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Balk This Way
The Royals win in the weirdest way possible. Again.
The Kansas City Royals played just about 54 and two-thirds seasons as a franchise before they won their first game on a balk by their opponent. Exactly five weeks later, they did it again. I’m not smart enough to calculate the odds of that, but I’d have to say they’re pretty low. Though I do think it’s worth mentioning that the first time was at the hands of the Mets and the second time was at the hands of the American League version of the Mets, so maybe the odds were slightly better. But a win is a win and one that I don’t think anyone expected with the way this game started.
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The way the game started is reason for some concern. Brady Singer, who had his start pushed back first due to “arm fatigue” and then due to his baby being born, came out and looked pretty sharp in the first inning. He threw six pitches and it looked like maybe his velocity was back. He threw four sinkers. They came in at 93.5, 92.6, 91.8 and 92.9. Sure, that works. Then the second inning was a disaster and here are the velocities on the 10 sinkers he threw, in order:
That’s an average of 91.2 MPH. In his last start, I speculated that maybe some of the lower velocity sinkers were changeups. I will say that it is possible that’s the case in this one based on some of the movement on the pitches. The Statcast numbers show he threw just two changeups, but they averaged 31 inches of vertical break and 13 inches of horizontal break. His sinker averaged 23 inches of vertical break and nine inches of horizontal break.
I think it’s at least conceivable that three or four of the sinkers were changeups. The ones with the most vertical movement combined with double-digit horizontal movement were also among the slowest sinkers he threw. But even if you believe that, which I’m not sure I completely do, the velocity is a problem, especially given that we’ve now seen it from him in three straight outings. This isn’t an argument about him needing to throw a third pitch. This is an argument that Singer at 91 MPH just isn’t good enough. He’s barely good enough at 92-93, if we’re being honest.
It’s because, while his slider is his swing and miss pitch, it all plays off the sinker. He can win at this velocity, but he has to have pinpoint location, and, as usual when he struggles, he didn’t. You’re not going to get results against any lineup when your 91-92 MPH sinker sits where so many of these did.
It doesn’t matter if the slider is perfect because hitters don’t have to fear it when they know a sinker is coming. It doesn’t help when the slider also sits in the middle as much as it did last night.
There are some good ones in there, to be sure, but that’s just too much of the plate for a guy without elite stuff. Credit where credit is due, he gutted out two more innings after giving up six runs on three homers in the second and the third inning. In some ways, I’m willing to give him a bit of a mulligan because as was pointed out by @RoyalsFarm on Twitter, he did just have a baby and man is that chair/couch/bed thing super uncomfortable. In other ways, though, this is the third consecutive start he’s looked like this.
I have no issue with the Royals holding strong on him at the deadline, but they may not be able to make a move with him after the season either if he doesn’t show something in the velocity department before the season is over.
Luckily for him and for the Royals, they continue to have a pretty relentless offense. It’s easy to say that it’s the White Sox and they stink because they do, but even though Dylan Cease is having a rough year, he’s still a guy who finished second in the Cy Young vote last year and did come into the night having struck out 176 batters in 148.1 innings. So yes, bad year, but you can’t question the guy’s talent. And the Royals bats looked like they were ready to go when the second inning came around after Singer gave up five. MJ Melendez walked and Edward Olivares doubled to give the Royals two in scoring position with nobody out, but they failed to score.
Then in the third, a leadoff triple looked like it was about to be wasted before Melendez picked up his teammates with a single to score the run. The chipping away had begun. The power portion of the evening began in the fourth inning when Nelson Velazquez led off with another home run.
Opposite field power is always impressive.
Then Michael Massey followed with an absolute bomb.
You don’t see a lot of balls get to that level of the fountains. Massey has his issues for sure, but 441 feet should get anyone’s attention. Then in the bottom of the fifth, Melendez drove in himself with another home run for the Royals.
At this point, the White Sox had scored six runs with their three homers and the Royals had scored three, which was sort of the difference in the game because the Royals also had the one run that didn’t come via the home run. It was frustrating, but they continued to chip. That led to a very interesting at bat in the sixth inning.
The inning began with Velazquez singling, Drew Waters striking out and Nick Loftin singling. That brought Massey to the plate with runners on first and second and one out. In watching, Massey’s gameplan was to get on base, even if it meant via the walk. He took the first pitch, which was a 94.6 MPH cutter right down the middle. But he took a borderline second pitch for a ball and then an obvious ball and then a bad call that went his way for a ball to make the count 3-1. But after the count was 3-1, Bryan Shaw tried to pick off Velazquez and threw it to center field, allowing both runners to move up.
