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Seeing How the Other Half Lives
The Angels wasted scoring opportunities, bunted inappropriately and the Royals capitalized on their mistakes.
Sometimes it’s pretty easy to see how the Royals came into the season thinking they could be competitive. Maybe they wouldn’t compete for a division title or anything, but they’d be a competitive team. They’re now 22-20 over their last 42 games. That’s roughly an 85-win pace over the course of a full season. If they maintain this pace for the final 66 games, they’ll finish somewhere around 73-89, which would be a game worse than last year, but seem like a monumental improvement after starting the season 17-37. And if they play more games like last night, it almost seems possible.
Now, the Angels are not a good team. They’re the bizarro Royals in a way. They were 27-17 and looking like they were finally going to get Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani to the postseason together. And then they lost 14 consecutive games, canned their manager and then just kept losing after that. So there are some things that happened in last night’s 7-0 win that probably wouldn’t happen this upcoming weekend against the Yankees. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to see the Royals play against the team doing the things we see from the Royals far too often.
Mistakes That Lose Games
Zack Greinke was good last night. I’ll get to more from him in a bit. But he was running out of gas as he entered the fifth inning. He started the inning by walking Jo Adell before getting a forceout for the first out. Brandon Marsh was up next and hit a chopper up the middle that Greinke snared and threw to second, but Nicky Lopez was unable to corral the throw. Next up, Andrew Velazquez lined a single to right that was hit too hard to score the run.
Now, I should point out that the Angels lineup without Trout and Anthony Rendon and with a struggling Jared Walsh goes about two deep. Their cleanup hitter last night came into the game with a .343 career slugging percentage. So when the bottom of the order sets up Ohtani and Taylor Ward, that’s about the best-case scenario for the Angels. But on this day, Greinke got Ohtani to chase a pitch that was a bit too far outside and he hit a weak groundball to Nick Pratto with the bases loaded.
You might recall on Friday night against the Rays, there was a similar situation. Instead of throwing home, Pratto took the sure out at first base and the run scored. It wasn’t a force at home, but I think if Pratto had thrown home, he’d have gotten the runner. This was a force and in learning from that experience, he threw home and got the lead run and set up a chance to get Greinke out of the inning, which he did after a fly ball to center off the bat of Ward. Crisis averted.
In the very next inning, the Royals turned to Amir Garrett, which I thought was sort of interesting with just one lefty up, Walsh. And Garrett threw him four straight sliders, the last of which was center cut. Walsh hit it 105.8 MPH down the line in right for a leadoff double. My brain immediately went to the bad place and figured it would be at least 3-0 before the inning was over.
But remember, the Angels have next to nothing after the top two in their order (or three if you want to give Walsh some respect for what he did last season). And Luis Rengifo, he of the aforementioned career .343 slugging percentage, came up next. In one of the most Royals moments you’ll see, he tried to bunt Walsh over to third.
It was a terrible bunt that led Garrett right into his throw to third, which wasn’t perfect and Emmanuel Rivera had to get a nice tag down, but it got the runner. It took a replay to determine it actually got the runner because somehow standing right over the play wasn’t enough for the third base umpire to get it right originally, but it got the runner.
And that’s how the Angels turned golden scoring opportunities into goose eggs. It seems awfully familiar, huh?
Good Teams Capitalize
I think you’d be hard-pressed to call the Royals a “good” team, but they were pretty clearly the better of the two teams on the field last night, so for the sake of this argument, they’re the good…er(?) team of the two. And after two chances to score that the Angels chose to ignore, the Royals offense finally came alive even if only a little bit.
The first rally started with two outs. Rivera hit a grounder in the hole that Velazquez couldn’t get out of his glove to make a throw. He was followed by a Pratto walk (more on that too) and then Michael A. Taylor finally came through with a big hit to give the Royals a 1-0 lead.
But a 1-0 lead with the Royals and their bullpen isn’t what you’d call safe. Jose Cuas, who has been way overused since his callup actually hadn’t pitched since before the break and actually had only pitched once since July 12. I have to tell you, he looked good. He only needed 11 pitches to get the Angels 1-2-3 and got two grounders and a called third strike. That was some quality work that would allow the Royals to tack on big time in the bottom of the seventh.
