Nearly Silent Offense and a Terrible Strike Zone Doom the Royals
The Royals can handle losing without help, but another brutal night behind the plate pushed them along.
Let me get one thing straight before I start my rant. The players have to make plays. Until the strike zone is computerized, there will be mistakes made. I can’t for the life of me figure out why people like that human element, but they do and it’s here for at least the next couple seasons while they test out the computerized zone in the minors. The Royals are very much responsible for their poor play, both over the last five games and last night specifically.
But man, I’m getting real tired of what I’ve started calling the choose your own adventure strike zone. In the first inning, Griffin Canning was a mess. Whit Merrifield singled to start the game and he had Canning’s full attention. He did throw a great pitch to Carlos Santana to strike him out, but then walked Andrew Benintendi, struck out Salvador Perez as Salvy got himself out on a bad pitch after missing two pitches he should have handled. Then Jorge Soler walked on four pitches that were not close.
Up came struggling Hunter Dozier, and Canning threw ball one to him as well. Or did he? According to Adam Hamari, it was a strike. You tell me.
Now, Dozier then took matters into his own hands and couldn’t do any damage, but the whole at bat changes when it goes from a guy who has thrown five straight balls to a guy who finally got strike one.
Now fast forward to the third. Brad Keller was, dare I say, cruising. He had gotten the first two batters and was 1-2 on Justin Upton. Then he threw an absolutely perfect pitch at the bottom of the zone for strike three to end the inning. Or did he?
According to Hamari, it was ball two. In the words of the Angels broadcast, “…that’s a pretty good pitch.” Now, again, Keller didn’t handle his business from this point. He ended up walking Upton, then gave up a single to Shohei Ohtani and a two-run double to Anthony Rendon before striking out Jared Walsh. You can absolutely make the argument that Keller shouldn’t have let it unravel and you’d be right, but it doesn’t ignore the fact that he made his pitch. He should have been in the dugout.
It took 17 more pitches for him before he was able to get out of that inning. Instead of being through three shutout innings on 31 pitches, he had given up two runs and had thrown 48 pitches. The Royals are in a stretch where they have two off days between now and the All-Star break, so they need innings from their starters when they can get it. Not to get overly dramatic, but something like that has a chance to not only impact last night’s game but also the next few days as well. I want to reiterate that I do understand the Royals don’t have to fold when things go bad, but I just want to point out the impact of these calls.
And to add insult to injury, the Royals had a rally going in the top of the fourth. They had scored a run when Michael A. Taylor came to the plate. He probably would have made an out anyway, but on an 0-2 pitch, Canning threw this pitch:
It’s absolutely borderline, but come on. If you’re going to call the pitch to Upton a ball, this one is definitely worse. This probably didn’t really change anything, but being the very next half inning after the missed call torpedoed Keller, it just felt like a little extra.
Here are the balls/strikes for both teams from last night.
There were certainly some bad calls for both sides, but I just had to get that rant out of the way.
Okay, let’s talk about the actual game.
First, I thought Keller was pretty good actually. His overall line looks rough because Mike Matheny wanted to get him through six and he just hit a wall (maybe because he’d thrown an extra 17 pitches?) and because of those two runs that shouldn’t have been, but he was really sharp early. A six-pitch first inning was really nice. He was getting weak contact on his sinker. And he actually threw his four-seamer 24 percent of the time, which is down from his season average. I think he was really feeling the sinker.
The slider, though, wasn’t getting swings and misses. I think he was just getting too much of the plate with it.
He threw 31 total, got 12 swings and no misses actually. There were seven foul balls and five balls put in play. I thought the Angels did a nice job spitting on some decent ones, but overall, it just didn’t seem as sharp as it has been over the last few starts. His break was slightly less, but I don’t think it was enough to really make much of a difference.
I actually had a weird feeling throughout this whole series that the Angels had an idea of what was coming from Royals pitchers because they spent all three games spitting on pitches that they haven’t really spit on all year. I may be way off, but it just seems odd that they were so good at taking pitches when they really aren’t as a team, but that’s another story.
Anyway, I know I promised I was done with the umpire rants, but this was the first plate appearance of Keller’s sixth when it went off the rails.
You might notice at least one pitch that was in the zone and you can argue based on other calls for that fourth pitch that is grazing the zone. Either way, he walked Walsh before he hung a two-seamer to Max Stassi, got a really awkward bunt from Taylor Ward that resulted in a forceout and then gave up a double to Jose Iglesias on a pitch that I actually thought was pretty good. Oh yeah, and then a 70.5 MPH bloop single from Kean Wong.
On that bunt, I think the Royals missed an opportunity for a double play, which could have potentially changed things. Ward’s bunt went over the head of a charging Santana and he fired to second to get the force. I don’t especially have a problem with what he did, but it’s an easy second guess to think he could have flipped to Merrifield covering first and still had Merrifield would have still had plenty of time to throw to second to get Stassi. Take a look.
It’d be a risk. That throw from first to second is a tough one with the runner in the base line, so again, I’m not saying he was definitely wrong, but it does kind of feel like a missed opportunity looking back. How often do those come back to bite? Well, quite a bit. Obviously they ended up scoring three runs. I’m not sure if anything is different with the way the Royals offense is going, but what are we doing here if not looking at things like this here on ItC?
Oh yeah, onto that offense; for the second straight day, I’ve held off on talking about it because there just isn’t much to talk about. I mentioned the golden opportunity they missed in the first inning. In the fourth when they scored one run, they had second and third and nobody out. Dozier got this pitch:
And he popped out to the first baseman. I mean, come on. You aren’t going to do much offensively when the middle of your order gets that pitch and can’t do anything with it. Gutierrez hit one of his famous grounders that probably should have been fielded but ended up being an infield hit before the Taylor strike out I mentioned above and Nicky Lopez grounded out to end the inning.
And then they had a two out single from Lopez in the seventh, but that was their only base runner until the ninth when they worked two walks that were never going to go anywhere. It’s amazing to me that they scored 13 runs in the first two innings on Friday night and have only scored 11 total runs since then. It’s interesting how that seems to happen sometimes, but hopefully they can find their way out of it in what should be a test for them against a very good A’s team in Oakland this weekend.
Remember yesterday when I mentioned that they need to figure out how to avoid the truly long losing streaks and try to steal a win when they’re playing poorly? This series in Oakland is a perfect example of that. I’m not asking for a sweep (though I wouldn’t mind it), but they need to find a way to win at least a game and probably two. It seems like a tall task right now, so we’ll see how that goes.