Orlando gaffe

The Missed Opportunities of 2016

Okay, the World Series is over.  The off season has begun and it is time to put 2016 to bed and turn the page for the upcoming 2017 campaign. Hope springs eternal and all that. Well, not so fast, my friends, I still want to revisit 2016.

On the morning of August 30th, the Royals awoke with 69-62 record and were just five and one-half games out of first place; only one and one-half games out of the second wild card spot. They had reached that point courtesy of a torrid August that came on the heels of an awful July. Of course, Kansas City proceeded to drop three straight one-run games after that and, despite lingering in the conversation for another couple of weeks, they were out of hope by mid-September.

Now we could and people have, look solely at those three one run losses.  We could, and people have, look at the ugly number of games in which Joakim Soria surrendered leads.  We could, and people have looked at, lots and lots of reasons the 2015 World Champion Royals became the so very .500 2016 squad. Today, however, I am going to look at some games that got away.  Three of these games were in April, when I am sure social media was full of ‘I’m just not going to get the upset about losing a game in April’ comments.  Here’s the thing about those early games or even a mid-July game: change a loss to a win just six times over the span of five months and Kansas City wakes up last August 30th with a 75-56 record.

Six games over five months….

April 20th 

The Royals are facing Detroit’s Jordan Zimmerman in Kansas City and it is no sin to lose to Zimmerman.  Yet on this day, Kansas City put two runners on base in the second and scored none.  They had two on with no out in the fifth only to see Alex Gordon thrown out in a rundown and no runners cross the plate.  Two more were on the sixth, two runners reached with one out in the seventh and the Royals started the eighth inning with a lead-off single.  No runs, NOT ONE.  Trailing 2-0, Chien-Ming Wang pitches the top of the ninth and allows another run.

Let’s pause for a moment and note that the previous day, Yordano Ventura was staked to an early 5-0 lead, but still took 98 pitches to get through just five innings. Hochevar pitched the sixth and then Danny Duffy allowed three runs in the seventh and Joakim Soria started the eighth and allowed another run, forcing Ned Yost to use both Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to close out an 8-6 victory. Now, if it had not taken five relievers to get through a game in which the Royals scored eight runs, does Wang pitch the ninth? Does he pitch the ninth if the Royals somehow plate even one run with the many chances the game had already provided?

At any rate, trailing 3-0, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez both home in the ninth and with two outs Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar both walk.  Seriously, Dyson and Escobar both walk in the same game and do so back to back in the ninth? Alas, all the cosmic indicators were for naught as Mike Moustakas struck out to end the game.

April 27th

The Royals were facing Nick Tropeano and the Angels on the road.  A two-run homer in the first by Eric Hosmer gave the Royal an early lead.  However, they then proceeded to put NINE runners on base over the next five innings and score none: NOT ONE.  Included in the futility was Jarrod Dyson getting picked off with Paulo Orlando on third base and, after an Eric Hosmer one out double, back-to-back fly outs by Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez, both on 1-0 counts. The Royals lost 4-2.

April 29th

In one of the very oddest baseball games I can remember, the Seattle Mariners beat the Royals 1-0 despite getting just one hit. Seth Smith broke up Kris Medlen’s no-hitter with a solo home run leading off the bottom of the sixth.  That was the totality of the Seattle offense that day.  The Royals, on the other hand, littered the bases with runners and plated none:  NOT ONE.

Kansas City had runners on second base in both the second and third innings, had two on with one out in the fourth only to see Alex Gordon hit into a double play. The put a runner on second two different times in the fifth: an inning that included our old favorite tool the sacrifice bunt and also include Salvador Perez being thrown out at third by the first baseman. Royals were on first with one out in both the sixth and seventh innings and did not advance, much less score.  Another runner reached second to no avail in the eighth.  In the final frame, Eric Hosmer led off with a single and stole second on a Kendrys Morales strikeout only to see the game end on a long fly ball to center to Perez.

