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Wasted Opportunities Galore
The Royals had chances galore and things turned out predictably.
One of the most frustrating things as a sports fan is watching your team put zeroes up. It doesn’t matter the sport. When you’re a spectator and the team you root for can’t score, it is one of the most helpless feelings in the world. And there’s something about missing scoring opportunities that ratchets it up even more. I don’t know if it’s the disappointment of missing out on a golden chance or what, but it also gets worse the more it happens. The first time is easier to let go than the second time, the second time easier than the third time, etc. So I guess what I’m saying is the Royals are super frustrating.
Last night was no different, as you probably already know. The Royals had a runner on third with less than two outs in each of the first two innings yesterday and by the time those two innings were over, they had the same score as when they got to the park to put on their uniforms. It’s not a new issue. Last season, the Royals hit .304/.317/.443 with a runner on third and less than two outs. That .760 OPS ranked 27th out of 30 teams. The average was a bit better, ranking 19th, but they didn’t fare well in those situations. Just to go back a bit, their .790 OPS ranked 24th in 2020 and their .800 OPS was also 24th in 2019. This isn’t new.
To be fair, they did rank second in all of baseball in sacrifice flies in those situations last year, so there were some productive outs at least. But the situation we saw in the first two innings was not in any way unfamiliar. Now, if you’re asking why they struggle so much, I think it’s a pretty simple answer unfortunately. They just don’t have enough offensive talent. Over the past few seasons, they’ve had a few good hitters, but they all hit at the top (which they should) and then it gets into the dregs of a lineup. So you’d assume that the quality hitters at the top would be the ones making their way to third and then the less-than hitters would be the ones wasting those opportunities.
That’s why it’s even more noticeable when the good part of a lineup wastes those opportunities. In the first inning, we got to see Bobby Witt Jr.’s first triple. And it was an absolute rocket. In fact, let’s take a quick look at it because of how beautiful it was.
That’s 105.6 MPH off the bat and he was flying around the bases. Victor Reyes bobbled that ball, but it wouldn’t have mattered. So anyway, back to the depressing topic at hand. Up comes Andrew Benintendi, who had been the best hitter through the first five games of the season. He’s worked walks, hasn’t struck out much and has one of the team’s four home runs. And then he just had some brutal luck.
He tried to check his swing on a knuckle curve, and you can understand why he’d b a bit surprised by that if he’d read the scouting report. Casey Mize, coming into this start, had thrown the knuckle curve to start an at bat against lefties less than any pitch. He’d thrown it 13 percent of the time. So my guess is Benintendi read slider out of his hand, anticipated the ball coming into him and when it didn’t, he checked his swing. Witt was going on contact and just got caught. He did a nice job of allowing Benintendi to get to second, but that was ugly.
Then after the Tigers scored two (there’s a wasted opportunity there too; I’ll get to it), the Royals had something cooking again in the second. Carlos Santana walked and Hunter Dozier singled to put two on with nobody out. That’s when Adalberto Mondesi came to the plate. He bunted and it went about as well as you’d expect it to go. With Dozier on first, who has slowed down considerably in the last year or so, Mondesi bunted it too hard.
I rail pretty hard on the Royals broadcast, but I thought they got it exactly right. While I hate the bunt in the second inning of a game you’re already trailing 2-0, especially with slow runners on ahead, Mondesi pretty clearly didn’t know what the goal of the bunt was. He was caught in between bunting for a hit and sacrificing and it led to one that was too hard and also right to the pitcher. If he’s laying that down with the only intention to move the runner, I’m guessing he actually gets the job done, but it was just poorly executed. He actually ended up stealing second, so the end result was honestly better than if he had gotten the sacrifice down, but I still hate it.
And from there, Michael A. Taylor struck out and Nicky Lopez grounded out and the Royals remained scoreless. Thankfully when the situation raised again in the fourth after a Dozier triple, the Royals actually came through. Mondesi worked a walk (his second in six games!) and again stole second. Taylor had the same chance he had in the second and tried to bunt for some reason, but it rolled foul. Then he hit a grounder to third that looked an awful lot like the play Witt made on Saturday to save the game in the 10th, but Jeimer Candelario is not Witt.
After a fly out from Lopez, Merrifield came through with a big two-out hit to tie the game, but Witt struck out looking. I wouldn’t call it a true wasted opportunity there, but it was 3-2 on him and a hit there would have been huge after Merrifield had stolen second.
