Three games, seven runs, one win: not the exact way the Royals expected to break from post-All Star gate, but the world did not come to a screeching halt either.
Yes, we all know that the Royals’ post-break schedule featured or features 14 out of 17 games against teams with losing records, but the Rangers are not a bad team. Texas came into the series having scored 441 runs on the season and holding a +30 run differential. They ‘look’ like a better team than one that just reached .500 courtesy of the Royals on Saturday. The Royals and some bad luck, that is.
If not bad luck, at least unfortunate circumstances.
On Friday night, the Royals entered the sixth inning leading by three and with Jason Hammel throwing a no-hitter, but was already at 81 pitches on the evening. Bad things begin to happen to Hammel when the pitch count gets up past eighty. I was at the game and mentioned to my friend that this could become an interesting decision for Ned Yost. I was thinking more about a continuing no-hitter and less about impending doom.
At any rate, after getting one out, Hammel’s no-hitter went by the wayside with an Andrus groundball off of Hammel’s glove. Now, if you were there or watching the game, you noted that Hammel ground the pace of the game to a near halt. Five laborious pitches later, Nomar Mazara lined a ball into the outfield for a truly legitimate single.
There was a good deal of talk or tweets about how Yost should have had someone warming in the pen to start the sixth. I get the idea, after all I just mentioned above that Hammel has not demonstrated much effectiveness past once the pitch count rises, but you had a guy with a no-hitter AND a three run lead. I am not sure any of us in Yost’s spot has a reliever going as Hammel walks to the mound to start the inning.
That said, as pitch number 86 bounced off Jason’s glove to spoil the no-no, maybe you do get someone up (or at least get the damn tarp of the bullpen mound on a hot and dry evening)? If Yost had, given how long it took for Hammel to throw five pitches to Andrus and given that one could send Perez and the pitching coach and then Perez again out to the mound, he could have had someone ready to pitch to Adrian Beltre. It’s a stretch, but a feasible stretch.
Of course, the point really is that if Hammel had given up a run on four hits through five, Yost probably does have someone up in the pen for the sixth or at least sooner in the inning. It is, frankly, a bit of bad luck that Hammel was so good through five on Friday night.
Well, on to Saturday, where we were treated to Cole Hamels and Danny Duffy both pitching outstanding games. If you like offense, this was not your game, but if you like great pitching and good defense (I’m old and long for the good ole days when men were men and all that), this was your game.
Duffy entered the top of the ninth having thrown 86 pitches and allowed just three hits. In the ninth, one batter bunted and the other two hit balls with exit velocities below 75 mph. Not familiar with exit velocities? Neither batter hit a ball worth a damn. All that soft contact combined to somehow plate a run…the game’s only run.
Now, there was after game/in game/morning after grumbling about Duffy taking the hill in the ninth. I can see the mindset, except that Duffy was not only in control, but was at just 86 pitches: a number he had surpassed in every one of his starts this season. In 2017, batters have hit worse against Duffy the third time facing him that the second time through the order and, very small sample size alert, were 0-5 when facing him a fourth time.
I think it is a stretch to criticize Yost for sending Duffy out in the ninth, especially after the two hits he surrendered would not break glass. Frankly, now that HDH has become Question Mark, Joakim and Kelvin, I am not as eager to pull an effective starter as I might have been a couple of years back.
All that said, the Royals DID NOT SCORE ANY RUNS. The game was not lost because Duffy got stung by two bloops in the ninth, but due to the fact that the April offense has reappeared. Even with the win on Sunday, Kansas City has plated just 14 runs in it’s last six games: production akin to that seen as they stumbled out to a 10-20 start.
Newsflash: it is easier to win when you score a lot of runs. Debating bullpen usage in a couple of pretty unique circumstances this weekend might well be missing the point.
After all of that, however, the Royals somehow actually gained ground this weekend. They still have the second best record in the American League since June 1st. They are still, very much in the race. The question is was this weekend a result of odd circumstances or more about a team falling back to its true level?
Perhaps a little of both and that does not make Dayton Moore’s next fifteen days any easier.