Three times this season the Royals dropped four games in a row. They did not want to lose five consecutive. Not now. Not in September.
Sure, this team is basically on cruise control. Entering Tuesday’s game on a four game skid, the club still held an 11 game lead over the Twins in the Central. Their playoff odds have been at 99 or 100 percent for at least a month. Still, losses incite worry. Worry can lead to panic. Panic… You don’t want to know where panic leads.
While a vocal minority of fans may be worried about the potential for a crash and burn, a four game losing streak isn’t really anything to get bent about. This is baseball. All teams hit lulls at multiple points during the season. The goal is always to minimize those moments and hope like hell they don’t happen in October. And guess what… The Royals have been really, really good at avoiding those during the 2015 season. Truly.
The Royals maintain an image of Zen. They have been through the wars. They know this September is about positioning and preparing for October.
That doesn’t mean they don’t stop working during the regular season. With a relatively healthy team for the first time since early July, they are gearing for the stretch run. On this September night, the Royals came into this game with a plan. Their scouting reports apparently told them that the way to get to Twins starter Kyle Gibson was to attack early in the count. That should be no problem for these Royals, right?
Let’s look at the first inning:
Ben Zobrist – One pitch. Single.
Alex Gordon – One pitch. Single.
Lorenzo Cain – Four pitches. Walk.
Eric Hosmer – Two pitches. A foul and a bases-clearing double.
Kendrys Morales – One pitch. A run-scoring double.
The carnage: Nine pitches, four hits, one walk, and four runs.
The funny thing about those pitches is that Gibson’s worst pitch – his first one to Hosmer – was fouled. All those other pitches weren’t exactly in a poor location. Yet the Royals hitters at the top of the order were ready for them and put them in play. Until that second pitch to Hosmer, they were all fastballs, between 91 and 89 mph. The Hosmer double came on an 84 mph change-up. The Morales double was on a curve.
The next batter was Mike Moustakas. He, too, swung at the first pitch. He fouled it off and then looked at four straight pitches outside the strike zone.
The Twins quickly got someone going in their bullpen. While the Twins have been effectively eliminated from the Central, they are still very much alive for the second Wild Card. The Royals are resting and figuring ways to prepare for October. The Twins are fighting for their spot. Gibson was fortunate to finally reach the lower third of the Royals lineup, otherwise known as Hack City. Salvador Perez looked at strike one, then saw six pitches out of the zone. He swung at four of them. He finally flew out to center on pitch eight, a slider on the lower outside corner of the zone. Alex Rios, now chicken pox free, after fouling off the first two pitches, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
From there, Gibson made adjustments. The Royals did not. In fact, the only Royal to reach base after the first inning barrage was Gordon, who added a double and a single to his tally.
The way the Royals starting pitching has been going of late, four runs isn’t exactly a magic number to get the win. Yet Edinson Volquez was up to the challenge. He got into a spot of trouble himself in the first inning allowing a leadoff single and then hitting the next batter, but like Gibson, Volquez was able to steady himself and get out of trouble with an inning-ending double play.
Here’s the great thing about baseball: While it’s September, there’s always room for adjustments. According to McCullough’s gamer, Volquez has been working with pitching coach Dave Eiland::
In between starts, Volquez credited Eiland for sharpening some imperfections in his delivery. Eiland shortened up Volquez first step, which improved the tilt on Volquez’s pitches and added downward action on his fastball. Volquez required that quality on a fastball to Trevor Plouffe in the first inning. With two men on and one out, Plouffe hit into a double play.