Euphoria, Agony, Concern and a Win
Salvy did what the fans came to see in the first and then made an entire city ready to donate an ankle.
The moment felt inevitable. After the Indians scored one in the top of the first, Whit Merrifield doubled and Nicky Lopez walked and it just felt like it was meant to be. So up strolled Salvador Perez to the plate, one home run shy of 48, the Royals record. He was also one home run shy of 200 for his career, something only one Royals hitter has ever accomplished. You absolutely, unequivocally knew it was coming.
Zach Plesac put a fastball on the outer edge, and Salvy had a chance to extend those long arms and hit an absolute missile over the center field wall. I am not the type of fan who takes video at games. I’m not judging those who do. You fan however you want, but I’m not typically that guy. I had that feeling that I needed to take video of this from the game last night. So I did. And it just took one pitch to capture it.
You can sort of hear the crowd in the video, but it was truly something special that I was lucky enough to be a part of. Of course there was a curtain call requested and obliged by Salvy.
What he means to this organization and to this city is so hard to describe. I think back to the day the contract extension for him was announced this spring, and I thought about my reaction. I thought it was probably a year too long and maybe a few million dollars too much. I was wrong. Maybe when you look back from a baseball perspective, I won’t be wrong, but what he represents is worth every single penny. And it doesn’t really hurt that he’s putting up such an amazing season.
And all of that is why the entire city developed a knot in their collective stomachs when the video on the broadcast showed him being helped down the stairs. I guess I shouldn’t say the entire city. Those at the game didn’t really know, but word started to spread. What if the season was over? It could be worse. He at least got to 48 and got to 200, but there was so much opportunity for more.
After Merrifield doubled again in the top of the second and Lopez stepped to the plate, all eyes were on the on deck circle. I’m convinced that Lopez could have stripped down to his jock strap and walked on his hands and half the stadium wouldn’t have seen it. Eventually, the massive man who has become a folk hero emerged from the Royals dugout and was on deck. All was well. Ultimately Salvy struck out and while Cam Gallagher was out warming up Daniel Lynch, it seemed like the Royals might have fully dodged a bullet, but Gallagher eventually went back to put the gear on and he replaced Salvy in the game.
There was good-ish news after the game. It was a right ankle sprain and Perez was pretty convinced he was going to play today. We’ll find that out soon enough, but those first two innings really ran the gauntlet of emotions for the Royals and their fans. Even Mike Matheny spoke after the game about how he was still shaken by the injury. Hopefully we get to see four more Salvy games, even if he has to DH them. But if not, woo boy, what a season.
Lynch Struggled, The Bullpen Didn’t
Believe it or not, there was still a game to get to, and while the Royals were up 5-1 after the second inning, Lynch was really fighting through it. I’ve been pretty diligent about breaking down the starts of the Royals young starters this season because that’s what’s truly been important ever since the idea of actually contending was put to bed. But I think we’ve reached a point where there’s not much to glean. Lynch, like Carlos Hernandez and Brady Singer and probably Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic and maybe Jon Heasley, is tired. The sixth month of a big league season is one that is often cited as difficult for young starters in their rookie years, but after 2020, it’s even more difficult than usual.
He just didn’t have it last night. He got out of the first with just one run allowed, which is pretty good for him, but it’s pretty clear he’s out of gas. He threw 81 pitches in three plus innings and there were very few good ones. He got two whiffs on his fastball in 47 pitches and 25 swings. He also had two whiffs on his slider in 25 pitches and nine swings. He was getting rocked, even on many of the outs. The average batted ball against him was hit 99.4 MPH. Of the 13 batted balls against him, eight were 100 MPH or harder. Six were 104.3 MPH or harder. Only four weren’t hard hit.
So when light-hitting Austin Hedges hit his second ball at just under 105 MPH off Lynch’s hand, that was the end of his day. The reports on his health were fine, so no worries there, but Lynch’s final start of 2021 didn’t go especially well. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t success. He was so good for awhile when he came back from Omaha. He has that to build on. He needs to work on making his fastball a bit less hittable, but the slider is for real. I think his changeup can be a difference making pitch as well. He’s not a finished product, but I saw enough this year to feel confident that he can take that next step in 2022.
And like Tuesday night, the bullpen was needed. And like Tuesday night, the bullpen absolutely delivered. Joel Payamps did give up a run in his second inning of work, but he got the game into the sixth and passed it on to Greg Holland, who has gotten a lot of flack this season but has been quite good since he came back from the IL.
After two more perfect innings, he’s now gone 7.2 innings since his return with just two hits allowed and one walk. He’s struck out six. I don’t know if the Royals plan on bringing him back next season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. One thing that I think makes a lot of sense with him is making sure he has ample time throughout the season for some time off. I think one of the biggest issues for Holland is overwork, but if he can be a part of a bullpen where he throws 40-45 games throughout the year, he can probably be very useful. Just something to think about.
And after another really good inning from Domingo Tapia and a scoreless ninth from Scott Barlow, the bullpen went six more innings with one run allowed on four hits with three strikeouts and no walks. The starting rotation has really faltered lately, but getting innings from the start of the second half up until a couple weeks ago has helped to keep them fresh.
