Games like Sunday are interesting to parse after the fact. A close one. Maybe one that could have gone either way. Bullets dodged late. And a devastating, knockout blow to end it.
Let’s start with the good. Which was basically all about Yordano Ventura’s start. For six-plus innings, he had it going on. Flat nasty. Unlike his last start in St. Louis, where the first four batters reached (and two of them scored), Ventura opened strong. He allowed a first inning hit to Kris Bryant and then basically shut the rest of the Cubs lineup down the rest of the afternoon. The non Chris Coghlan portion of the Cubs lineup, anyway.
Ventura didn’t exactly ease through the innings. There was some hard graft involved. But he kept his pitch count manageable by throwing anywhere between 12 and 19 pitches in each of his seven innings. What was most encouraging to me was his velocity. He tickled 100 a couple of times and gained strength as the game progressed. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, his velocity chart is very impressive on a cold, blustery afternoon at Wrigley.
That’s two very good starts out of his last three. And honestly, there wasn’t much to complain about in his start in St. Louis other than that shaky first inning. It looks like our Yordano is back to form. Which is very good news for a team with a starting rotation that looks like it’s operates on the precipice of a black hole far too often.
Good news, except this is baseball played on National League rules. And National League rules exist to handcuff their American League counterparts. Ventura had thrown 87 pitches through six innings and was slated to bat third in the top of the seventh. Undoubtedly, Ned Yost would have pulled Ventura for a pinch hitter had either Alex Rios or Christian Colon reached base. Instead, after both made out, Ventura walked to the plate. This isn’t to second guess strategy. Had this game been played in an AL park, Ventura certainly would have returned to the mound for his half of the inning. The near pinch hit opportunity is mentioned to note how close the Royals were to perhaps putting this game away. Had Ventura been removed, the H-D-H Triumvirate would have been activated for their full compliment of work. Of course, there’s no way of knowing how that would have turned out. Although we have a pretty good idea.
In the seventh, Ventura walked Miguel Montero with one out. He was wild pitched to center, where he was promptly removed for a pinch runner. With two outs, up strode Ventura’s kryptonite: Chris Coghlan. Entering the game, Coghlan owned a slash line of .207/.282/.422. He had just one game in 2015 where he collected three hits. It’s not an understatement to write he’s having a disappointing season.
Yet it should be noted, of the nine bats in the Cubs lineup, Coghlan was the only one who consistently hit Ventura the first two times up. Hell, yes, it’s a small sample size. But maybe Coghlan had an extra protein shake at breakfast. Maybe he was inspired by the Blackhawks win the night before. Maybe, just maybe, he was seeing Ventura exceptionally well for whatever reason. All we know going into the plate appearance was Ventura needed one more out to record his seventh shutout inning. Yost rolled the dice. He lost.
Managing in hindsight is simple. And delightful to those of us who write a blog. As fun as it is, I really try to avoid it, but sometimes you just have to scratch your head and wonder what the hell the manager was thinking. Third time through the order. Coghlan hit Ventura hard the first two times. A rested bullpen at the ready. Man, I’m not sure how you don’t go to Kelvin Herrera in that situation.
As Coghlan was for the Cubs, Alex Gordon was the only bat operational in another anemic offensive output from the Royals. Three hits, including the single that plated the Royals only run of the afternoon. Gordon also came up huge in the bottom of the 11th when he threw out Dexter Fowler at the plate for the first out of the inning, saving the game for the Royals.
It was a brief stay of execution.
Ryan Madson breezed through the tenth and it made sense to bring him back for the 11th. Runs were always going to be at a premium, so it made sense to be prudent in the managing of relievers. But the Royals half of the 10th inning seemed to take an extended length of time with a pair of pitching changes. Maybe that was the reason Madson wasn’t sharp when he entered the game in the bottom of the inning. From Brooks Baseball, here is his pitching chart for the 11th:
He was missing by a ton.
The first out was provided courtesy of Gordon. The second out fell just out of the reach of Alcides Escobar. Ballgame.
Yost could have done a few things differently here or there, but other than batting Omar Infante second, he didn’t do anything egregious that cost the Royals this one. Maybe he could have held Mike Moustakas and used him to pinch hit for Infante, then shifted Colon to second. Maybe he could have kept Hosmer in the the game after he pinch hit with a double switch. Whatever. Sometimes that is the stuff that can cost you games. When you play 11 innings and can only muster four hits, you’re not going to be scoring enough runs to win. The offense needs to get back into the groove.
The Royals return home in second place. They ready themselves for three against Cleveland, who have won seven of their last 10. The offense needs to find a pulse, otherwise the dreary end to May will follow them into June.