June 21st

Remember the Bartolo Colon game? The biggest of men faced just one hitter to start the game, but the Royals managed just one run (and struck out 11 times) against a pitching train of Robles, Goeddel, Blevins, Reed and Familia.  They managed to squander an Escobar lead-off double in the fourth when, on a combined 10 pitches, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain struck out and Salvador Perez flied out. The Royals put two more runners on in the fifth with no one out and had two on with two out in the sixth, but yet did not score a run in either frame: NOT ONE.

July 6th

The Royals were in Toronto and trying to avoid a sweep.  Brett Eibner hit a home run to tie the game at two in the top of the eighth inning only to see Kelvin Herrera strike out the side in the bottom of the frame, but also oddly blow up at the same time.  Kelvin struck out the first two hitters of the inning on four pitches each, only to fall behind Edwin Encarnacion 3-1 and allow a double. That was followed by Michael Saunders single and a Russell Martin first-pitch double.  All that was followed by a three-pitch strikeout of Troy Tulowitzki.  This is almost just ‘one of those games’, except for the fact that the Royals stranded Alcides Escobar at third base with no one out in the sixth.  Escobar had broken up Marcus Stroman’s no-hitter with that triple, which also drove in Eibner (who had walked in front of him).  Two ground-outs (Dyson and Gordon) and a strikeout (Merrifield) on a combined SEVEN pitches allowed Stroman to escape without further damage.

This game also featured Salvador Perez first pitch swinging and grounding into a double play after Eric Hosmer led off the seventh with a single.  Yes, the Royals only left two runners on, managed just four hits and were facing a really good pitcher in his home park.  Still, they stranded a runner at third with no one out and saw one of their best relievers intermingle three dominant strikeouts with two doubles and a single in one inning.

July 17th

Here is a ‘Soria game’ for you, but he had plenty of help in this one.  Wade Davis had thrown 16 pitches the night before in mopping up an 8-4 win and, after all, you can’t use your closer in a tie game on the road anyway, right?  This one was quick as Soria threw all of four pitches to Tyler Collins and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to turn a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 loss.  While we can blame the ninth on Soria, he had nothing to do with the mess that was the third inning of this contest.

In the top of the inning, the Royals plated a run via a Dyson walk, Escobar bunt (yeah, bunts!) and a Hosmer single.  Morales followed with another single only to see Michael Fulmer strike out both Perez and Gordon to escape further damage.  The bottom of the frame saw Yordano Ventura load the bases, allow a run on a balk AND strike out the side.

Another less than fun fact, Fulmer threw strikes in 19 of his first 21 pitches, including first pitch outs by both Dyson and Hosmer to start the game.

July 28th

Yordano Ventura pitched a complete game, but lost 3-2.  After a lead-off single in the third, Ventura allowed two home runs and NOTHING else only to see the Royals go 0-11 with runners in scoring position. Cuthbert doubled with one out in the first and was stranded. Mondesi singled to start the third, stole second but was thrown out trying to advance to third.  Paulo Orlando was on second with no one out in the seventh and did not score and then there was the ninth.

Morales walked.  Dyson pinch ran for him and stole second base on the second pitch of Orlando’s at-bat.  With Dyson on second, down a run, the Royals almost had to tie the game, right?  It took Sam Dyson seven total pitches after the stolen base to induce a trio of groundouts by Orlando, Gordon and Eibner.

July 30th

Here’s a fun one for you (and Ned Yost).  Luke Hochevar had gone on the disabled list on the 28th and Wade Davis would join him the following day: one could say Ned was not exactly loaded for bear this day.

After Escobar and Cuthbert led off the game with singles, the Royals pushed them around the bases with a pair of ground balls to score one run.  Morales struck out to end the inning and the Royals offered little resistance to Martin Perez and Matt Bush the rest of the way.   Still, thanks to Ian Kennedy and Joakim Soria (see, no blame attached!), the game was tied at one entering the ninth.

Now, remember, Hochevar and Davis are gone and, as the game is tied on the road and Herrera is now the closer, he is not allowed to be used even though he had not pitched for three days.  Enter Brooks Pounders, who did manage to get the first two outs before Mitch Moreland sent everyone home with a walk-off smash into the seats.

