Heel turns are usually intentional. The good guy decides he’s had enough of being the good guy and decides to do some old fashioned stomping. The Royals, it seems, have been involved in a heel turn that has been brought about by the other teams in the league. After minor dustups in Anaheim and Chicago earlier this year, the anger spilled north of the border this weekend in Toronto.
The Blue Jays own one of the AL’s most potent offenses. They also own some exaggerated splits. Their OPS at home is .835. On the road, their OPS is .719. That’s some kind of extreme Jeckyll and Hyde act. It’s not unique, though. The Yankees, for example own a pretty extreme split that favors home cooking. The difference is the Rodgers Centre is a neutral ball park when it comes to favoring pitchers or hitters. New Yankee Stadium trends to favor hitters. I was on Twitter enough over the weekend to see numerous theories floating in cyberspace about the Jays doing some shenanigans to obtain an edge. I’m not certain that’s the reason for the extreme home and road split. Sometimes things happen in baseball that can’t be easily explained by the players involved or the numbers.
What isn’t in dispute is the Jays roughed up the Royals for three straight days heading into Sunday. They hit three home runs and plated five runs in the opener. They followed that with six more runs in regulation before plating the walkoff run in the 11th on Friday. Six more runs on Saturday, but the Royals finally snagged a win, coming back not once, but twice. Toronto’s lineup is stacked. Loaded. Hardcore. Whatever your adjective, these guys are scary. It seems you never get a break. The power is loaded at the top and the bottom is just pesky enough to cause you headaches for three hours.
After three days and a narrow win, it seems the Royals pitchers embraced a strategy that involved attacking inside. The best hitters on the Jays stand on top of the plate. If the Royals (or other teams) give the Jays the inner half, they’re going to get clobbered on a pretty regular basis. Edinson Volquez isn’t going to let anyone have the inner half.
He came inside to Josh Donaldson with his eighth pitch of the game. It was also the first pitch of the plate appearance. Intentional? I don’t think so. We know the Royals batters have been hit with regularity this summer. In the previous three games, Lorenzo Cain was pegged twice and Moustakas was hit once, but again, I really don’t think any of those was intentional.
Anyway, home plate umpire Jim Wolf disagreed and issued a warning.
I just don’t understand how umpires can be so tone deaf to the ebb and flow of the game. They are on the field as much as the players and they see thousands of pitches each season from the vantage point from behind the plate. On Saturday, Cain was hit when there were already runners on first and second. Besides, it was his third plate appearance of the game. I seriously doubt Mark Buehrle decided to wait until that moment to deliberately plunk Cain. Later in the game, Moustakas was hit in the ninth inning when the Blue Jays were trailing by a run. Again, who would throw at a batter and give a team a free baserunner in that situation? Apparently, home plate ump Wolf thought Volquez was on some sort of vendetta early on Sunday, so he felt the need to issue the warning.
This led to Josh Donaldson showing his complete lack of understanding of the game himself, by throwing tantrums every time a baseball was thrown on the inner half of the plate. Donaldson stands close to the home plate edge of the batter’s box. He has a high front leg kick and brings his foot down on the same plane where he starts. He’s not on top of the plate, but that high kick exposes him to a pitch inside. Ryan Madson struggled in his outing on Sunday. He had runners on first and second when he came inside to Donaldson. He’s not trying to hit the batter in that situation. That’s insane. Yet, Donaldson hopped away, gesturing to let everyone know he was displeased at Madson’s approach.
Donaldson looked like a child. And he certainly looked like he didn’t understand the situation or the strategy of the Royals pitching staff.
Warnings mean that pitchers can’t hit a batter with intent. They don’t mean they can’t pitch to the inner half of the plate. Wolf didn’t eject Madson when he hit the previous batter, Tulowitzki, probably because Tulo was hit on the seventh pitch of the plate appearance and because there was already a runner on base. Good umpiring. (That feels weird to type.) Donaldson spun around like he was auditioning for Dancing With The Stars and ended up getting his manager ejected.
The pitch that drilled Escobar was absolutely intentional. Two outs, three run lead and a third baseman throwing fits. Ned Yost backed his pitcher’s strategy and thought Wolf was on point behind the plate .
“These guys are as good an offensive team as you’re going to face. They’ve got tremendous power. But they all dive into the plate, which makes them susceptible, (on) inside pitches, (to) getting hit. I mean, if you continue to throw them away, away, away, away, away, you’re going to get hammered. You’re going to get killed. So you have to utilize the inside part of the plate to open up the outside part of the plate.
I thought Jim Wolf did a tremendous job understanding the game, understanding what’s intentional. Was it intentional on their part to hit Esky? Absolutely.”
So this is another kerfuffle for the Royals. I really don’t care how they are perceived throughout baseball and I lost score sometime around the end of April. Just add Canada to the list of people who are annoyed at our baseball team.
What I don’t like is when this kind of garbage happens and obscures the things we really should be discussing. Naturally, I’ve spilled too many words on the incidents from Sunday. How about some real baseball talk?
— Ben Zobrist hit his third home run in two days. Nice timing, coming after the Escobar HBP and cutting the Jays lead to one at that point. Zobrist has hit second for the last two games, which is a very good thing for the Royals. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we can expect it to last. Moustakas was given a day off on Saturday, which is why Zobrist was second. Then, when Moustakas pinch hit late in the game and was drilled on the knee, he suffered a contusion and the Royals held him out on Sunday as a precaution. He also gets Monday off, so three days off is probably a good thing for the slumping third baseman.
In his last 129 plate appearances going back to June 23, Moustakas has hit .186/.266/.310. He has a 20 percent line drive rate and is hitting the ball hard 36 percent of the time during this stretch, but his BABIP is an abysmal .177. Maybe it’s a little bad luck. Maybe it’s karma for his hot opposite field start. Whatever the reason, he’s been a drag on this offense for over a month. It couldn’t hurt to drop him in the order with Zobrist on board.
— If the Royals do face the Blue Jays in the postseason, I would vote we put Madson deep in the bullpen. He’s appeared in four games against Toronto, thrown a total of 1.2 innings and surrendered nine hits and seven runs. To go along with his two hit batters.
— The Royals finally get an off day, their first since the All-Star Break. They look like a team in need of a day away from the diamond. They travel to Detroit and have 13 games in the next 13 days, which includes a 10 game homestand. They get six games against the fading Tigers, three versus the surging White Sox and close out the stretch with four games with the Angels, renewing a rivalry that started with the Royals sweeping them in the ALDS last October and then sweeping them in Anaheim with a couple of discussions between the teams back in April.