Article titles are overrated, don’t you think?
A sixth straight loss at home and a third straight game where the Royals had runners on base in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to extend or even win the game. As I said on Monday, almost every team losses five out of six at some point and even three straight at home, but I am not convinced that every team is going to lose eight out of nine and six straight at home. I could be wrong, probably am, and certainly the losing is exacerbated by it coming at the beginning of the season.
The Royals were hoping for big crowds this year and, from a public relations standpoint, this losing streak could not come at a worse time. The fans will flock back to Kaufmann when (if) the winning starts, but it will take a lot of wins for the pre-season excitement felt throughout the Royals’ fandom to be rekindled. That’s a shame.
As for last night’s six straight loss, two divergent sources offered up some pretty good commentary on the night. Jeff Zimmerman at Royals Review broke down the bottom of the seventh inning and Lee Judge, who decided not to take a jab at stats, bloggers and anyone who has not been paid to play baseball, and instead offered up a decent rundown of the loss as well.
I will chime in with a few notes as well:
Ned Yost had an awful night as manager. Virtually every decision he made blew up. While I am not a huge Yost fan, he had truly terrible luck last night. While it is sometimes hard to determine who is actually to blame (player, coach, manager or just plain good baseball by the other team), in the end it all falls on the manager. Bad luck or bad managing, you can call last night either or both, but no manager survives a whole lot of games like last night.
On back to back at-bats, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder beat defensive shifts for singles. Without the shift, probably both of those balls are outs and no runs score. Now, the best defensive team in baseball the past five years has been the Tampa Bay Rays and they probably shift defensively more than any team, so there is obvious value in shifting. That said, if your pitchers don’t pitch to the shift then you lose the advantage. I don’t know, but it is hard for me to believe that with Alcides Escobar playing on the right field side of second that Ned Yost wanted Jose Mijares to throw a pitch outside to Prince Fielder.
Obviously, teams shift to some extent on almost every hitter and sometimes with every pitch, but the dramatic defensive shifts are what gets Joe Maddon a ton of credit and Ned Yost, at least for now, a ton of criticism. In my tortured mind, it would seem that if you believe that you have a great bullpen and good defense (which I think the Royals do believe) then you would shift less dramatically. Hindsight is 20-20 and there are certainly games in the past that Kansas City has likely won in no small part due to a dramatic defensive shift against a good hitter, but last night the Royals probably win by just playing straight up defense.
Also of note last night, Alex Gordon was caught stealing third. It was a very good play by the Detroit battery of Gerald Laird and Max Scherzer. Laird made the call for the Tiger pitcher to throw the second and caught Gordon leaving early. As I said above, sometimes the other team just makes good plays and I am inclined to believe that was the case here.
Why are the Royals obsessed with stealing third base? I am going strictly from memory here, but I believe Kansas City has stolen third three times this year and been caught (or picked off second) at least three times. Both of those numbers might be higher, but I know neither is lower. Three for six doesn’t get it done when it comes to stealing third and the sheer number of attempts tells us that it is a strategic decision on Yost’s part to steal third often.
The general theory would be that if a runner gets to third, he can score on any hit, most fly balls to the outfield, a portion of ground balls and, of course, a wild pitch. That all makes some sense, of course, except this Royals team, while it has not shown it, is generally expected to hit. If you have a team that you expect to hit and score runs, then why risk giving away outs at third base?
Keep in mind, we are not just talking about last night, the Royals came out of the gate stealing third base. It is easy to justify trying to manufacture a run when you have scored just one in two straight games, but Ned Yost came out hell bent on stealing third and bunting from day one. On day one of the season, everyone in baseball assumed the Royals could and would hit and score runs. Despite this, Yost insists on ‘being aggressive’, which thus far has translated into less runs and more outs.
Last night, Gordon may well have been running on his own, but it was done based upon the club’s philosophy of running the bases. Sure, Eric Hosmer is in a ridiculous slump, but I still like the odds of him singling in Gordon from second as opposed to risking making an out trying to steal third. Heck, Yuniesky Betancourt has been known to run into a baseball and drive it on occasion (actually fairly often thus far). I like my chances there (and you know I’m no Yuni-fan) better than risking the out.
Truthfully, right now, the Royals are a team full of players trying too hard and managed by a manager who is trying to impact the game too much. Pick a batting order and a second baseman, Ned, and just let it be. Take the extra base on hits, but put a premium on not making outs on the bases. Aggressive baserunning has translated into reckless baserunning on this team. For now, pull back the reins a bit and let your hitters hit.
If you believe you are a good offensive team, the runs will come without handfuls of stolen bases and sacrifice bunts. Oh, and by the way, Eric Hosmer may never have bunted in his life. Slump or not, he should not be trying to do so last night.
The season is far from over and many teams over the years have overcome starts just like this to have good seasons. With every mistake laden loss, however, the situation gets a little closer to desperation. As a group, the Royals are already playing and managing with a certain sense of desperation: that’s no way to play this game.