The Royals troubles on the road continue with another game of missed opportunities.
If you watched the first inning and then turned last night’s Royals vs. Tigers game off, you saw all you needed to say. For a game that didn’t feature a single run scored after the first inning, it was pretty eventful, but ultimately none of it after the opening frame mattered. And for the Royals, it was yet another loss with huge missed opportunities in a long line of losses with huge missed opportunities on the road. I’ve written a bit about this before, and I wish I could tell you that this is happening because of this or that, but I don’t know what the answer is. They just can’t seem to get the big hit on the road.
For the season, the Royals are now 24-50 on the road. They average just 3.74 runs per game away from Kauffman Stadium. They finished their home schedule 39-42 and averaged 4.14 runs per game. But after going 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and leaving 13 more men on base in a 2-1 loss to the Tigers, the pattern is impossible to ignore. Let’s take a look at the ineptitude.
In September, they are now 3-9 on the road and are a combined 23 for 101 with runners in scoring position with 93 runners left on base. Since the break, they’re 7-21 and a combined 40 for 187 with runners in scoring position with 189 men left on base. Yeesh, those numbers show how much trouble they even had getting runners on base at all for awhile on the road.
With that in mind, the good news is that I will absolutely take 10 hits and six walks on the road. If they were to do that again, I would bet heavily against them scoring just one run. In fact, prior to last night, the fewest runs any team had scored with 16 runners to reach base was two and that was only done six times. The Royals have now had exactly 16 runners nine times and have scored an average of 6.4 runs per game in those situations. That’s the positive spin.
The negative spin is that the Royals had 16 runners on base and only one scored. And the crazy thing is that the runner scored on a home run from the very first batter of the game, so he didn’t even get driven in by someone else. Let’s take a look at that home run, just so we have something to be happy about for a second.
But the strands started in that first inning. With two out and nobody on after the Melendez big fly, Vinnie Pasquantino and Edward Olivares singled, but Hunter Dozier hit a ball on the screws that went right to Victor Reyes in left. Tough luck? Yes. Bad results? Yes.
LOB Tracker: 2
In the second, Kyle Isbel singled with one out. Nicky Lopez followed it up with a flare to left that Reyes made a great catch on.
Then Isbel got thrown out trying to steal.
LOB Tracker: 2
The Royals were retired 1-2-3 in the third. It was almost comforting to not leave someone on for two straight innings.
LOB Tracker: 2
The fourth inning brought another Olivares single and then a two-out walk by Drew Waters. Isbel struck out to end the inning, though.
LOB Tracker: 4
A one-out walk by Melendez and a two-out single by Salvador Perez set the table up for Pasquantino, which felt awfully good. But he struck out looking.
LOB Tracker: 6
In the sixth, Dozier singled with one out, Waters drew another walk and Lopez walked with two outs to load the bases for Melendez. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to find out who the Sonic Slam contestant was, but he or she was probably pretty excited for it to set up the way it did. The Tigers brought in Andrew Chafin to face Melendez and he got him to ground out on the first pitch.
LOB Tracker: 9
The seventh had the juices flowing again. With one out, Perez walked, Pasquantino singled and Olivares singled. I had thought to myself when Perez got to second that I might consider pinch running for him. I know it’s still kind of early to lose his bat, but you could pinch run with Bobby Witt Jr., who was jus getting the day off and feel good if you need that spot in the lineup later. But they didn’t. I feel pretty confident that Witt would have scored on the Olivares single.
I mentioned the other day that I’m not going to spend time critiquing Mike Matheny’s managing decisions because they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. So I’m trying to avoid that, but I’m just thinking about this game situation and I honestly don’t think there was a wrong answer. I don’t hate not pinch running for Salvy, but it did end up costing them because Dozier struck out and Waters grounded out.
LOB Tracker: 12
Then in the eighth, the Royals had their first leadoff hit in an inning since the first with an Isbel single to left. And he was caught stealing on a hit-and-run that Lopez didn’t make contact with. That’s not on Isbel, but boy do you wish they hadn’t given away another runner. A second Melendez walk with two outs in that inning was followed up by a Michael Massey groundout and that was their last opportunity.
LOB Tracker: 13
The 13 they left on tied a season-high. They previously left 13 on against Arizona and this same Detroit team. Both those games were, shockingly, on the road. In the end, the only hit they got with a runner in scoring position was the Olivares single that got Perez to third. Not a great showing. But again, on the bright side, getting on base that much usually means good things, so if you’re focusing on process over results, there’s at least something there.
They also missed an opportunity to capitalize on Daniel Lynch’s strong start. He came out firing, striking out the first two hitters before he gave up a single to Eric Haase and then somehow gave up a home run to the corpse of Miguel Cabrera. His last home run came on July 25. He had one extra base hit, a double, since July 26. I don’t even think it was that bad of a pitch.
