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Long, Wild Day Ends in Royals Split
Each team had an easy win after an early explosion, but one of the two bottom-feeders almost lost theirs.
Maybe the math doesn’t back this up, but the general consensus is that most doubleheaders end in a split. Yesterday followed that path. Okay great! Nothing to write about. I’ll catch you tomorrow. Only for a team that is 56 games under .500, so much happened in a sort of crazy day that there is plenty to discuss. I guess we should turn to Maria and start at the very beginning because it is, in fact, a very good place to start.
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In the first game, the Royals failed to score in the top of the first when Brady Singer took the mound after three start starts with decreased velocity and even worse results. And here’s how things went for him:
Single (one run scored)
Single (one run scored)
Single (two runs scored)
Forceout (one run scored)
That’s nine batters, four hits and five runs scored in the first inning. Coming into the game, the White Sox had scored 26 runs in September with 12 walks as a team. Singer gave up five and walked two in one inning. In fact, it was the second time he’d given up five in an inning to the White Sox. They would score another off him before he left during the sixth inning, which means to that point, they’d scored 12 of their 32 runs for the month off one pitcher in 10.1 innings. That’s not great!
The final weeks of the 2022 season offered little in the way of positives for the Royals. Bobby Witt Jr. slumped down the stretch. MJ Melendez saw his numbers drop seemingly every day. Daniel Lynch struggled. Jackson Kowar couldn’t get anything figured out. I could go on, but you get the idea. What was something the team and fans alike could look forward to was the opportunity to watch Singer take the mound and give the team a real shot to win every fifth game (or so). That earned Singer a spot on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and began a season from hell for the guy we thought could be a rotation anchor.
His spring training was abbreviated, but I really do struggle to put a lot of blame on the WBC because he came back and pitched quite well in a couple of starts at the end of spring. It pushed back his first start to the fourth game of the year, but he was good in that start too. I suppose there could be something there with the WBC and the timing of Singer starting to turn his season around after a rough start in early May does make sense, but I just have a tough time thinking how big of a deal that might have been. Either way, Singer looked pretty good for awhile.
From May 11 through August 14, Singer made 17 starts and had a 3.62 ERA in 102 innings. That’s good! In his first six starts after the break, he had a 2.85 ERA in 41 innings. That’s very good! It sure looked like he had found his footing and was going to end his season the way he did in 2022 and could be a cog next to the surprising Cole Ragans in the 2024 rotation. But on August 19 against the Cubs, something troubling happened. Yes, he struggled. That happens. His sinker, though, averaged just 91 MPH. That’s concerning. His velocity was already down this season, from 93.8 MPH last season to 92.3 MPH ahead of that start in Chicago.
But to be down to 91? That’s a big issue. It was just the sixth game of his career that he’d averaged less than 92 MPH and was the lowest average velocity on his sinker in any game in his career. For what it’s worth, all five games with velocity below 92 came in 2023. Yesterday was his 94th career big league outing. His 21 lowest average velocities have come in 2023. That’s a big, big problem. And it’s a problem that continued yesterday. He averaged just 90.8 MPH on his fastball, his new career-low. His hardest sinker came in at 92.5 MPH, which is a full 1.3 MPH slower than last year’s average sinker.
The Royals say he’s not hurt. He says he’s not hurt. Maybe he’s worn down. The one out he got in the sixth surpassed last year’s career-high in innings pitched at the big league level, but he did actually throw 167 last year when you account for his innings in Omaha. He made his 28th start yesterday, which is more than he’s made in any season in his professional career, so I suppose there’s some possibility there. And I guess it’s plausible that only throwing 14.2 innings in all of spring training has messed up his end of the season. But I just find all of that hard to believe.
I don’t know if something is actually wrong with Singer or if he needs to spend his offseason figuring out how to regain lost velocity, but I don’t see any need for him to pitch again in 2023. They may want to trade him this winter, but I think that ship has potentially sailed. Their best bet now is to figure out how to get him back to throwing 92-93 at least and then cut bait as soon as the right deal is available next summer. Whatever they do, continuing to put him on the mound is a mistake in my eyes. Give his starts to Anthony Veneziano and let’s see what they have in the tall lefty.
Game two was a little more fun for awhile. The Royals returned the favor to the White Sox. They weren’t able to get their first five men on base because Bobby Witt Jr. just had to hit his 109 MPH missile into Zach Remillard’s glove. But they were able to turn a single, two batters hit by pitch and a walk into their first run. They got a sacrifice fly from Matt Duffy to make it 2-0 and then Logan Porter got to make his first appearance on a big league field as a player. He took a curve in the dirt and then took a curve that he probably should have hit about a mile for a strike. But he didn’t take the third pitch.
What a cool moment for Porter. He signed with the Royals as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and actually got an at bat in AA that year, but went back to the rookie league in 2019 and hit .352/.481/.648 (as he probably should have as a college guy). The lost 2020 hurt guys like him more than anyone, I think, because he had a chance to keep up what he did in rookie ball, but didn’t get to play a meaningful game until 2021 when he hit .241/.368/.451 in Quad Cities. He was great last year, hitting .301/.442/.476 across AA and AAA and then went back to AAA this year and wasn’t as good, but he finally got his shot at 28 years old and ended up having a great game. He was 2 for 4 with two RBI and was hit by a pitch. Pretty cool.
