Royals Offense Displays Diversity in Sweep Clincher
Facing one of baseball's best pitchers and staffs, the offense found a way.
Corbin Burnes started his season with 58 strikeouts before he walked a batter. While the Royals have increased their patience this season (okay, Carlos Santana was added, which is really the difference but still), that still seemed like a formula that would lead to a tough go of it for the Royals offense. And it absolutely was!
Burnes ended up giving just two runs on two hits over six innings with nine strikeouts and, yes, one walk. Of course it was drawn by Santana. But even before they were able to get to the Brewers bullpen, they did some things that impressed me. Maybe my standards are a little low for this unit, but I liked the way they handled their at bats.
Let’s start with the second inning when the Royals got their two runs off him. Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler were handled quickly. Each saw four pitches and they swung through five of them between them. That was notable because they only swung and missed seven times the whole game against Brandon Woodruff, as I noted yesterday. But then Kelvin Gutierrez came up, and he’s shown off some really nice swings since he’s taken over for Hunter Dozier.
Two curves missed and two cutters were fouled off and Burnes went to his sinker. I’m not entirely sure why he went with that pitch when the cutter had been his moneymaker all year, but he did. And he made a really good pitch actually.
Gutierrez pulled in his hands and was able to hit a ball to left field to at least extend the inning. Of course, Michael A. Taylor was due up next and to say he’d struggled since the end of his season opening seven-game hitting streak would be offensive to guys who have struggled. It was hard to imagine a guy who’d hit .208/.269/.250 in his last 104 plate appearances was much of a threat against Burnes.
After maybe feeling like he made a mistake with the sinker against Gutierrez, he threw six cutters to Taylor. The fourth of the plate appearance was the 18th three ball count Burnes had gone to all season. To that point, he’d thrown 36 innings. That’s really pretty incredible. But Taylor worked it to three balls and then after a called strike in a perfect spot, he threw another cutter, but this time he missed and he missed badly.
One barreled ball traveling 437 feet at 107.5 miles per hour later, the Royals had taken a 2-1 lead. That’s certainly one way to score.
While the Royals weren’t able to push across anything else against Burnes over the next four innings, their approach is what got him out of the game after six. In the at bat following Taylor’s home run, Cam Gallagher swung at a slider and then a curve that he had no business swinging at, but then adjusted and before you could blink, it was another three ball count. It ended on a cutter in a perfect spot, but the bottom of the order was starting to actually work the count a bit and maybe cause Burnes some problems getting as deep into the game as Woodruff did the night before.
Nicky Lopez led off the next inning with another three ball count, taking until the seventh pitch to strike out. Two batters later, it was yet another three ball count, but this time it was Carlos Santana, so who else would draw just the second walk of the year off Burnes but him? Through three, the Royals had forced Burnes to throw 55 pitches. The first five saw 18, the next seven saw 37.
Whit Merrifield would add another three ball count and even though they’d only been able to get one guy on base via a walk and another on a fielding error, the Royals had Burnes up to 92 pitches. Sometimes the best way to get to a dominant starter isn’t to truly get to him at all. It’s just to get him out of the game. And that’s what they did with some tough plate appearances that led to the Brewers needing to go to J.P. Feyereisen in the seventh instead of Burnes getting through eight and being able to get directly to Devin Williams and Josh Hader.
All the hard work to get Burnes out of the game paid off immediately when Jorge Soler obliterated a ball. He can’t let Taylor have anything. He hit the ball 0.1 MPH harder and five feet farther than Taylor’s second inning home run.
This one tied the game. The Royals had three runs on 879 feet of home runs. And then the other dimensions kicked in.
Gutierrez continued to impress by ripping a single to left at 107.8 off the bat. Then Taylor worked a walk, his first since May 5th and second of May. It was an impressive plate appearance because he had fallen behind 1-2 with a called strike and a sort of ugly swing, but he adjusted to Feyereisen’s slider and was able to get the count full and ultimately work the walk. That led to the Royals turning back the clock to the mid-80s. There was so much bunting that you’d think it’s a national holiday (okay, that was terrible and I apologize).
