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The Perfect Homestand
It's been a hectic few days for the Royals, and through it all, they played a perfect homestand.
Things can change awfully fast in baseball. A week ago at this time, the Royals had lost 16 of 20 games since their series win over the Dodgers at the end of June/start of July. They were welcoming in the first place Twins and not to repeat too much, but that was a team that they’d struggled with all year, beating them just once in 10 games. They swept them. Then there was a day off and the trade deadline and the Mets, who are not very good but even with moves are very expensive, came to town looking to get right even after trading their two aces. But they couldn’t stop this train either.
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The homestand culminated in a 9-2 win to complete the second-straight sweep for the Royals and pushed their record to 35-75. They find themselves on pace for 51.5 wins, so if you’re an optimist, they’re on pace for 110 losses and if you’re a pessimist, it’s 111. Neither is the 117 they were trending toward just a week ago. It’s still horrific, but that’s what happens when you can’t put together more than two wins in a row. A few things have stood out to me on this homestand.
The Royals scored 40 runs on the homestand, scoring seven or more in four of the six games, Maybe there’s a bit of an asterisk because the extra innings rule gave them that opportunity to score more a couple of times and a couple of bullpen blowups got them to that point, but they still scored the runs. They hit .321/.365/.507 in the six games with nine doubles, three triples and eight home runs. Extra innings or not, those numbers will definitely do the trick. But maybe more impressively, they struck out just 17.5 percent of the time and that includes half of the six games against a Twins pitching staff that leads baseball in strikeout rate.
They were, of course, led by a red hot Bobby Witt Jr. He hit .556/.571/1.037 with two doubles, a triple, three homers and 13 RBIs. The third homer of the home stand was a missile.
You can’t hear it on the gif obviously, but if you didn’t hear it live, I’d encourage you to go find the video because wow.
He’s just the second player in Royals history with at least 15 hits and 13 RBIs in a six-game span, joining Jermaine Dye who technically did it twice, but it was all part of the same run where he had separate six-game stretches within the same eight or nine game period.
Now on the year, Witt is hitting .269/.307/.474, which is good for a wRC+ of 109. Since the start of June, he’s hitting .313/.351/.526 with 11 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and a 16.6 percent strikeout rate. This is what we were waiting for. I know that 229 plate appearances doesn’t make a season, but it’s 53 games, which is roughly one-third of a season. He needs to finish strong, but it’s time to talk extension with the young man and keep him in Kansas City for a decade more.
But it’s not just him either. Maikel Garcia hit .409 in 22 at bats with a ridiculous three sacrifice flies. Kyle Isbel hit .438 in 16 at bats. Drew Waters hit two home runs, including this nice insurance blast in the seventh inning yesterday.
It’s six games. The offense started May on fire too, so I’m not going to get too worked up about it (like I did then, though there were signs of sustainability that just didn’t actually…sustain). They’re now just sort of biding their time until they get Vinnie Pasquantino back next season, but Witt becoming what he’s been for awhile now and getting some contributions from the supporting cast has been a lot of fun.
Starting Pitching Shining
I went into pretty great detail about Cole Ragans yesterday, and with good reason, but Brady Singer followed up his outing with a fantastic showing of his own yesterday afternoon. Singer went 8 innings and gave up no runs on three hits with no walks and four strikeouts. It looks like he might be about back. His slider wasn’t quite as nasty as the other day, but he had eight whiffs on it on 22 swings and even had five whiffs on his sinker. He had a silly 15 called strikes on the sinker too. He did give up some hard hit balls, but it didn’t hurt him.
Now, since his disaster start of the season led to an 8.82 ERA following his start on May 6, here are his numbers:
71 K (19.0%)
26 BB (7.0%)
I’d still like more strikeouts because sometimes those hard hit balls won’t be outs, but it’s kind of hard to complain about that line. He’s been a little hit or miss in that stretch with a few clunkers, which is another reason why I don’t think you can look at him as more than a three or four starter, but the Royals aren’t in a position to be turning away any sort of mid-rotation starter. There are times that you see a pitch he throws and think that maybe he is that number two guy.
That second one happens because the sinker is working. With it tailing back over the plate, if a hitter sees a pitch starting just a bit off the plate, he has to make a quick decision. Is that a slider or is that a sinker? If you have a hitter guessing wrong, he’s either going to swing over the top of a slider that dives glove-side or take a called strike on a sinker that tails arm-side.
And that’s a reason why I really like the idea of a splitter for Singer, though his changeup is now more of a split-change, which works too. It just gives one more direction for a hitter to have to consider. And he threw nine more changeups yesterday, which is a trend now for him. He doesn’t have to throw a lot, but he does have to throw some. He’s thrown at least nine percent changeups now in four of his last five starts and in all of his last three. He has a 3.94 ERA in the last five and a 1.89 over his last three.
