Weekend in Review: 40 Games, Season Crushing Series Sweep and the Week Ahead
After finally winning a weekend series last week, the Royals were back to their usual ways or maybe worse.
I’m going to put this as succinctly as possible because yesterday’s game has completely pushed me to this point. If Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo aren’t willing to make necessary changes, then John Sherman needs to make sweeping changes. I said a few weeks ago that I can see an argument that Dayton can be given a little more time to see how the changes in development work. I personally wouldn’t give it to him, but I can at least see the argument. The argument I can’t see is how Cal Eldred keeps his job. And honestly, I have a tough time seeing how Mike Matheny keeps his, especially if he’s behind Eldred keeping his job. So if the front office won’t make the moves they need to make, Sherman needs to find someone who will because enough is enough.
This is an organization that has been over .500 in three seasons out of the last 18 and heading toward the first number staying the same at the end of season 19. Moore has been the guy in charge for 15 of them with this year his 16th. Yes, they went to Game Seven of one World Series and won another and then came into this season with a consensus top-10 farm system. But it doesn’t seem to be getting better even with good things happening with the team that isn’t reflected in the standings. And I go back to Moore standing in front of the press on Monday after firing Terry Bradshaw and getting very defensive about an innocent question regarding moving on from Eldred. He preached accountability and then said that he’s at fault for the young pitching struggles.
So where’s the accountability? Did that come from his promotion to team president? You’re either holding people accountable or you’re not and I’ll say once more that the accountability might need to come from Sherman. The Royals went 2-6 on a homestand they had to go 5-3 or better if they wanted the rest of the season to matter. That’s pathetic and inexcusable. I think it should be noted that this isn’t because they blew a lead yesterday. That’s just the straw that has broken the camel’s back for me.
The weird dichotomy here is that it’s not all bad. They did move on from Bradshaw hours after I speculated a change might come relatively soon and I think that’s a start, but I have a tough time getting on board with so many of the decisions they make, both in the roster and the lineup. You probably feel okay about 80 percent of the rotation following another very nice outing from Brady Singer yesterday, which I’ll get to in a bit. I think you feel like Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Daniel Lynch and Singer give you a shot.
And when you look up and down the lineup, you see Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Emmanuel Rivera and Kyle Isbel on most days (lately at least) with a couple more bats very close to the big league level. I’m going to have something about all these bats this week (probably Thursday), so stay tuned for that, but I just can’t say I have confidence in the people in charge to make this all work.
The Magical 40 Games
I don’t know how many times Dayton Moore has talked about the 40-game mark being so important for evaluation, but after yesterday’s game with the Twins, that time has come. And it’s ugly. The Royals are on pace to lose 105 games. While I don’t think they’re that bad, I’ve definitely backed off my prediction of 79 wins to start the season. In some ways, maybe this point is overstated because the Royals have already made a lot of moves out of necessity, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity to make some real changes. Maybe they don’t happen until they leave Arizona on the off day, but the time has come for at least a couple moves.
I’m a little surprised that Vinnie Pasquantino has passed up Nick Pratto so quickly this year, but he picked up his 10th home run and 12th double or Omaha yesterday. And even after a weekend where Carlos Santana hit a homer and doubled twice, he has no business playing every day. Ryan O’Hearn also still exists and makes a belt with suspenders seem useful. Let’s see what Pasquantino can do. Get him to the big leagues, put him in the lineup with some of these other young guys and put Santana on the bench. I think the Royals will move on from him at some point relatively soon, but that point isn’t now, so I won’t get greedy. I don’t believe we will, but I’d love to see this lineup tonight in Arizona:
Witt Jr. SS
Not much different because they’ve already gotten some guys up, but getting more fun. And if they wanted to bring up Pratto as well and give Merrifield/Dozier some time off, hey, I won’t say no to that.
Friday - Twins 6, Royals 4
Daniel Lynch didn’t have it. You could tell from the start and it was so obvious that I was wondering if it would have been better to try to piece it together with the bullpen and get him out of there quickly. But that’s not typically the best idea when there are still five games left during a 19 games in 17 days stretch, so Lynch stuck around and started the game giving up a walk, a single and then another single before his first out was followed by a double and a sacrifice fly to put the Twins up 3-0.