It was a bit more traditional rally this time. It started with a leadoff Whit Merrifield double and then Andrew Benintendi bunted for a hit. I feel like that bunt hit was the baseball gods smiling on the Royals for not being the Angels because I don’t know if that was a sacrifice masquerading as a bunt for a hit attempt or if he was really bunting for that hit, but it was a pretty perfect one. With runners on first and third, Merrifield ended up scoring on a wild pitch that was also ball four.
That was an example of outstanding baserunning by Merrifield. The ball didn’t get that far away, but he was aggressive and saw that the Angels weren’t moving too quickly to get the ball. While the final was 7-0 and it’s easy to forget that play, it only made the score 2-0, so it was a pretty big play at the time. Vinnie Pasquantino was intentionally walked (yeah, that’s starting already) when Rivera hit a double play grounder that was booted to allow the third run to score, but Kyle Isbel, pinch running for Dozier, was thrown out at the plate. I actually didn’t hate him trying to score there, but it did allow people to fill in the “out on the bases” square on their Royals bingo cards.
Another Pratto walk was followed by another Taylor single to give the Royals a 5-0 lead. And then in the eighth, certified insurance man MJ Melendez hit a very impressive bomb to extend the lead to seven.
That was the 18th home run since the start of 2018 hit the opposite way by a lefty at Kauffman Stadium. I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
Greinke Started Off Great…Hung On
Greinke’s start ended up with solid numbers. He went five innings, obviously didn’t give a run and struck out a season-high tying five while walking just one. He also only gave up three hits, so overall he was very good. But his first three innings were probably his most impressive three innings of the season. He had all five of his strikeouts within the first eight outs he recorded. He was getting swings and misses on his fastball. He was using his cutter and getting results there. And I thought his changeup was especially good, though it did get hit hard.
But I love looking at a pitch chart from Greinke because you just don’t see a ton of overlap between pitches in spots. He knows where he wants certain pitches and he executes.
I wonder a bit if his defense could have helped him a bit more. Merrifield made an error in the first that cost him an additional six pitches and Lopez’s error on that missed catch cost him another four. If he finishes the fifth with 83 pitches instead of 93 and some of those are lower stress than the last few he threw in the inning, maybe it’s a different story. But overall, he was fun to watch.
The young Royals first baseman came to the plate four times last night. He ended 0-0. How rare is that? He’s just the second player this season to come to bat at last four times and not record an official at bat. Max Muncy is the other and he did make an out, but it was a sacrifice fly. The last player to come up at least four times without an at bat and without making any sort of out was Yasmani Grandal, who walked four times in four plate appearances on May 1, 2021. Since the start of 2010, only 46 players in the whole sport have done it.
In Royals history, it’s now been done just nine times. The most recent was Billy Butler on July 3, 2010. He went 0-0 with two walks and two HBP. The others from most recent to farthest out:
What Pratto showed last night is what might make him an even better hitter than I thought. Here are the pitches he saw last night:
While there is a little bit of swing and miss to his game, he saw 20 pitches and swung at three. Two were very good pitches to swing at. One was a tough pitch that he got fooled on. One of those called strikes was obviously a ball and the other one was borderline. That, friends, is what a patient hitter looks like. Once he figures some things out and starts getting some of those borderline calls, look out.
I don’t know if it was that Ohtani was there or that it was less than a bazillion degrees or that the Royals are playing better baseball, but the crowd last night felt…different. Maybe it was just the perfect combination of a game that was close through the majority with fans who were just into it, but there was a legitimate feeling of excitement in the air. When Greinke was getting himself out of that jam in the fifth, it was actually kind of electric. And when the call got overturned in the sixth, it felt kind of like a few years ago at the stadium. Then when the Royals started putting up runs, there was something in the air that resembled fun, I think. Whatever it was, it helped to make last night one of the most enjoyable nights at the ballpark in awhile.
And the fans who were so into it got a chance to see life from the other side; the side that gets to watch their opponent do silly things and then gets to win in a laugher. It was fun to get that perspective.