Sure you might want that a little lower, but for a guy who came into the game with an ISO barely higher than what Nicky Lopez is putting up, I don’t think anyone would have expected that result. But to Lynch’s credit, he settled down and I thought pitched very well.
Once again, his changeup proved to be an effective pitch for him, which is a trend we’ve seen over his last few starts. Yesterday, he threw it a lot actually going to it more than his slider. He threw 29 total changeups, which is a career-high for him. The results were pretty good. He got six whiffs on 18 swings with five fouled off and seven more put in play. He only had one called strike, but that’s alright because the pitch had some very real life.
That kind of movement on a pitch is something that I don’t feel like we’ve seen from him before these last few starts. He even threw some bad ones but because the speed variation was there, he didn’t get in trouble with it. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but pitching is incredibly simple and also terribly difficult. It’s about disrupting timing and eye level.
You can miss with a pitch if it has messed with a hitter’s timing or his eye level. If you don’t alter locations and speed, you can’t miss. It’s as simple as that. Lynch being able to rely on his changeup to go along with a fastball that you always feel like should be better and a slider that usually is a legitimate weapon could be what makes the difference for him.
The Tigers lineup is terrible, but even so, giving up two runs through six when you gave up two in the first is something to be proud of for Lynch. You know that I’ve been tracking the extra pitches. He just can’t seem to put hitters away, but it felt like it was better in this one. He got to two strikes on 13 of the 24 hitters he faced and threw 23 extra pitches before reaching a decision. I consider an extra pitch anything after the pitch directly following getting to two strikes. To be honest, there might be a better way to track it because sometimes you want to set up a pitch, but I’m going with it. It’s still a few too many, but also nine of the 23 came in two at bats, so I’d call that encouraging in a lot of ways.
I maintain that the ability to get to two strikes is not something we should be ignoring. This goes back to what I’ve been saying for a bit now, but I don’t think we can truly evaluate any Royals pitcher until we see how they fare with a different support staff around them and I’m choosing to see what Lynch has done this year as a positive stepping stone. Maybe I’m feeling charitable, but I think it’s fair to say that he has shown why people were so high on him and now it’s time for him to put it together with the right instruction.
Lynch should have one more start left unless the Royals do some different things in that final series. He hasn’t finished strong to this point, but a good start against the Guardians would be a mini-strong finish. He’s thrown 134 innings this season with his two rehab starts, which is a professional career high. And one more encouraging note is a strong seven percent walk rate in his last 13 starts of the season since coming off the IL. He has strikeout stuff and isn’t walking hitters anymore. The canvas is there. Now the hope is that someone can come in and help him finish a masterpiece.
A Couple Minor Thoughts
I just want to touch on two small things that could potentially be big things. Alec Marsh pitched for Omaha last night. It was his second AAA start. He didn’t earn a callup after going 1-15 with a 7.32 ERA in AA. But in that time, he did strike out 147 batters in 114.1 innings with very good stuff. He also gave up 27 home runs somehow. Either way, the Royals wanted to get him a couple more starts, so he got the chance to go to AAA and also got the chance to wipe his numbers away from AA. He gave up just one run on two hits over five innings in his first AAA outing with three strikeouts and three walks. But last night, he was better. He gave up one run over two hits, but struck out six and walked two.
The mental aspect of the game is so much more important than I think many of us give credit to and to be able to finish the year like that and see a AAA ERA of 1.80 could do wonders for Marsh’s psyche as he heads into an offseason. And I think it’s important to remember that this was his first full season. He got a few starts in rookie ball in 2019 after he was drafted and then didn’t get to pitch competitively at all in 2020. Last year, he made just seven total starts including the one he made in the Arizona Fall League. He was hurt. So he came back this year and got to throw 124.1 innings. I’m excited to see what he can do with a new development team behind him.
And the other pitcher who threw in that game who has me excited is Richard Lovelady. Remember him? The Royals removed him from the 40-man while he was recovering from Tommy John but did re-sign him. He pitched a scoreless inning and struck out three with a walk. That’s four scoreless outings and innings for him since his return with nine strikeouts and a walk. I would anticipate he’s added back to the 40-man and should be a part of a hopefully improved bullpen next season. Among him, Dylan Coleman, Scott Barlow, a healthy Taylor Clarke and maybe Carlos Hernandez, it’s not too difficult to see how the bullpen can be much better in 2023. There are no guarantees, but Lovelady pitching well would be a huge start.
I know we're not *done* done yet, but thanks for all the great work this year -- I've really enjoyed the articles!
No, Hunter Dozier didn’t have bad luck, he’s just not a smart hitter