He did settle down a little, giving up one more in the second before at least throwing a scoreless third. He would have been out of the fourth pretty easily if not for a throwing error from Witt, but ultimately he had to be replaced with two outs in the fourth. I feel like it could have been a lot worse, so at least there’s that, but he just wasn’t good. It was pretty simple. He didn’t have his fastball, so nothing else was working for him.
The Twins swung at 15 of them and hit them all. Seven were fouled off and eight were put in play with four of them hit 100 MPH or harder. It just wasn’t there for him and it’s easy to see why.
I love the fastball up, but you can’t live in the middle, especially against a lineup built to crush lefty fastballs.
But once again, Joel Payamps proved to be a lifesaver. He went 2.1 more scoreless innings, getting the game to the seventh inning and giving the Royals a shot to work their way back. He’s been sort of the unsung hero for this team. He’s now thrown 18.1 innings with just four runs allowed and he’s been the guy to give the Royals innings when the bullpen has needed it over the last few weeks. At some point, he’s going to have a bad game, but he’s been excellent.
And the offense tried to get back into it. In the seventh, Carlos Santana led off and did what I thought might be impossible.
Yes, this is after I sent out a snarky tweet regarding his spot on the roster and how he didn’t deserve it. Then a single from Rivera and a double from Isbel gave Whit Merrifield a shot to drive in a run (or two) and he chose one with a sacrifice fly to put the Royals within one. But Andrew Benintendi was caught looking to end the inning. That’s something I’ll come back to in a minute.
Dylan Coleman made the comeback harder, once again struggling to get a third out. After two relatively quick outs, he walked two batters and then gave up a double that scored two to give the Twins a three-run lead. Now, I’m not someone who believes that everything happens after an event will stay the same, but that hurt a lot when Rivera led off the ninth against the Twins closer.
So that could have tied the game if everything was equal. But it wasn’t, so it didn’t. What really hurt is that the Royals got a single from Isbel and then a single from Merrifield with two outs to bring up their best hitter, Benintendi. And on a 3-2 pitch, he was completely locked up.
And that’s the game.
Saturday - Twins 9, Royals 2
I don’t have much to say about this game. Brad Keller was mediocre and struggled in spots he hadn’t struggled in the past. And he showed what happens when you simply can’t miss bats. Twins hitters swung at 42 of his 97 pitches and they made contact with 38 of them. They put 21 in play and even though they didn’t hit the ball hard, they hit the ball. Couple that with some walks and the Twins just found some grass and scored a few runs.
The bullpen got hit around late, but the game was already over. A Benintendi RBI single in the third scored one run and then Rivera hit another home run to score the other in the seventh.
It was nice to see Benintendi have a huge game and almost homer, but 3 for 3 with a walk will certainly work.
Sunday - Twins 7, Royals 6
The Royals are bad. After this absolutely brutal loss, they’re 14-26 at the 40-game mark, so the only thing important in any game the rest of the season (and boy does that suck that we’re here already) is what the players who could be part of the future do. But what a gut punch to get the start the Royals did from Singer only to watch the bullpen give it all away and then some. It’s the second straight Sunday a young starter has watched very good work go to waste even with a big lead.
Let’s talk about Singer because as angry and frustrated as I am, this was a huge development. I thought yesterday was an even bigger development than Tuesday when he was positively outstanding.
I continued on Twitter to say that we know what he can be when he’s good. That’s never been in question. The problem I’ve had with Singer is that he lets issues compound and it seems like he implodes when there’s trouble. Last year, he allowed a .715 OPS with nobody on and that jumped to .843 with men on base and .892 with runners in scoring position. His walk rate has jumped, his strikeout rate has dropped and he’s just generally gotten worse the worse the situation gets.
So I loved what he did on Tuesday, but it didn’t really tell me all that much about him. Not that I was upset by it, but I kind of wanted to see something from him different.