Gallagher laid down a gorgeous bunt, as far as bunts go, moving pinch runner Jarrod Dyson to third and Taylor to second. Now, I mentioned on Twitter that I didn’t like that bunt because I don’t like setting up a situation where you need a ball to the outfield when you have Lopez coming up. He’s the hitter the defense loves to see when they bring the infield in. So what did he do? Of course, he put a bunt down that only Feyereisen could field and there as just no way he could get Dyson at the plate and the Royals had a lead.
Then in the eighth, trailing, the Brewers turned to Brad Boxberger, who we all remember not so fondly in Kansas City. Honestly, he’d been fine for the Brewers, but we all know the truth and you could just see it unravel for him. A single to right from Salvador Perez was followed by a wild pitch to get Salvy to second. And on a changeup that he really should have done a lot more with, Alberto just served one into right field. The ball was hit a gentleman’s 57.5 MPH, and the saving grace is that it was so soft that it took a bit for anyone to get to the ball and Perez was able to score and Alberto was able to go to second on the throw.
Dyson actually hit a ball hard to deep center that moved Alberto to third and Alberto ended up scoring on a wild pitch on yet another walk from Taylor.
So if you were scoring at home, the first three runs were scored on mammoth home runs and then the next three were scored on a safety squeeze, a squirt of a single and a wild pitch. We can discuss which is more sustainable later, but that’s some offensive diversity.
In all, the Royals offense walked three times, stole two bases, hit two bombs, sacrifice bunted, ran the bases incredibly well and ended up with six runs. Some of that was absolutely some good fortune, but it’s hard to win without that in the long run. Their ability to do all of that will come in handy, if only they can get Soler going to provide the thump, you can see a path toward this offense being able to do enough to win some games.
Taylor’s Big Game
I’ve already talked quite a bit about Taylor in the offensive portion of this, but a 1 for 2 day with two walks and a big two-run homer marks arguably his best offensive game since the first two games of the season. I don’t harbor any feelings that he’s a star, but I think it’s fair to think he can and should be better than what we’ve seen since that scorching hot start. For all his issues, he’s carried an ISO of .200+ a couple times before in his career and had never really struggled to drive the ball the way he had this season. He’s absolutely someone you aren’t afraid to upgrade from, but the hope is that last night was the start of him getting back to at least serviceable.
Of course, the big part of Taylor’s game is his defense, and outside of a bizarre week or so where he really struggled, he’s been outstanding. He’s tied for 13th in all of baseball in defensive runs saved, and last night he absolutely saved a run when he robbed Jackie Bradley, Jr. of a second home run.
That was the definition of smooth. You could make a pretty compelling argument that he saved the game there. Between that and his home run, that’s a signature game. Will it matter in the end? Not if he doesn’t pick things up, but that was a fun game to watch the Royals center fielder.
I’ve written in this space and so many other spaces about the issues Staumont has had when working back to back days. Last night was no different. Of course, he wasn’t helped when Merrifield biffed a throw in an attempt to get his old college teammate for the first out, but Staumont’s velocity was way down. It was nearly three miles per hour below his season average of 97 at the time (down to 96.8 after last night). His max velocity didn’t even come especially close to his season average. That’s certainly not what you want.
He’s now allowed four runs on the second day of a back to back and just two in every other situation. While that’s not entirely fair because three came on May 4th against the Indians and the one last night was unearned, it’s also fair to be concerned. He still gave up a ringing double to Kolten Wong and walked Christian Yelich (albeit on some rough calls from the umpire) before ending the game on a gift probably makeup call to end the game. In all, on the second day pitching in a row, he’s now thrown 10.1 of his 65.2 career innings with 15 of his 51 hits allowed, 13 of his 27 runs, 10 of his 37 walks and just 12 of his 75 strikeouts. It’s something to work on, but hopefully the velocity yesterday was nothing more than a blip.