Ump Shows and Solo Homers

The Royals did plenty to lose another one last night and deserve that ire, but it’s hard not to wonder what if.

Losing streaks are frustrating. The fourth loss is more frustrating is more frustrating than the third. The third more than the second. The second more than the first. And when all three games are games that were led in the middle innings or later only to blow them, multiply that frustration by, oh about a million. And when you add in assistance from guys on the field who are supposed to facilitate the game and not be the story, you can continue to multiply that frustration.

I’ll get to that because it definitely played a role in last night and the night before, but it’s ultimately on the team to overcome it, so I’m going to start with the team. But if you follow me on Twitter, I think you know what’s coming later.

The bullpen, which I believed to be a strength as recently as a week ago, has completely unraveled recently. At the start of the season, a foursome of Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Jesse Hahn and Kyle Zimmer was one to be feared. Unfortunately, Hahn struggled to start the year and has been injured since pretty early on. Zimmer went on the IL earlier this week and suddenly a deep bullpen looks very shallow. When any of the high-end arms give it up, that’s likely a wrap. That’s what happened on Tuesday night. Staumont struggled and the Royals don’t have an answer right now when their top guys struggle.

Greg Holland has really stepped things up lately with four scoreless innings in his last five outings that have included six strikeouts and just one walk after starting the year with seven walks and six strikeouts in his first seven innings. But it seems like he’s fallen a bit out of the circle of trust. It might be time to put him back in. He’s looked much better since an outing against the Rays in some pretty extreme conditions. I also think Tyler Zuber has looked good in spite of a couple shaky outings. But that’s not really the point.

Last night, they went to Jakob Junis for the second time since shifting him to the bullpen to help shore that unit up. For the second time, it didn’t work. What I liked about his outing is we finally saw some velocity from him that we’ve known for some time was in there but we almost never see. But he just missed his spot. Maybe that’s why we don’t see that velocity. Maybe he struggles to command it, but obviously this pitch wasn’t where he wanted it. Now, I will say that’s not a terrible spot to Ramirez. He’s hitting just .242 with a .409 SLG on pitches in that spot since 2016 with six home runs. Thinking about it that way doesn’t bother me quite as much, but it’s still a hittable pitch.

And then there’s Wade Davis, who it pains me to say, is probably done. He gave up his ninth run last night, which is more than he allowed in either 2014 or 2015. The home run he allowed to Josh Naylor was the second he’s allowed this year and even though he ended up striking out the side, it’s just too difficult to trust him. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe Jackson Kowar gets the call out of the bullpen. Maybe it’s Richard Lovelady, who is conspicuously absent from any roster right now. Maybe it’s someone else or they go out and sign Shane Greene. But they need a solution.

Okay, I’m going to transition to the ump show put on by frequent performer, Angel Hernandez. Last night, I thought the zone was honestly fine early. There were some inconsistencies as there always will be with humans calling a game, but it was generally fine. And after Jorge Soler came through by finally lifting the ball for a two-RBI double, the Royals carried a 4-0 lead into the top of the sixth with Brady Singer sort of cruising.

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The Indians lineup was turning over for a third time, which as the broadcast noted, has not been much of a problem for Singer. He got the first out pretty quick, though it was hard hit by Cesar Hernandez to dead center. And then he started to see his fastball tail instead of cut a bit like it usually does and he ended up walking Jake Bauers. Still at 4-0, he had a chance to make some good pitches and get out of the inning with the Royals up. I mean it was just a guy on first with one out. No big deal. His command was still spotty, which happens at times for him, but it looked like he was getting around the ball better.

And then it happened.

I will say this is a difficult call. But it’s also Angel Hernandez’s job to get this call right. On the 2-2 pitch, it seems pretty clear to me that the ball hit the bat and then Salvador Perez caught it. That should have absolutely been a strikeout. There should have been two outs and one on with Eddie Rosario coming to the plate. Now this is where the line starts blurring. The situation absolutely should have not happened, but Singer absolutely needed to handle it better.

He continued to live up. I like it with his fastball, but when his slider starts finding the upper third of the zone, that’s a problem and Rosario hit it for a two-run double. Then the issues started compounding. He walked Franmil Reyes on four pitches. And then the balk. First of all, it was the right call. I think Mike Matheny in the post-game presser was saying that it was an unnecessary call and while I generally agree, it was a balk.

And whether or not the call was right, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Royals had been chirping at Hernandez and his crew all game, and I think it started on Tuesday night with one of the most ridiculous things you’ll see on a baseball field.

Let me take you back for a second before we go forward.

You’ve seen it. Here’s a look at the full play if you need it. Now here’s the explanation as explained to Alec Lewis from The Athletic:

Walk us through your recollection of the entire play.

“Our goal was to get the play right, and that’s exactly what we did. We talk about this. Replay is an extension of what we do out there. As you saw, I got basically blinded by the outfield scoreboard. The pixels on the lights were as clear as white can be. I was trying to make out what happened out there. The harder I looked, the less I could see. So I was trying to read the players to see what they did with the ball. And I had to come out with the call. I basically guessed the wrong call. So as soon as I turned around, (home plate umpire) Edwin (Moscoso) started walking towards me. We got the crew together and we fixed the problem.”

So you signaled for an out call as if the outfielder had caught the ball?

“Correct.”

Oh.

You could argue this actually hurt the Indians more than the Royals because Andrew Benintendi was in no-man’s land, but had Hernandez done the right thing and signaled safe from the start, Benintendi likely would have scored. Does an extra run change the equation on Tuesday night? I honestly don’t know. It might, though! One thing we can never do is just take things pitch by pitch if something changes ahead of it. That’s the butterfly effect and all that good stuff. JJ Cooper made a great point about this yesterday on Twitter.

