I hesitated to use the term ‘star’ in the headline as everyone has a different set of rules as to what constitutes being a star. That’s not really the point of this article…or maybe it is.
Last night, Lorenzo Cain scored two of the Royals’ runs, one that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. He also drove in another run, the winning run, in the bottom of the tenth. He had three hits against three different pitchers in his last three at-bats. It marked the fifteenth time this season that Cain has gotten three hits or more in a game.
For the year, Lorenzo ranks eighth overall among all position players in fWAR (6.2). The names ahead of him on the list? Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Machado. Want to focus just on offense? Cain is 25th in wRC+ and 28th in wOBA. Don’t like the ‘new fangled stats’ because you cannot figure them on your TI30? Cain’s triple slash line is .307/.362/.483 with 32 doubles, 16 home runs and 28 stolen bases….all while playing stellar defense at a premium defensive position (he is 11th in defensive runs saved in the game, 9th in UZR, 14th in UZR/150, 2nd in Outs made Outside of Zone….there I go ago, new fangled).
Maybe you do not want to commit to the idea that Cain is a star, you probably need to come to grips with the fact that Lorenzo Cain is the Kansas City Royals’ best player.
Wins have been a struggle in September and last night, the Royals were coming off a total demolition. They left runners all over the bases, saw Yordano Ventura give up three runs in the fifth and seemed to be headed towards another frustrating loss. Then, however, the ‘good Royals’ started to show up. They pushed a run across in the seventh, showed excellent plate discipline in the ninth to tie the game and ended it in the 10th (good things happen when Gordon-Zobrist-Cain bat in a row). All the while, they got four innings of shutout relief from a bullpen that had looked a little too hittable this month. It was a very Royal win…and one it seemed that the team – and certainly the fanbase – desperately needed.
Momentum is a funny thing. If you bristle at the discussion of chemistry, then you certainly spit fire at talk of momentum. Baseball, in particular, has enough ebbs and flows attributed to momentum to make it seem irrelevant. Momentum in baseball, they like to say, is the next game’s starting pitcher. The Royals’ starter tonight is Johnny Cueto.
Cueto is coming off his first good start in six outings (after four good starts after acquisition – don’t let revisionist history get you on that one) which, at least publicly, has mostly been attributed to Salvador Perez simply setting a lower target. There are some who simply cannot take what the team says at face value and maybe they should not, but there is not a lot of sinister back story here.
Absolutely there is more to it than simply having Perez lower his glove a few inches. During his last start, Cueto was continually making motions after many pitches and between innings that clearly were related to him keeping his front shoulder closed. Listen, I think I know a few things about hitting. I admit I know jack about pitching, but I can tell when a guy is working on a trigger to get his mechanics in line. Likely that actual mechanical adjustment working in combination with a lower target yielded some positive results.
If I had to hack my way through Johnny’s fabulous mane and get inside his head, I would imagine he was thinking about his front shoulder between pitches and focusing on a lower target during the pitch. It’s not unlike having a whole bunch of crap in your head on the tee box in golf, but one solitary swing thought once you put the club in motion. The ‘lower target’ story line isn’t bull, it just is not the entire story.
Momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. The Royals need Cueto to stoke the momentum some more. They need Cueto to be a star on Thursday, just like Lorenzo Cain.