August 4th

I guess we will pile on Joakim Soria at this point in the column as he faced Tampa with a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth and went single, walk (5 pitches), strikeout and home run to Brad Miller and the Royals lost 3-2.  HOWEVER, the offense (and Yost, frankly) could have helped out.

After mustering little offense aside from an Alex Gordon two-run shot in the fourth, the Royals threatened against Brad Boxberger in the top of the eighth.  Escobar and Cuthbert singled and they advanced to second and third via a Hosmer groundout. Kendrys Morales was intentionally walked and Jarrod Dyson pinch ran.  Now, ponder for a moment the idea of Dyson pinch-running with the bases clogged in front of him and be mindful that we have seen faster ballplayers than Cheslor Cuthbert, who occupied the base directly in front of Jarrod.  Sure, with just one out, Dyson might help to avoid a double play, but that’s perhaps not the best use of your fastest player.   None of it mattered – other than wasting Dyson – as Perez AND Gordon both struck out on three pitches each.  How many runs scored? None, NOT ONE.

Let’s move to the ninth with Kansas City now reeling from Miller’s three-run shot the inning before.  Paulo Orlando singles to lead off and then Billy Burns strikes out.  Does Burns bat if Jarrod Dyson was not used to no avail the inning prior?  Even with Dyson burned, why does Burns bat?  Lorenzo Cain would pinch hit and single for Christian Colon immediately after the Burns strikeout and both he and Orlando would advance a base when Escobar doinked the first pitch in front of the plate.  The game would end, sadly, on a Cheslor Cuthbert strikeout.

Now, Dyson is hardly a masher, but I don’t mind him hitting against the right-handed Colome instead of Burns.  Of course, let’s just accept that Jarrod was used in the 8th and speculate as to what might have been different had Cain batted for Burns and then Colon hit for himself.  Maybe nothing changes, but maybe, just maybe, something does.

August 5th

Lost in a great August run was this early month gem that saw Kelvin Herrera give up a 2 out, 2 strike home run to Devon Travis in the ninth inning that allowed Toronto to break a 3-3 tie.  In the bottom of the frame, Paulo Orlando reached on a one out error and was thrown out trying to steal second on the second pitch of Jarrod Dyson’s at-bat.  Five pitches later, Dyson would single.

Above are ten games.  Instead of losing all ten, what if the Royals had gone 6-4 or even 5-5.  Besides the obvious record improvement on that glorious August 30th morning referenced above, how would it have changed the team’s 12-19 record down the stretch (which includes a 4-8 phoned in finish to the season)?

Not included in the above litany of angst are the three agonizing one-run losses at the end of August and into the first of September.  Nor is the August 9th loss to Chris Sale and the Sox that featured Herrera giving up a three-run tenth inning home that was preceded by back to back Sox hits when Kelvin had two strikes on the opposing batters.  That particular contest had scads of what-ifs, but was followed by consecutive one-run Royal wins, so I decided to chalk that entire series up to the baseball gods.

Speaking of the White Sox, one might shrewdly point out the improbable seven-run ninth to rally for a win against Chicago on May 28th or the three-run eighth the following day for another come from behind win and say that for all the missed opportunities above, Kansas City had its share of lucky wins as well.   That is certainly valid, but I would also note that the above is hardly a comprehensive listing of missed chances.

Lest we forget the June 1oth loss to Chicago that featured a two home run game by Alex Avila (Alex Avila for the love of god!) and the missed opportunities aplenty in that contest.  How about a 4-3 loss to Noah Syndergaard in New York on June 22nd or a 3-2 loss to Seattle on July 8th that featured a Ventura wild pitch and Perez throwing error on the same play along with Orlando being thrown out trying to go from first to third on a single right in his line of sight?

Nope, let’s say we have accounted for our share of good and bad baseball luck and give me six wins out of the ten games referenced above.  I think we see a different Kansas City team play in September and maybe we have a not so relaxing but ever so much more exciting October.

In the end, however, what is the point of looking back and changing history?  Well, not much of a point to be sure, but as we go headlong into the off-season it makes sense to me to know how close this 81 win team was to being much more than that and, hence, how big and what kind of moves need to be made to ensure next year’s ten games of opportunity produce their share of wins.

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