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Weekend in Review: RISP and No Reward, an Overmatched Weekend and What's Next
The Royals had a measuring stick weekend and they fell way short.
This weekend reminded me a little bit of one from last August when they faced the Dodgers. They were completely overmatched and looked like they were playing a bit of a different sport than the team that eventually won 111 games. At the time, the Dodgers were playing some ridiculously great baseball and the Royals ended up snagging the third game of that series, which felt like a huge prize. I’ll get to the games, obviously, but the Royals at least made the third game of the series a game. The difference between that Dodgers series and this Braves one is that they got a great outing from Brady Singer last August and got a clunker this weekend.
I’ve got a flash sale going on right now for paid subscriptions that I should have announced on Friday, so I’m going to extend it a couple of days. In honor of Jackie Robinson Day this weekend, I’m giving 23% off paid subscriptions. Why 23%? That’s the number Jackie wore for the 1945 Monarchs, who were a big topic of conversation this weekend.
Remember, paid subscribers are able to comment and are eligible for giveaways such as tickets to the May 6 game where the Royals are honoring Lorenzo Cain. So if you’ve been on the fence, now is the time for a good price!
Does this mean they can never compete with teams like the 2022 Dodgers or this year’s Braves? I don’t think it does. It just shows where they are. To this point, the Royals have played a tough schedule. Their opponents are currently 10-6, 10-6, 5-9, 9-6 and 12-4 on the season. Want to guess which of those records the Royals have won a series against?
I picked the Twins, Blue Jays and Braves to win their division and picked the Blue Jays to win the World Series. No, that doesn’t mean that the Royals should be okay just losing to those teams all season long, but I’ll be interested to see if this club is actually better than the bad teams but way worse than the good ones as the season progresses.
Missed chances might be the theme of the 2023 Royals season so far. They’ve lost three times as many times as they’ve won, but they’ve either led or had the tying or lead run at the plate in the seventh or later in eight of those 12 losses. They’ve lost two games they led late and lost yesterday when they tied a game late. Not to play that game too much, but even winning two of those three would have them at 6-10 and that feels a lot better. But anyway, part of the reason that it feels so dire is that the Royals have a tendency to get the runners on, but they can’t get them in.
They actually have 155 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position, which is middle of the pack. It’s the 16th most. Their 26 hits in that situation are 29th. Right now, I bet you’re expecting me to tell you that they’re just suffering from some bad luck. They’re not. I mean, a little, sure, but nothing outside of the ordinary. Their xBA is .197, which is just .009 higher than the actual batting average they have with runners in scoring position. They do have sixth-biggest gap between SLG and xSLG, at least among those underperforming, but the xSLG is still just .318, so it’s not like they’d be a lot better.
It’s not everyone. I think it should be noted that MJ Melendez is hitting .286/.375/.571 in 16 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Also, Nicky Lopez is hitting .429/.429/.714 in eight plate appearances. But third-best is Salvador Perez and his OPS is just .732. Vinnie Pasquantino is seventh-best, hitting .133/.381/.200 in 21 plate appearances. Five Royals (Jackie Bradley Jr., Hunter Dozier, Matt Duffy, Nate Eaton and Nick Pratto) have combined for 29 of the 155 plate appearances and are 0 for 29 with one RBI (a Dozier groundout).
The good news is that these samples are all so monumentally small that if, say, Kyle Isbel went something like 4 for 8 with a double with runners in scoring position in the next six games, he’d be hitting .316/.476/.421. That’d be a lot of opportunities, but my point is that when numbers can jump so much in such a short amount of time, they’re generally nothing more than noise. But there clearly is some sort of issue here that the Royals have had to deal with. League-wide, teams actually hit better with runners in scoring position than with men on base. The OPS for the Royals drops by 79 points.
They might just be bad situationally. We’ll find out the answer to that as the season progresses. My guess, though, is that they’re pressing in a bad way. They’ve swung and missed at 33 percent of pitches they’ve swung at with runners in scoring position. That’s third most in baseball. They’re behind the Cardinals (26th in baseball in OPS with RISP) and the Reds (somehow sixth) and just ahead of the Angels (24th) and the Rockies (25th). They’re 12th in whiff percentage with nobody on and right around league average. That’s a pressing issue to me. The good news is that pressing doesn’t last forever. The bad news is that I can’t tell you when they’ll stop.
The other issue is they simply don’t have enough good hitters right now. I think Michael Massey can be a really nice piece on a good team. He’s lost right now. Isbel should be hitting eighth or ninth, not fifth or sixth. Edward Olivares is too streaky to count on, but when he’s struggling, he’s nearly unplayable. Hopefully that sorts itself out as guys get out of early-season funks or get replaced with others who can help. I think the Royals have players who can win a championship at the top of their lineup. I think they have a couple of guys who can win a championship if they’re hitting at the bottom of the lineup. They need another impact bat and another competent one to fill in the middle. Not to sound like a broken record, but that’s what this season is for. It’s to spend the year (not the first 16 games) determining if they have that or if they need to go get it.