And it wasn’t just the offense that wasted golden opportunities. The Tigers started their top of the second with singles from Candelario and Miguel Cabrera. With runners on first and third and nobody out and Akil Baddoo at the plate, it sort of seemed like Greinke worked around him a little bit, which sort of surprised me, but I also get with Spencer Torkelson on deck in just his seventh career game. And Greinke got Torkelson to 1-2 with a chance to put him away and get to a double play situation.
And he hit him.
You won’t see Greinke miss that much with his location very often, but he did in a bad, bad spot. The run came home and the bases remained loaded for Harold Castro.
Why am I calling this a wasted opportunity? Easy. It was Cabrera running at third. His average sprint speed this year of 23.1 feet per second ranks in the bottom 2 percent in the whole league. Let’s put that into perspective. Salvador Perez, who is just ridiculously slow, had a sprint speed of 25.1 ft/second last year. And even with time to get behind the throw, Benintendi just didn’t get much on it and it skipped to the first base side. To his credit, Cabrera had a great slide, but that’s an out they needed to get.
And then after not really wasting any opportunities for awhile, the seventh was a mess for Jake Brentz. He had his moments, but came into a tie game for his second straight outing and gave up two runs in 0.2 innings, just like he did on Monday afternoon. To me, there were two wasted opportunities here for the Royals. The first was on the pitch that Reyes hit to center to drive in the third run of the game for the Tigers. Here’s his pitch chart on fastballs.
You see the one at the bottom? That’s the RBI single. I don’t think it’s a bad pitch per se, but Brentz was working well at the top of the zone. I think it was a wasted opportunity to not try to climb the ladder there to see if he can get that third out.
But the other wasted opportunity was when the Tigers pinch hit for Tucker Barnhart with Eric Haase. He hit .283/.315/.592 against lefties last season. Dylan Coleman was warming up (and presumably either warmed up or close enough), but Mike Matheny stuck with Brentz. I’m not sure if he preferred Reyes from the right side (though I would hope not because Reyes is better from the right side), but it was a big time missed opportunity to not bring in Coleman to face Haase there. Maybe nothing changes, but I’d take my changes on him against the guy who hit .204/.272/.390 against righties last year.
There will be games throughout a long season where nothing goes right. And they’ll drive us all crazy. My concern is this has been a trend for years. If the Royals think they are a playoff team (and remember, I don’t and most outside the organization don’t), they simply have to be better in all of these situations. They can’t be leaving runs at third base. They can’t be missing chances for big outs at the plate. And they can’t be putting pitchers in matchups that aren’t advantageous. To me, this game doesn’t change anything in my thoughts about this team, but if they do think they can be more than what I think, they can’t have many more games like last night.
Greinke Concern and Some Appreciation
Through two starts this year, Greinke has given up just 10 hits in 11 innings and walked only two batters. He has a 2.48 ERA. That’s great! But he’s also struck out one batter and gotten nine total swings and misses out of 73 swings. I love the results and he’s shown that he knows how to pitch, but in today’s game, I just fear what’ll happen when he’s facing a better lineup than what the Guardians looked like on Opening Day and what the Tigers showed without Javier Baez and Robbie Grossman last night.
Out of 76 starts since the start of the 2019 season, Greinke has 11 games with five swinging strikes or fewer and two of those 11 are in his first two starts of the year. I think there’s good pitching left in the tank for him, so I’m not saying the end is here for him or he’s going to get hit around against better teams in better hitting weather, but I also think that the road won’t be terribly smooth for him unless he can figure something out to get a few more whiffs.
Last night, he threw the changeup more than anything and it got a couple whiffs on eight swings. His changeup is interesting and piqued the interest of Jeremy Guthrie on Twitter as well.
For awhile I thought he was legitimately asking and I was thinking that Guthrie probably knows the answer to that, so it was a little weird. But then he came back a bit later and answered for us.
Makes sense, right? Last night, he averaged 33 inches of vertical movement on his changeup, which is a pretty good chunk above average. He maxed out at 39 inches of vertical movement. That’s not quite Devin Williams territory, but it’s toward the top of the list. But his changeup also doesn’t move horizontally very much, which I think is sort of interesting. I wonder if hitters are expecting some movement there and then not getting it.
So maybe that’s the pitch that can help him moving forward. But if you’ll recall after Opening Day, he mentioned that he was wanting to use his slider more this year. He used it a lot against Cleveland, but then last night, he threw just seven. That’s interesting to me. What we know is that Greinke is an incredibly smart and savvy pitcher, so I think he will figure something out eventually, but he’s going to need to or else I think we might see some trouble down the road.
Oh, One Quick Note
The Royals last lead was when they won the game on Saturday. They’ve led at the end of three innings this season. It’s not ideal.