After a four-run first, the Royals came back with a four-run second with a punctuation by Michael Massey, who loves playing in whatever it is they’re calling that park on the South side.
A Kyle Isbel double, a two-out Witt walk and a single by Salvador Perez put the Royals up by nine runs and they were on cruise control. Until they weren’t.
See, Jordan Lyles pitched this game. And he was actually on cruise control until he wasn’t. The White Sox didn’t get their first hit until Eloy Jimenez homered to lead off the inning. Lyles retired the next three in order meaning he’d retired 15 of the first 16 and had an eight-run lead. Then the unraveling happened.
Lenyn Sosa singled on a grounder to Maikel Garcia. It was a 44.9 MPH dribbler. I point that out because the narrative on Twitter or X or whatever that stupid site is called now was that Matt Quatraro should have gotten Lyles out of there quicker, and I want to point out why that’s a silly complaint. In a game with an eight-run lead, Lyles had retired 15 of 16 and is on the team almost exclusively to throw a bunch of innings. There was no reason to have someone warmed up ready to go given the game situation and there was no reason to warm someone up after Sosa hit a ball slower than the speed limit on many surface streets.
A hanging sweeper from Lyles to Remillard made the game 9-2 as Remillard hit it down the line for a double. At this point, I think it’s maybe worth having someone get up to play catch. You know, just in case. And sure enough, Taylor Clarke started stretching and throwing a ball. Yoan Moncada grounded a single to center on the fourth pitch to make it a 9-3 game. Okay, maybe Clarke should start throwing with a little more earnest. And he did. Two pitches later, Andrew Vaughn hit a rocket double to make it 9-4. One pitch later, Luis Robert hit a soft liner to left to score Vaughn. Now it’s 9-5 and Clarke had been throwing with intention for three game pitches.
I’m not sure there’s a world where a reliever is ready in that time. They stalled a bit, but Lyles faced Jimenez and the at bat ended predictably with Jimenez singling to left field. I think there’s a small argument that you stall long enough to get Clarke ready, but that’s a tall order for a reliever to get hot that fast. I think rather than blaming the manager and making snide comments about him sleeping on the bench as we see way too often, it might not be a bad idea to consider context and actually blame a player for not doing his job. Lyles was given a nine-run lead and imploded in the sixth inning, an inning that is presumably one that he should have no issue finishing with a huge lead given his reported hunger for those innings.
Clarke came in and was stung by the tight zone that both teams had to deal with and walked Carlos Perez before striking out Trayce Thompson for the first out of the inning and then giving up a well-placed double to Gavin Sheets that an error from Isbel allowed him to get to third on. Then Sosa hit a sacrifice fly to left to tie the game. that was it. That’s how fast a nine-run lead can disappear. I don’t think anyone would expect doing this against the White Sox, who, again, came into the game with 26 runs scored in nine games in September. They had scored eight or more runs in a game just 16 times all year and then did it in one inning.
It was ugly. It was kind of the perfect encapsulation of the season for the Royals and for Lyles. But, the plus side of the 2023 Royals is that they generally don’t go into hiding when adversity hits. In the top of the seventh, they just went right back to work. Porter got hit by a pitch and Dairon Blanco walked with one out. A Garcia single scored Porter to give the Royals the lead back. It would have been nice to get more, but they did tack on another in the ninth with a Blanco single and two stolen bases that led to a Witt sacrifice fly.
Carlos Hernandez made things interesting in the ninth as he’s now programmed to do apparently, but the Royals held on by the skin of their teeth in a game they should have been pulling guys from in the seventh inning.
I did think there were some interesting happenings in the bullpen in the two games. Angel Zerpa looked good in short relief. It was only 13 pitches, but I’d like to see him incorporate the slider more if he’s going to be tried in that role. With Austin Cox out for a long time, Zerpa could take hold of the role that Cox was likely to serve next season. I think there’s a future there for him doing that.
And Jackson Kowar pitching in game one looked really good out of the bullpen. He was getting whiffs on his fastball and even had one spinning at close to 2500 rpms. His changeup was fantastic and his slider looked good too. It’s an arbitrary endpoint and I’m not ready to say he’s good or anything, but he’s given up two runs on seven hits over 7.1 innings in his last six outings with seven strikeouts and two walks. He’s getting a shot to prove why he shouldn’t be non-tendered in a couple of months and if he can continue this for the last 16 games, I’m at least willing to listen.
That’s a lot to have happened to lead to a 1-1 day, but such is the life of doubleheaders. I’ll be very interested to see how Alec Marsh looks tonight in a bulk role after Steven Cruz starts things off as an opener. If he can get some chases (and the White Sox do plenty of chasing), he could have a big strikeout game and continue to gain some confidence heading into the offseason.