Friday - Braves 10, Royals 3
Brady Singer had a terrible game. It was 3-0 after three batters and 7-1 after two innings. There isn’t much to say about him that the line doesn’t tell. It was kind of a weird one when it was all said and done. He struck out eight and didn’t walk anyone. He gave up eight runs on 10 hits in five innings, but did it with a relative economy of pitches, 85. He gave up 14 (!) hard-hit balls. Nine of them were hit 100 MPH or harder. So what happened?
See all those pitches filling up the middle of the zone? The Braves didn’t miss them. His velocity was a little down, but not enough to worry about. His slider actually looked better than it has all season long and he dd get 11 whiffs on 25 swings. He actually had the Braves swinging at half of his sliders out of the zone, which is great for him. He ended up with 14 whiffs, which is a big deal because he hadn’t been getting swings and misses. But the middle of the plate was a problem.
There are two things I appreciate about Singer from this one. The first is that he wore it. He easily could have been pulled during that first inning or anytime between the middle of him getting smacked around and the end of the second, but he stayed out there to save the bullpen a little bit. And he looked better after the second, though it didn’t matter. So I appreciated that. And the second was he actually took ownership after the game.
My breaking point with Singer came in 2021 when he had a bad start against, I think, the Rays. And all he could talk about was how good his pitches were. Nothing was his fault. In this one, though, he understood what happened and talked about it. He said his stuff was good (I really think it was), but his location was just terrible and he needs to work on that. It’s simple, but it’s true. And I think that’s another step in his evolution. Now, that’s two bad starts in a row for him. A year ago, I’d be panicked. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt for now. His next start will be against a decent Rangers offense. We’ll see how it goes.
The offense had chances. They went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position, and even down 8-3 in the fifth, could have gotten into the game. The bases were loaded with one out, so a big hit could get them to within one or even three. And Olivares hit a ground ball that led Austin Riley directly to the third base bag when he was able to throw to first to get the inning-ending double play. They had a runner on second with one out in the first after they’d already scored and didn’t score again. They had the bases loaded with one out in the third and didn’t score. They had a runner on second with one out in the eighth and didn’t score.
Would they have won? Doubtful. Could they have come back? Yeah, I mean, I think it’s fair to say that when you put yourself in that many situations to score, you can. But they didn’t and that’s the story of so many games already.
Saturday - Braves 9, Royals 3
Remember how I said I wasn’t worried yet about Singer because of a couple bad starts? Well I was ready to talk about how I am worried about Kris Bubic after one bad start, but then the news came that he had forearm tightness. Ruh roh. Honestly, no analysis of this game matters with that kind of injury that put him on the 15-day injured list.
I question the coaching staff here. After the game, Bubic said that his forearm tightened up early. The next day, Matt Quatraro said that they should have been a little more cautious about it. We don’t have an answer yet as to what the end result is going to be on this injury, but forearm injuries are always scary because they tend to be the precursor to the dreaded Tommy Johny Surgery. I feel like this is one of those all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares situations. Not all forearm injuries become TJ, but most (maybe all?) TJs stem from forearm injuries.
Either way, it’s a concern and it explains a lot of the issues we saw from Bubic. I was thinking a little if maybe this could be the dead arm a lot of pitchers get toward the end of spring given that Bubic didn’t make his spring debut until March 11. So that’s certainly a possibility, but I don’t think I could even begin to speculate about anything beyond that.
I also question yet another use of Ryan Yarbrough in a big spot. He replaced Bubic when it was 5-2 after five and had a great sixth inning. The Royals got a run on a Dozier single and Bradley double and Yarbrough was back out for the seventh, which I was fine with. He got into a little trouble, but got out of it. What I don’t understand is why is he out there for a third inning with the Royals actually in the game? He bridged the gap. Turn it over to the guys who you think can close out games and give them a shot to keep this game within reach. But he was out there in the eighth and gave up a two singles with one out and then the control was just gone. He threw a wild pitch, hit a batter and walked in a run. Carlos Hernandez came in to try to clean up the mess and ended up walking in a run of his own and giving up a two-run single.
I’d have loved to see Hernandez escape that, but that’s on the coaching staff for putting him in a very difficult spot. I appreciate learning how he handles that, but I don’t know why Yarbrough was given a third inning of work when he struggled in a second. This is one of those situations when a first-time manager, first-time bench coach and first-time pitching coach made a mistake that I hope they learn from.