Of course, this winning streak has featured some fantastic starting pitching. Here is the line for the starters:
34 K (24.1%)
5 BB (3.5%)
Those six starts belong to Singer twice, Jordan Lyles, Ryan Yarbrough, Zack Greinke and Ragans. So half of the six were from guys who you can count on in the future and the other half not, but when you take a step back and look at Royals starters have actually been generally quite good since the break.
In 19 games, they’ve posted a 3.83 ERA with a 19.4 percent strikeout rate and an outstanding 5.1 percent walk rate. It’s still a small sample, but it’s pretty hard for me to not get excited about some of the changes with the pitching we’re seeing when we see Singer make a turn after the start to his year and Ragans start to throw a really good slider within a month of getting to the organization and the starters walking just over 5 percent of batters they’re facing. There are still pitching issues in the organization, no doubt, but the results are starting to come.
They’ll face a pretty serious test on the next road trip going to Philadelphia and Boston, so things could change quickly, but I’m very encouraged by what we saw from the starters on this homestand and really since the break.
The defense played a huge role in this homestand being perfect, and it’s been a lot better for quite some time now. Garcia has been outstanding at third and combined with Witt becoming not just competent but very good at shortstop has given the Royals one of the best left sides of an infield in baseball. Michael Massey has been very good at second. We know that Kyle Isbel can really play center and Drew Waters has also rated quite well there. They’ve got Dairon Blanco to plug in late in games for Melendez or Edward Olivares. Freddy Fermin has been great behind the plate.
I know that Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) isn’t as keen on the Royals as Outs Above Average (OAA) or the Fangraphs Def stat that is an accumulation of value, but two out of the three paint the Royals as one of the best defensive teams in baseball. And by DRS, they’re starting to creep back up, though they’re still toward the bottom. I honestly don’t understand the huge discrepancy. But either way, we saw the leather flashed a whole lot on this homestand.
It started in the first game when Salvador Perez made some really impressive plays at first in his first start there in a long time. On Saturday, Melendez made a gorgeous throw to the plate to nab a runner trying to score on a sacrifice fly. Sunday it was Witt’s turn to make a diving play and Nicky Lopez joined the action in a start at first with a nice scoop on a bad throw. On Tuesday, Fermin almost barreled into the dugout to catch a foul popup. Wednesday night, it was another outfield assist with Waters throwing a laser to the plate to get a runner and preserve the shutout in the middle innings of a 3-0 game.
And yesterday featured two of the best plays of the whole six games. The first was by Witt in the second inning. It was still just 1-0 Royals and there was a runner on first with two outs.
If he doesn’t get to that ball, it’s first and third. Yes, it’s for Rafael Ortega, but a little trade secret is that three outs and sitting in the dugout is better than facing any big league hitter with runners on the corners.
But the best play of the day and one of the best plays of the entire year came in the fifth inning with a runner on first and nobody out. It was Omar Narvaez again, trying a pretty similar spot. Only this time, Massey had other ideas.
I mean come on! Again, Ortega was up next, but you’re probably looking at first and third with nobody out if Massey doesn’t even get to that ball. But then for Witt to pick it was huge. That got one out and it could have easily been none. And then to be able to make that throw off balance to get the runner for the double play? It was just amazing. Great work on all parts.
In the six games, the Royals committed one error and it was Singer missing first on a sort of awkward flip from Perez in that first start at first base. I know errors are pretty meaningless these days, but I can only think of one play that probably should have been called an error that wouldn’t and even that was more difficult than I realized at first. It was the Edouard Julien single in the ninth inning that Waters couldn’t catch on Saturday night. All in all, it’s hard to argue with the defense this team has been playing.
So that’s six in a row. I thought we’d probably see three in a row at some point because it’s hard to go an entire year without doing that, but I definitely never expected this. No, it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but baseball is a lot more fun when the team you watch every day is winning. Oh, and let’s put a common thought I’ve seen to bed real quick before I wrap this thing up.
I’ve seen so many people talk about how this is just the typical Royals. They’re out of it early, come on late and give us all hope just to get us to believe heading into the next year. It sure seems that way, doesn’t it? Only it’s simply not accurate. Be the smartest one of your friends and when they say that while you’re golfing this weekend or having a cold beverage, let them know the truth. Since 1995, there have been 27 seasons with a first half and a second half. So I’m excluding 2020 here. Of those 27 seasons, the Royals in the second half have posted a winning percentage of .450+ and had a second-half winning percentage that was at least 40 points higher than the first half a total of SIX times. Two of those six were in 2013 and 2014 and they actually did mean something.
They’ve been better in second halves more than that. But are we really planning parade routes for a .412 winning percentage from mid-July through the end of the year? Of course not. I went with 40 points because I think that’s a significant enough number to notice and .450 because that’s the point when you can start to taste .500 or better. As much as everyone wants to say they always do this, they don’t. And, let’s be honest, they haven’t even done it yet this year. It’s taken a six-game winning streak to get to a .474 winning percentage in the second half.
My advice? Enjoy it. Watching winning baseball is fun and we haven’t gotten to have enough fun this year.