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Eight (in the Sixth) Is Enough
Their biggest inning of the year turned a back and forth game into a rare laugher.
Lou Brown of Major League fame describes a winning streak as three in a row. And he even proclaimed in the movie that it has happened before. But to get to three in a row, you have to get to two in a row first, and the Royals had only done that one time this season. Until last night. After losing the first two in the series against the league-worst Oakland A’s, they won on Sunday and then welcomed the White Sox to town. The White Sox came into the night better than the Royals, A’s and Cardinals only. This series represented an opportunity for both teams to bank some wins.
And the Royals drew first blood.
They did so early with a run in the first on a Bobby Witt Jr. single, followed by stolen base, a Vinnie Pasquantino single and a Salvador Perez sacrifice fly. That started a bit of a back and forth when the White Sox tied it in the second and then scored two in the third to take a 3-1 lead. But the Royals offense has shown repeatedly over the last few weeks that they don’t roll over. I wrote about how good they’ve been for the past 15 games and that’s now the past 16 games after last night’s outburst. And it started with MJ Melendez showing his prodigious power.
That came after a Perez single that he couldn’t have placed any better. In the fifth, they got a leadoff double from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Pasquantino traded places with him with a ringing double to the corner.
But Zack Greinke struggled some again and gave up a home run to Gavin Sheets to tie things up in the top of the sixth. That’s when all hell broke loose for the Royals and gave us all a glimpse at why the White Sox are one of the worst teams in baseball this season. I’ll get into it, but let’s go through all 12 (12!) hitters that inning.
Edward Olivares singled
Nick Pratto was hit by a pitch
Maikel Garcia walked
Michael Massey singled, Olivares scored
Bradley doubled, Pratto scored, Garcia scored
Witt flied out
Pasquantino grounded out
Salvador Perez intentionally walked
Melendez singled, Massey scored, Bradley scored
Pratto doubled, Perez scored, Melendez scored, Olivares scored
Garcia struck out looking
Just typing it was exhausting! This was all against Dylan Cease. To say that Cease has owned the Royals in his career would be an understatement. Coming into last night, Cease had made 12 starts spanning 66.1 innings. In those innings, he allowed 49 hits and 24 runs (19 earned) with 78 strikeouts and 29 walks. He gave up six runs on eight hits in his first career start against the Royals and hadn’t given up more than three in any start since then. In fact, last year, he gave up three runs to the Royals total in three starts.
So to enter that sixth inning with four runs against him was a win in itself, though Cease has been pretty rough this season. Still, some pitchers just seem to own some teams and to break through, no matter the circumstances is big. So they get to this sixth inning and Olivares sneaks a ball down the first base line for the single. When Pratto got hit, I thought it was a good chance to get a run or two to add a couple heading into the later innings. In my opinion, the inning shifted with Garcia’s first plate appearance.
With two on and one out, Garcia gave himself up. He wasn’t even hiding it. He squared to bunt before the pitch. The White Sox had Cease step off and look to the runner at second to try to get Garcia to show what he was doing, and he didn’t hide it then either. But the first two pitches were out of the zone. Garcia did bunt the third pitch but it went foul and he wasn’t to be deterred. He continued to square, but instead of taking the first out of the inning, Cease couldn’t throw him a strike and the bases were loaded. That was the end of the day for Cease. White Sox manager Pedro Grifol brought in Aaron Bummer, a lefty, to face a run with three lefties in four hitters.
Only Massey has turned things around and he put together a very pretty swing on a 1-1 pitch to get the first run of the inning home.
I want to highlight this at bat just a little bit because I think it showed a difference for Massey.
He took the first pitch for a strike, and it was a pitch he couldn’t do much of anything with so he took it. I’m fine with that. Then the second pitch was at the top of the zone, maybe a touch above it, and he took it. That felt like a pitch Massey was swinging at a couple weeks ago. Which led to Bummer getting a 95 MPH sinker a little too much over the plate to be able to take it to left for a hit.
Bradley’s double was maybe a bit of fortune coming back for the Royals after all the hard-hit outs early this season.
Now this is where the inning really shifted. They had scored three, but they had runners on second and third with nobody out and the top of the order due up. This had to be a big inning. Witt appeared to be trying to hit a fly ball deep enough to score the run, but it didn’t work. That’s one out. I was sure Pasquantino was going to make it happen. But nope, it was a soft groundout to first that didn’t allow the run to come home. Look, three runs is a nice inning, but that would have potentially been the most disappointing three-run inning ever.
With Bummer still in, the White Sox elected to walk Perez to get another lefty in there to face him. And on a 2-1 pitch, Bummer came inside on Melendez with a 95 MPH sinker and Melendez just took an easy swing to single to left-center to drive home two.
And after an Olivares walk loaded the bases for the fourth time in the inning, Pratto turned a great inning into an excellent one.
That’s eight runs on five hits when the score was tied 4-4 at the start of their turn at bat. If it feels like we’ve seen that a lot, it’s because we have. Against the Royals. But this time, it was the Royals doing the damage and putting a game out of reach. The 12 runs were a season-high. The 14 hits were tied for their second-most of the year. And now to update the numbers, over their last 16 games, the Royals have hit .279/.349/.470 as a team with 5.6 runs per game. We’re getting awfully close to a true 50/50 dividing line, so it’s sort of up to you to determine which version of this offense you believe is real.
I could sit and break down Greinke’s start. He was fine enough. He gave up one run that should have never happened, but Olivares made another error. And then the next two were set up by an unfortunate situation where he went for a ball and made contact, which resulted in everyone being safe. The truth is that Greinke’s job is to keep the team in the game and be a little bit of nostalgia while he chases some milestones. And that’s okay! But there’s just not much to break down with him unless he does something extraordinary in either direction.
What I do want to note, because I think it’s important, is the work Max Castillo did. Greinke exited in the sixth inning and gave way to Jose Cuas, who got the win with two pitches. Then Cuas was replaced by Amir Garrett, who got Elvis Andrus looking and then he lost his pregame meal on the field. And Garrett is no Jonathan Heasley, so he left the game and was replaced by Castillo, who was the third pitcher to be called up on this homestand because the bullpen needed some length. With a big lead, Matt Quatraro turned to Castillo to just take it home. And he did it.
The odds were that the game was never going to be in question, but we saw some rough outings from Castillo last year after he came over in the Whit Merifield deal. He gave the Royals 2.2 innings, which allowed them to not have to use any of their top bullpen arms (other than Garrett). Carlos Hernandez, Aroldis Chapman, Scott Barlow, Joshes Staumont and Taylor and Taylor Clarke all got the night off. In a four-game series, that could play big. And Castillo was keeping the White Sox off balance. His slider was very sharp, getting four whiffs and four more called strikes. The sliders they did hit were hit softly too. He’ll probably be rewarded with a return trip to Omaha at some point, but it was nice to see that.
And it was nice to see another win. Usually we have to wait for days to after we get one, so hopefully that’s something they can build on and they can start to put a dent in their brutal start to get back to something resembling respectability.