It’s very simple. If you don’t know, assume safe. It’s so much better to set things right if you call safe and are wrong than if you call out and are wrong.

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So that happened on Tuesday night and then the call on the hit by pitch happens last night. And then there’s a balk and with it now four days since the last win and two incredibly frustrating losses, tensions were extremely high. And Cal Eldred was absolutely done. It might be the first time I’ve ever supported anything he’s done.

He went bonkers, then Matheny went bonkers. And then things calmed down for a minute when Singer got a ground ball to Naylor that got caught in Santana’s glove. He got the out and allowed a run to score, making it 4-3. Now, I know what I said about the butterfly effect, but let’s pretend that everything happens identically following what should have been a strikeout. The Rosario double makes it 4-1. Then even with a walk and the balk, the ground ball from Naylor ends the inning with that score remaining.

But rather than that happening, it was 4-3 with two outs and Singer was pulled by Pedro Grifol and then Singer went bonkers. If you aren’t familiar with the term “red ass,” Singer is it. It can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing, but I can tell you it endeared him to the fans last night. My favorite part was Whit Merrifield sprinting from second to keep him from doing something he shouldn’t have done other than yelling, but in my opinion, Hernandez had it coming.

And it speaks to a bigger problem in baseball. I mentioned on Twitter how much people pay for season tickets just to see umpires impact the results. A single game can change an entire season. It can impact radio ratings, which might cost a sports talk host his or her job. I know that sounds extreme and maybe it is, but while some might think of it as “just a sport,” some people make a living from that sport and while they can’t control how the team they cover does, it can make a difference.

But more than that, my good friend Darin Watson made a fantastic point on Twitter that I want to mention here.

This is absolutely dead on. The story is far too often the umpires. Hernandez is the worst offender a lot of the time, but how many times is the main story of the day something Joe West did or something CB Bucknor did or something Hernandez did? The game is about the players on the field. The umpires are needed to be able to call the game fairly, but the ones who can’t do it even adequately simply shouldn’t be out there.

The best umpires are the ones you haven’t heard of. That’s not a great job description to attract talent, but the most important thing they can do is not allow their actions to take away from the game. And frankly, it happens far too often. I don’t understand the lack of accountability, but this isn’t a new issue. It isn’t the first time it’s happened and it won’t be the last. This is a $10 billion+ industry. There simply has to be a better way.

It feels like umpires have been worse than ever. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because we have better angles than ever and more ways to see every tiny pixel on the screen and all that. I also think that things like balls and strikes are extremely difficult to call. These are generally middle-aged men who are forced to decipher pitches coming in at 99 MPH or whatever the crazy velocity of the day is. There’s so much movement and all that. It’s a very difficult job. I think most of them probably do a generally very good job. It’s just the few bad ones that really spoil it. There’s nothing quite like being at a game, hearing the umpire crew and groaning because you just know something is going to happen that’s silly, and that’s just ridiculous to me.

Thanks for indulging me on that.

And for whatever it’s worth, even after all that, I’ll remind you again that the Royals scored four runs off Shane Bieber and led 4-0 after five innings. The calls made may have impacted the game, but they absolutely are to blame as well. They simply can’t continue to do this if they want to finish .500, let alone compete in the division.


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Barlow Bringing It

I don’t completely understand why so many people are so against Scott Barlow, but he’s been one of my favorite relievers on the team since his first full season in 2019. I’ll admit that he does tend to have a bad stretch every season, but most relievers do. I think we got a little spoiled in 2014 and 2015 by the consistent dominance we saw. But last night was something different for Barlow. Look at the fastballs he threw last night.

Five of those pitches were thrown harder than any pitch he’d ever thrown before. He’s a hard thrower, averaging 95.9 MPH prior to last night, but he averaged 97.5 on the fastball last night. His slowest fastball was higher than his season average. And he looked outstanding. It’s easy now to look back and second guess and wonder if he should have stayed out there for the eighth inning after throwing just 16 pitches to get four outs.

If he can somehow maintain that fastball, it might make Barlow even more dangerous, which is kind of crazy given how actually good he’s been this season. There’s some danger in potentially overusing him now while they need him so desperately, but if they have eyes on staying contenders, they’re going to need the bullpen to step up somehow and Barlow is one of the two best they’ve got.

Dozier Hates Singles

Maybe it’s simply that he wishes he could play first base again and doesn’t like the way standing there makes him feel, but Hunter Dozier might be allergic to singles. After going 1 for 4 with his fifth home run of the season last night, Dozier now has 16 hits. Of those, four are doubles, two are triples and five are home runs. That leaves him with five singles. He’s the only player in baseball with at least five home runs to not be outsingling his home run total.

What does it mean? I honestly don’t know. On Tuesday night, he had a double that would have been a single for most people, but he was aggressive and used his better than you’d expect speed to stretch it. But I also know that he’s doing very real damage to the baseball. You might recall that he was hitting into some bad luck on the hard hit balls. A few days ago, he was 4 for 17 on balls hit 100+ MPH. He’s now three for his last five, which is both a start and pretty much exactly where he should be based on league averages. So he’s still lagging behind, but it’s nice to see him getting going.

His hot streak is sort of reminiscent of 2019 when he started the season 3 for 27. He was 1 for 10 on hard hit balls and 1 for 6 on balls hit 100+ MPH to start that season. The slump wasn’t quite as prolonged as what we saw from him to start this year, but he also didn’t have a thumb injury to deal with at that time. The moral of this story is that it might be wise to get used to a slow start with Dozier given that he’s going to be around for at least a little while with his new deal. The hope now is that this is going to go like 2019 the rest of the year and I can start looking smart again for picking him as a breakout player.