Oh boy, did I. The first two batters reached and he was in trouble immediately. He was up against a lefty in Max Kepler who was 4 for 12 in his career against Singer with two doubles and two home runs. He threw a sinker on the outside corner to start the plate appearance that I thought was great. And then he came to Kepler with his new friend, the changeup.
The fact that Singer used that pitch in that situation honestly sold me on the changes. One of my biggest beefs with Singer is that he wasn’t willing to do the work or make the changes needed to take a step to become a legitimately good big league pitcher. I’m not sure he’s good or he’ll be good or whatever, but the fact that he’s taken his lumps, done the work and come back to the big leagues with that pitch and used it in that spot was enough for me. Obviously it’s a moving target and that could change if he goes back to his old ways, but I love it.
He didn’t have great command, walking three and only striking out three. He did get six whiffs on 15 swings on his slider, which is great, but it didn’t seem quite as consistently good to me. But man, when it’s good, it’s really good.
And his sinker that’s usually a huge called strike pitch was only good for seven. But he had that third pitch to go to that helped when the other two weren’t at the top of their game. He threw the changeup 16 times, second-most in his career to Tuesday’s game. He got one whiff on it and made one mistake that ended up in a triple that didn’t score. He mostly got a bunch of weak contact on the pitch. It was great to watch.
And now, in his two starts back, this is what he’s done:
And he’s going to get this Twins team again next time out. That’s the next test for him. The third pitch helps him get through a lineup a third time, but how will he fare when he faces them three more times each? And maybe when they have Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton in the lineup? Whatever happens, he’s provided us a reason to watch this team.
And there are fewer and fewer of those reasons every day because they just can’t put together a complete game. Yesterday, the offense did its thing pretty well. Benintendi got three more hits. Santana had a big three-run double. Isbel got another hit. Dozier had a big double. But of course, you know what happened to end the game.
For the second straight week, Taylor Clarke couldn’t stop the bleeding when he was trusted with a six-run lead. That’s not entirely true. Clarke didn’t start the problems last Sunday in Colorado, but he did give up four runs on four hits and allowed all three runners he inherited to score. He comes in with a clean inning in this one in the eighth and gave up four hits without recording an out. Unfortunately, Scott Barlow did to him what he did to Collin Snider last week and couldn’t strand his runners.
Luckily it was still 6-5 Royals heading into the ninth, but Josh Staumont, who closed out the eighth, just couldn’t do it in the ninth. He walked the leadoff man, gave up a double and then a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Then he threw a wild pitch and did get a strikeout to give some hope, but walked a batter and gave up a single to give the Twins a lead they wouldn’t give up.
It’s literally one of the worst losses in Royals history. That’s no hyperbole. No, it’s not meaningful because the difference between 14-26 and 15-25 is next to nothing, but in terms of this particular game, it was one of the worst they’ve ever had. I believed this bullpen was good enough to win some games they shouldn’t win, but they’ve proven me wrong. I think they’re going through some things right now. Some of it is due to the rotation not giving enough innings, but the Royals got seven innings in two straight games and the big arms only had to cover three innings on Friday. It’s not overwork. I don’t know what it is. I can dive into that another day, but it’s disappointing and makes for a terrible taste heading into a long road trip.
What’s Ahead This Week
The Royals have a stupid road trip where they leave Kansas City to go to Arizona for two games, then have a day off and have to go all the way to Minneapolis for four against the Twins team that took it to them this weekend. I know you’re here for analysis, so I’m going to tell you that in the two-game set against the Diamondbacks, three of the four pitchers have some form of the same first name. It’ll be Zach Davies vs. Zack Greinke and then Zac Gallen vs. Jonathan Heasley, who I will refer to as Zache Heasley for the purposes of this series. Davies has been fine (as a pitcher, but terrible as a human apparently) while Gallen has a 1.14 ERA in 39.1 innings. So the offense has their work cut out for them.
The series in Minnesota will be their first games against the Twins on their field and will feature two of the same pitchers they saw this weekend in Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober and then two newbies to the Twins this year in Chris Archer and Sonny Gray. It looks to be the same Twins team they saw this weekend with no real moves on the horizon for them other than maybe them bringing Alex Kirilloff back at some point. The Royals will have to play much better to even get a split in that series.