Singer Was Sharp, But Needed Some Surprise Heroes
Even with him faltering in the seventh, it was one of his four or five best starts of the season.
There’s something very satisfying about a series that features three straight games with some of the young pitching talent on the Royals. We saw Carlos Hernandez pitch well enough on Monday and Daniel Lynch pitch a fantastic game on Tuesday. Up next was Brady Singer, and I have not been quiet about the fact that both his pitching and his remarks about his pitching have bothered me this season. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t talented and that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remain interesting just like his young pitching brethren that have been so good so often lately.
I thought Singer looked really good from the start. His sinker was sharp for the first time in a long time and his slider was moving in ways that I remember being so excited about him after some of his better starts in 2020. The Astros lineup is one that actually works pretty well for him since they don’t have a lot of lefty bats. Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez were the only ones in there against him last night to start and that mitigated the need for his third pitch that he still didn’t throw very much.
It was pretty obvious early that he was still feeling things out and did walk Brantley on four pitches after getting Jose Altuve to make an out to start the game. But after that Brantley walk, he went to work and was actually pretty brilliant from Correa’s at bat in the first all the way through the fifth inning. He wasn’t hit that hard in the sixth, but did allow a single and a long fly ball and then ran into trouble in the seventh, but he was just really, really good. I’ll get into the details, but I want to talk about Singer with two strikes first.
That had been an area of concern for him dating back to before his IL stint. It seemed like he could get to two strikes but just couldn’t put the hitter away and then would end up putting pitches down the middle and getting hit hard. That has to be one of the most frustrating things to watch as both a fan and a player. But last night with two strikes, Singer stayed out of the middle for the most part.
There are only three pitches in the middle of the plate. He actually got strikeouts on two of them. One was on a sinker and one was on a slider. But this goes back to something I’ve talked about before and it’s that you can miss over the middle when you mess with timing and eye levels. I always talk about how simple pitching is, but how hard it is to actually execute, but when you’re putting the pitches where you want them and doing what Singer did last night, it allows you to not have to be perfect.
I honestly didn’t love his sinker location so much last night. You can see how much of the plate he caught with it all night.
The movement on that was pretty fun, but also he was able to do that because of what he did with his slider last night.
Yes, he caught the plate a bit too much there as well, but it was such a good slider that I think he was able to mostly get away with it. The Astros went 3 for 16 against the slider with three of his six strikeouts. Of the three hits, two of them were way out of the zone and not really anything you’d get too upset about with him. Take a look at a couple of these strikeouts.
I just really liked the way he threw the ball yesterday. Before I get into the trouble zone with him in the game, though, I do want to talk about the changeup. Again, I don’t think it really matters what his third pitch is as long as it’s something that plays off either the sinker or the slider. A cutter could be interesting, though I worry it’ll be too close to his slider. I think a splitter could be dynamite from him, but whatever it is, he still needs that third pitch. Right now, that third pitch is the changeup and he threw it four times. One was hit hard, but it was an out and the other three were taken with two called strikes.
That brings me to the seventh inning, which is the lone hiccup for Singer last night. Pitching with a 1-0 lead, he got Alvarez quickly on a long fly ball to left field and then got Aledmys Diaz on a weak grounder to third on the first pitch. With 81 pitches and two outs in the seventh, you could kind of dream about him pitching into the eighth with the bottom of the Astros order due up. On the third pitch to Yuli Gurriel, Singer made a really nice pitch and he hit a ball that was simply too soft. Whit Merrifield came into field it, but he couldn’t get it to first in time and that was one of the hits on the slider. Things sort of unraveled from there, but not as much as we’ve seen in the past against him, which was definitely a good thing.
He did leave a sinker down the middle to Chas McCormack, who singled sharply to center. Then he went way too heavy with the slider, in my opinion, and couldn’t get Jake Meyers to chase at all and walked him on five pitches. The Astros went with a pinch hitter, sending up Jason Castro to hit for Martin Maldonado and I have some thoughts.
Many believed that Mike Matheny should have pulled Singer. In a “win the game” moment, I completely agree. The bases were loaded with two outs and Singer was tasked with facing a lefty. But if this has become a full-on development season (and I honestly don’t know if it has at this point even if it should be), it makes sense to see if Singer can pitch out of it. And if it’s about winning, then I really don’t know if it’s justified for Singer to even be in the big leagues in the first place. So it’s tough to say. But if they were trying to win, the fact that Matheny didn’t have a lefty ready knowing that they might pinch hit with Castro is damning to him. Richard Lovelady absolutely should have been ready to come in just in case he was needed against a lefty pinch hitter.