And, of course, the offense didn’t come through when they could have. In that sixth inning, the Royals had a runner on second with one out for the top of the order and Bobby Witt Jr. and Melendez both made outs. Witt ended up with his third consecutive three-hit game, but he missed a chance there. Once it was 9-3, it was over.
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Sunday - Braves 5, Royals 4
This one stung a bit. I wonder how much you can take away from a game like this where the weather was so cold. It’s not that it doesn’t count because it obviously does and both teams had the same conditions, but sometimes games like this can lie a little bit. After both teams hit rockets all night on Friday and the Braves continued that on Saturday, it calmed a bit. Less than half the batted balls were hit below 95 MPH, so both Zack Greinke and Bryce Elder benefited from that.
I thought Greinke looked good. He struck out six in six innings, which was the first time he’d gotten more than five in a game since August of 2021. He got whiffs on all his pitches but his two-seamer and he only threw seven of them. His four-seamer got hit a little bit, but the difference in the game was defense. In the third inning, the Royals gifted the Braves runs and, I think, Greinke’s ERA will ultimately not pay for it if scoring gets changed, but there wasn’t an error given, which I think is wrong. With a man on first and one out in that third, Ronald Acuña Jr. hit an absolute rocket to third base at 112.1 MPH. Tough play, yes, but Matt Duffy is a big leaguer. I think he should have caught it. Maybe I’m being unfair, but that’s my opinion.
Where this becomes fact is on the next batter. Matt Olson hit a sinking liner to right field and Olivares played it about as poorly as possible.
With Sam Hilliard on second after the Acuña single, that obviously scored him and with Olson getting to third, it scored Acuña too. Now with one out, a sacrifice fly scored Olson from third and the Braves had put him another crooked number in this series. Let’s say that I am being unfair with the line drive and Acuña should have been on base. Olson hits that ball to right and let’s even say Hilliard scores. I don’t think Acuña can go to third even because he had to wait a second to make sure it would drop. Innings can’t be assumed to go the same way they did, but let’s say it did. Riley flies out to right and then Sean Murphy, menace to society, flies out to left and one run scores. It’s a different ballgame.
The Royals did score one in the sixth to make it 4-2 and then Pasquantino was clutch for them in the seventh with a game-tying home run.
That’s just a nice swing and while he didn’t have a great series, he’s now hitting .343/.439/.714 in his last 10 games with three homers, four doubles, six walks and just five strikeouts. The Royals have an offensive star.
But Scott Barlow struggled yet again. He got Eddie Rosario to strike out on two pitches, but left a pitch in the middle to Ozzie Albies and then gave up a ground ball that got through to score him and that was that. The Royals went 1-2-3 in the ninth and their best chance at a win was squandered. It was a lost weekend.
The Week Ahead
The Royals continue their homestand as they finish their season-series with the Texas Rangers. Yep, the season will be 19 games old and they’ll be done facing the Rangers for the year. I guess of their 29 opponents this season, they’ll be done with three of them, if you include the Braves and Giants, so that’s sort of interesting in a non-interesting way. We just saw this Rangers club, but this time they’ll start the series without Corey Seager, so they’re down a bit, but it’s basically the same team. We even get two repeat pitching matchups with Jordan Lyles vs. Jacob deGrom and Brad Keller vs. Nathan Eovaldi. The new one is Singer vs. Martin Perez in the finale on Wednesday afternoon.
If we learned anything from last Tuesday against deGrom, it’s that he appears healthy. He averaged 98.8 on his fastball and got 10 whiffs on it. He got six more on his slider and four more on his changeup. He’s one of the best in the game when he’s actually on the mound, but the Royals weren’t completely helpless against him, particularly Pasquantino. You almost want to say that you go into the game hoping he’s not on, but if and when he is, you try to work him as much as possible just to get him out of the game. He just throws a lot of strikes and you don’t want to get down in the count against him either, so it’s a tough proposition. If nothing else, we get to watch a great pitcher work, so at least there’s that.
And then they hit the road and travel west to face the Angels where they’ll likely skip the fifth starter to wait on a decision with that spot with Bubic’s injury and pitch Greinke, Lyles and Keller against Tyler Anderson, Reid Detmers and, yes, Shohei Ohtani. The Angels are still the Angels. They’re not doing enough around their two superstars, but they are at least doing more this year. Anthony Rendon is still healthy, for now. Hunter Renfroe has been a very nic addition. Logan O’Hoppe has been a rare catching prospect to hit right away. Gio Urshela has been a nice addition for the lineup. But Anderson has struggled after getting a big contract. Detmers has looked good but the results have been so so. Patrick Sandoval has been great again with the results, but the peripherals are iffy. Their bullpen has done some good work. I don’t know if they’re a good team, but I think they might be. I just think they need to help their top guys a little more.