The Royals scored five runs all weekend. Yet they won twice.
Welcome to the Ned Yost September Baseballing Experience.
It keeps happening. I’m dizzy. Confused. Maybe a little dehydrated. But most of all, I’m kind of happy.
Let’s just recap the insanity of the weekend in the Bronx.
James Shields. And some James Shields. With a dash of James Shields.
The Royals starter went 8.1 strong innings. It was as sharp as he has looked all year. The change-up was a thing of beauty. He threw it 32 times in his 97 pitches. I mean, everything was working for him on that Friday, but that change… Damn. His second most effective pitch was a cut fastball he offered 20 times. The Yankees put only four of those in play, never for a hit.
While Shields was doing his thing, the Royals bats remained in cold storage. Three hits against Michael Pineda. Sure, sometimes you have to tip your cap when the opposing starter goes out and dominates. But these are the Royals at the plate, so let’s just say they tend to help a starting pitcher along from time to time. Pineda certainly had his pitches working on Friday, thought. Location and sequencing were top notch and kept the already off balance Royals bats even more off balance.
The lone Royals run scored in the third when Alcides Escobar hit one under Chase Headley’s glove at third and hustled into second base. Smart, aggressive base running. The next batter, Nori Aoki lined one back up the middle to score Escobar and that was it for the scoring.
Wade Davis appears in the ninth for Greg Holland, who is still battling tricep soreness, and nails down the final two outs. Outstanding starting pitching, taking advantage of an error, one timely hit, and the Wade Davis Experience and the Royals have their win.
Lost in the zaniness of Friday’s game was Escobar’s plate appearance in the third that led to the error. He had an 11 pitch at bat.
From Brooks Baseball, here’s how it looked with PitchF/X:
Escobar takes a fastball for a called strike one. Then, swings at a pitch low and out of the zone for strike two. I’m going to pick on Escobar for a bit, but this is exactly the kind of plate appearance we’ve been seeing with regularity from the Royals batters. Take strike one, then swing at whatever the hell is thrown for strike two. It’s frustrating. Escobar isn’t the worst – or highest profile – culprit. But he does this regularly it seems.
At least in this instance, he’s disciplined enough to lay off pitches three and four, thrown way low by design in hopes that he chases. Then, Pineda attacks the zone. Escobar fouls off fastballs, sliders and change-ups in an effort to stay alive. Obviously, the seventh and the ninth pitches are out of the zone, too. Those are pitches that are close enough that Escobar has to be swinging. Besides, it’s good to foul those pitches off in that situation.
Anyway, 11 pitches into the plate appearance, Escobar gets a low change up, puts it in play and hustles to second. If that doesn’t happen, for all we know the game could still be going.
At least if the game was still going, Danny Duffy doesn’t make his start. And if Duffy doesn’t make his start, his shoulder isn’t tight. And if Duffy’s shoulder isn’t tight, he leaves after just one pitch and throws the entire Royals Universe into a collective panic.
I’ve never really seen anything quite like it. One pitch. And done.
I will admit I haven’t been Duffy’s biggest fan. I didn’t think he had what it takes to be a major league starter. Not stuff. That’s always been apparent. I thought he lacked a certain mental fortitude necessary to put hitters away on a consistent basis. I’m really glad I was wrong. His transformation to top-notch starter has been, for me, one of the stories of the season. His development and emergence has been exciting and necessary for the Royals in 2014. That it’s not his elbow that flared up is good news, but on the other hand the shoulder could be even more serious. The Royals sent Duffy back to KC for an MRI and we won’t know those results until later Monday. But I’ll just say that if the Royals don’t have Duffy in the rotation in September, their chances are less than optimal.
Liam Hendriks stepped in and gave up four runs in four innings. If the Royals were a team that could score on a consistent basis, I wouldn’t be too bothered with Hendriks making a few spot starts. But this is September. And the Royals struggle to score runs. This is the wrong pitcher at the wrong time for the Royals. And not to put the horse before the proverbial cart, a playoff rotation without Danny Duffy puts the Royals at a massive disadvantage.
Derek Jeter Day.
But let’s make this about Yordano Ventura. Ventura had just one clean inning, but worked around walks and singles in the other five. Then the Yost bullpen took over. Yet instead of the Three Relievers of the Apocolypse, it was two relievers with a special guest star. With Greg Holland out with a strained tricep Kelvin Herrera moves to the eighth and Wade Davis goes to the ninth. The bullpen gave the Royals three innings and the Yankees were shutout for the second time in three games.
The Duffy injury deservedly got the attention, but should we be worried about Holland? If not now, when? I understand the Royals have the Wade Davis Experience as a luxury – a reliever so dominant he can close without problem – but how long should we expect Holland to remain on the sideline? The Royals have a luxury few teams possess in three late inning, lockdown relievers. If one is subtracted from the three, it’s not like the bullpen suddenly becomes the Detroit Tiger bullpen, but still.
So right now, we don’t worry about the Holland injury. Get him some rest and have him ready for the stretch run. And in the meantime, hope the bats find their early August magic.
The magic number stands at 19.