And now back to the game, Singer’s lack of a third pitch hurt him for really the first time. He started Castro with a hanging slider that we should all be thankful he didn’t throw again. But he did throw a second slider and Castro grounded the ball up the middle to score two and give the Astros the lead. I’ve tried to point out the spots where a third pitch would have helped him. This was one of those spots where, instead of doubling up on a slider, he could have thrown something different that wasn’t his hard stuff. Maybe I’m being unfair because Castro has struggled with sliders, but at the very least, Singer should have put it in a better spot than this:
But Domingo Tapia came in and got Altuve to end the inning, limiting the damage and keeping the Royals in the game. And that was good because the bottom of the seventh was the time to make one of the heroes of the game.
After an Andrew Benintendi double that seemed to carry forever, Hunter Dozier came to the plate against Blake Taylor. Taylor came into the game allowing a .128/.180/.234 line to lefties but .314/.412/.457 to righties. As it turns out, Dozier is a righty and he added to that line.
That’s his second home run of the series and Dozier continues to hit really well for kind of awhile now. I keep going back to the first game of the series at Fenway on June 28 for Dozier, and since then, he’s hit .281/.353/.438 with 10 doubles, two triples and three home runs. His walk rate in that time is 8.4 percent and his strikeout rate is 25.1 percent. There’s obviously improvement to be made there and he’s not showing as much power as we would hope, though the last couple home runs have been absolute bombs. I know that people have been very against the Dozier extension, and I do get that it was largely unnecessary, but I still believe in him.
I’m starting to run a little long here, so I don’t want to spend too much time on Josh Staumont, but it was so good to see him throwing as hard as he did in the eighth in his second consecutive day pitching. That’s been an area of issues for Staumont in the past, and coming in on back-to-back nights, he touched triple digits again and looked pretty good to get the game to Scott Barlow in the ninth.
Now Barlow wasn’t great. He just didn’t seem to have the command of much of anything and was getting into bad counts. Two one-out singles put him in trouble, but he did get Castro on a lineout to center to bring Altuve to the plate with a chance to be a hero amidst a lot of boos in Kansas City. I thought Barlow threw a really good slider to Altuve on a 1-2 pitch, but he hit a single to left field. And that’s where the fun came.
Benintendi threw a strike to the plate, Salvador Perez put down the tag and after a couple minutes on replay, it was confirmed that the Royals had won their third straight against the AL West leading Houston Astros. It’s kind of hard to believe, but they have won the series and have a chance for a sweep today.
Royals Beating the Good Teams
With the win last night, the Royals improved to 17-12 against teams that are currently in first place around baseball. That’s 3-0 against the Astros, 4-0 against the Brewers, 8-8 against the White Sox and 2-4 against the Rays. It’s a small sample, but it shows that they at least can hang with the big boys. Does it mean anything? As far as something predictive, I don’t think it does, but as far as what it can do for a mentality, I think it actually does mean something. I didn’t used to believe a lot of this, but it’s important for young players to learn how to win at the big league level against the best of the best. Of those 29 games, 19 have been started by pitchers 26 or younger. That’s not nothing.
There’s also some element of good teams potentially playing down to their competition, which I think might be happening with the Astros, but I don’t think that was the case with the White Sox or Brewers, and certainly not the Rays as they handled the Royals just fine. This isn’t to say that winning these games against good teams this year means they’ll definitely be good next year or anything, but as I’ve said, getting this experience is important. And it’s probably worth mentioning that the Royals are 16-14 now since the break and in those 30, they’ve played just six games against teams below .500 with three of them against the Tigers, who are 49-40 since early May. It’s an impressive stretch.
Yesterday it was reported that the owners have started some of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations by offering a salary floor. The idea, if you aren’t subscribed to The Athletic (you should, though), is that the floor will be $100 million for team payrolls. Okay, so far, so good! Oh wait, here’s where it gets silly. Teams that spend more than $180 million will be taxed in order to fund the teams who aren’t to the $100 million threshold. Uh, what? So billionaire owners who have spent $72 million on their baseball team get to be bailed out by other billionaire owners who are spending to put a good product on the field? That makes…no sense. The other issue is that the proposal drops the maximum payroll by about $30 million from this season because while there will be a rogue team or two willing to go above the threshold as there are now, most teams treat that as a hard cap as is.
The players association will never go for it because if I see the issues, and there are way more than I’ve even mentioned, they do too. So it’s a start in the negotiation. I think it’s at least a good sign that something was brought forward, but it’s a proposal that might be poor enough that it doesn’t even really start talks. I hope that’s wrong because this CBA expires in about four months and while there might not be any games impacted, it still would be a bad look for a lockout. I really like the idea of a salary floor. I think teams will abuse it, of course, but it should increase competitiveness in an era when so many teams simply aren’t trying to win. But this proposal isn’t it.