From that point forward, it was clear that Massey’s approach had changed. He was so calm and patient. On the 3-1 pitch, he chased a cutter below the zone that was a clear ball and fouled it off. Then on the 3-2 pitch, he chased again, but put the ball in play and got the run home from third with an out. Maike Garcia was next up and he struck out to end the inning.
This at bat really got me thinking. I know exactly what Massey was trying to do, and I understand it, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. Even writing about it after the fact, I still don’t know. On one hand, the best way to score runs is to not make outs. The more batters who don’t make outs, the more runs you’re likely going to score. On the other hand, putting the bat on the ball in that situation more often than not was going to result in actually scoring a run. So was Massey better off doing what he could to put the ball in play and drive in an actual run or to continue with the patient approach to set the team up to potentially have a big inning?
Obviously, if you can tell me that the big inning was guaranteed to come, we know the answer, but that big inning was no guarantee. Yes, the top of the lineup was due up, so that swings the equation some toward staying with the approach of simply getting on base. But, again, the bases loaded with one out even with your best hitters due up is no sure thing. I’m not just being wishy-washy here when I say that I still don’t know what the right answer is. I at least appreciate that there was a clear situational plan for him even if I truly don’t know if I agree with it.
Starting in the top of that inning and through the rest of the game, I think it’s really important to call out the great work of two pitchers who haven’t had an easy time this year. Angel Zerpa came into the game in relief of Singer and he worked three scoreless innings. They weren’t great innings, but the Royals were able to come back because of Singer keeping the White Sox off the board in the fourth and fifth and Zerpa then handling the next three. His innings weren’t without baserunners with four hits allowed, but he threw 31 of his 47 pitches for strikes and didn’t walk anyone while striking out three.
He handed it off to Jackson Kowar in the ninth, who has weirdly looked kind of solid even though the results haven’t been there. It’s a business based on results, so nobody cares that he looks better doing it, but he has a big 22 games left this year to show something heading into 2024. But his scoreless ninth without a walk and with a strikeout, along with Zerpa’s work, is what allowed the Royals to have a shot in the bottom of the ninth.
I had a feeling that with Bobby Witt Jr. due up fourth that if he batted in the ninth, the Royals would win the game. And immediately Loftin grounds the ball to Tim Anderson, who is having an absolutely horrific year, and he threw a ball over Andrew Vaughn’s head to give the Royals a runner. Massey followed with a single to give the Royals two on with nobody out. Barring a triple play, Witt was going to bat, so I was going to be tested pretty hard. Garcia hit into a fielder’s choice, which brought Witt to the plate.
After being scorching hot for most of August, Witt cooled off some. HE did have a three-hit game against the Red Sox on Friday, but was hitting just .211 over his last nine games. It was enough to earn him a day off on Monday and he came back last night with his timing a bit off. But after a groundout and a strikeout, he hit a hard groundout in his third at bat and had a really nice swing on a lineout to right in his fourth at bat. So with Gregory Santos pitching him away, he just went with it and lined a double to right field on his softest batted ball of the night. That scored the tying run and put the winning run on third.
Salvador Perez came up in a spot that I can’t believe the White Sox didn’t walk him. I guess I understand the thought process. It was the righty vs. righty matchup and, let’s be real, Salvy hasn’t been especially good for awhile this year. But still, to pitch to him there is almost disrespectful. Of course, he went outside the zone in swinging at two of the three pitches with the third a very soft lineout to Anderson with the infield in. It could have been a soft single if it was placed differently, but it wasn’t and the White Sox then decided to walk Melendez to set up another righty vs. righty matchup.
I don’t know what happened in the head of Santos, but Matt Quatraro in his postgame press conference thought maybe the White Sox were trying to catch Olivares off guard. Quatraro mentioned that Olivares went to the plate and was kind of rushing to get his equipment on with Melendez being walked. So maybe they thought they could steal a strike.
But, see, that’s against the rules. Santos never came set, which means he balked and the Royals had their second balk-off win of the season, of the second half and in franchise history. Kowar finally got his first big league win in his 32nd big league game, and the Royals won themselves their first series since their seven-game winning streak. The White Sox are a gift that the Royals were happy to accept last night in a game that continued to show their resiliency. Wins are fun, no matter how they come, but I’m a big fan of the gift-wrapped ones.