sure he might swing and miss at Nick’s slider or Craig’s split-fingered fastball. Feels like a slider here, doesn’t it? Nope, Broxton throws a 95 mph fastball and hits Cespedes. Hits him with the first pitch. Hits a guy who would likely jump out of his shoes to swing big at something on the outer half or even something over his head.
Now, Broxton is 24 pitches into this inning, having walked two guys, hit another and forgotten that he actually has a second pitch. I know Aaron Crow sometimes struggles with his control, but don’t you have to give him a shot here?
Here is where I freely admit that in all the second guessing that the game of baseball was virtually designed to create, managers get absolutely and unfairly hammered for changing pitchers too late or too soon or too often or not often enough. Hindsight is painfully obvious in baseball and quite honestly, how often do you see a pitcher hit two guys in a row?
One thing that does seem pretty common is for a pitcher to struggle to throw a strike after hitting a batter, however, and Broxton had not exactly been hammering the zone previously. This was not fluke, Broxton was drowning out there and was treading into deep water pitch count wise. I know, 24 pitches is not that many, but it is a lot for one inning and a big number for specialized one inning guys.
Bam! A 97 mph four seam fastball that The Flash could not have avoided and the winning run comes in on a hit batter. End of game, end of story and the Royals are now 0-2 in the ‘season deciding column’.
A 3-3 road trip is good and probably we might have entered panic mode too soon, but when you have used the ‘it’s only one game’ TWICE in the first six games, I have to admit being a little concerned. Young teams have a tendency to give away games, but they cannot afford to do so a third of the time.
If you want to be an aggressive baserunning team, do it, but do so with some intelligence. If you have a dominant bullpen then use it and not just in the traditional baseball fashion. Losses happen. The Royals are not going to go 62-0 in the season deciders. Young teams give away games.
Playing at home, the young Royals need to take some of the games back.