The Offense Came Alive
Back to the offense, after the Salvy injury, it sort of felt like they went into a shell. I don’t know if that was a coincidence, but it certainly happened. If you want to get technical, things turned around for Plesac after a mound visit during Lopez’s at bat in the bottom of the second. They really didn’t have a ton of opportunities. Plesac walked Andrew Benintendi in the third and Kyle Isbel in the fourth, but nothing came of either. The Royals did load the bases in the fifth with two outs, but nobody crossed the plate then either.
But once Plesac left the game, the offense went to work again. A Lopez double and then advancement to third on a Gallagher sacrifice bunt perfectly set up another contact play gone wrong with Benintendi hitting a sharp grounder to first that led to Lopez getting thrown out at the plate. That’s the 21st time they’ve been cut down at the plate, which is only one behind the Yankees for the most in baseball.
Thankfully for the Royals, Hunter Dozier has come alive.
This is the point where I go through his recent performance. Since June 28, he’s now hitting .262/.329/.445 with 17 doubles, four triples and eight home runs. Since the break, he’s hitting .260/.332/.447 with 12 doubles, four triples and seven home runs. And in September, he’s hitting .272/.352/.597 with six doubles, two triples and five home runs. As I keep emphasizing, any of those numbers are definitely helpful in a lineup.
He ended up scoring on another Indians wild pitch. If they didn’t score again, it would have been fine, but they kept piling on in the eighth. This rally started with Isbel’s second walk of the day. His .282/.364/.538 line with a walk rate of 11.4 percent and a strikeout rate of 13.6 percent will certainly work. Hanser Alberto plugged a gap with a double and then Gallagher brought him home to get the game to 10-5 and put it away.
In the end, it was a big win for the Royals, in my opinion anyway. It was their 73rd win, which guarantees that they won’t lose 90 games. Whether you buy it or not, it’s nice to see the loss column look a little bit less sad. The win also guaranteed that the Royals would have a winning record after the break for the first time since 2015. And if they can just finish 3-1, they’ll hit my preseason prediction, which you will all never hear the end of. It was also the franchise’s 4,000th win, which is pretty cool too.
Taylor Sticking Around
Before the game, the Royals announced they’d come to terms on a two-deal with Michael A. Taylor worth $9 million with $500k in incentives. I figured there would be a lot of disdain on Twitter about it, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I imagined. I think it’s because Taylor has been pretty valuable this year. It’s all defense, of course, but he’s been arguably the best center fielder in baseball. His DRS numbers are the best in baseball by a fair amount. He’s at the top of the OAA leaderboard as well, though the gap isn’t what it is in DRS. The point is that you can scoff all you want about center field defense at Kauffman Stadium being more important than some other parks, but it’s one of the biggest outfields in baseball and with a young staff, having a guy to go get it isn’t the worst thing in the world. Catches like this are fun.
The issue is that he’s not a very good hitter. He had one solid season with the bat in 2017 and has since been basically the same hitter every single year. His power spiked some in the short 2020, but it’s come back to the same levels it was in 2018 and 2019 and this is pretty much who he is. As I said on Twitter, if Taylor is your eighth or ninth best hitter, you’re in great shape with him roaming center field. If he’s your fifth or sixth best, you’re probably in trouble. If he’s seventh, well, that’s no man’s land and it’s probably somewhere between terrible and fine.
Looking at the free agent market for center fielders, the best option is Starling Marte and he will require an awful lot of years and money for a guy who will be 33 next season or a bunch of guys who are like Taylor, but not as good defensively. The trade market appears to be a tough spot as well with the asking price for both Bryan Reynolds and Ketel Marte exorbitant and likely a similar story for Cedrick Mullins. So when it came down to it, if the Royals wanted a center fielder who can go get it, Taylor is their best option at this time.
The money is right in line with his value. It’s not so much that if a better option arises, he can’t sit on the bench. And it’s not so much that he’s not tradeable. I was prepared for this day that we heard about them bringing him back. I thought I’d hate it, but strangely I’m fine with it. It’s on the organization to make sure he fits correctly, but to have a guy who can play defense the way he does is nice to know is there for the next couple seasons.
With Royals starting pitching dropping like flies, Angel Zerpa is going to make his big league debut tonight. He can always tell his friends and family that he made his debut against the reigning American League Cy Young winner, which is pretty cool for him. When the Royals added him to the 40-man roster this winter, it was a bit of a surprise, but everyone I talked to said that he had a big league arm and that some team would have claimed him in the Rule 5. He had a strong start to the season in High-A with tons of strikeouts and very few walks. In AA, he still struck out a lot of guys, but the walks were up and he allowed more hits than innings pitched. And then in his one AAA start that came because they simply needed arms, he got hit hard as well, but it was a short stint.
I’m not exactly expecting much. I doubt he’s going to be asked to go six innings or anything like that, so if he can get through the Indians lineup once with maybe only a run or two allowed, I’ll call it a success. Zerpa’s fastball can hit mid-90s. He has a slider that can also be very good and a changeup that from what I’ve seen is okay. I think his arm slot might be what gives him a chance before teams have seen him, but I also don’t think he’s quite ready. My guess is he gets this start and we see Ronald Bolaños for a start this weekend as well as the Royals try to limp to the finish line.