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Weekend In Review: A Crowded Roster, a Very Rookie Weekend and a Seven Home Game Week
The weekend started with a slight thud, but then featured two of the most fun wins of the year.
Don’t be too obvious, but if you look around, you can start to see some optimism. After trading Carlos Santana in June and then Andrew Benintendi and Whit Merrifield around the deadline, the Royals have stocked their roster with young players almost exclusively. Only three players are getting regular playing time who are older than 27 years old. Heck, only four are older than 25. You wanted the Baby Royals, well you got them. And then when you add in what we’ve seen from Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch, well, it’s easy to get a little lost in the moment and think about what could be in the very near future with this group.
Sure, it’s only been a few games since the deadline, but in six games, the Royals have averaged 5.3 runs per game. They’ve hit .255/.315/.454 with a walk rate of 8.2 percent. A lot of that came from yesterday’s outstanding game, which I’ll, of course, get to, but 60.7 percent of these plate appearances have come from rookies. If you want to argue the pitching isn’t going to be enough as currently constructed, I’m not going to argue with you because you’re almost assuredly right. But these young bats are a whole lot of fun to watch. There are going to be valleys throughout this, but I think we’ve seen enough from so many of these players that they have the ability to adjust and figure out what they need to do to succeed. I think we can all agree that watching this iteration of the Royals, win or lose, is a lot more fun than what they were running out earlier this season with lineups that were far more veteran-heavy.
The Battle for Playing Time
With all those young players, the Royals have a bit of a problem on their hands, but it’s a good one and it’s a lot of players needing playing time. Of the 13 position players they’re carrying, 11 of them are going to play regularly, with only Sebastian Rivero and Ryan O’Hearn on the bench. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why they’re intent on a third catcher, but I also don’t know that complicating the playing rotation makes things any easier to call someone up like the newly acquired Brent Rooker. Let’s take a look at the 11 players and where they can play:
Bobby Witt Jr.
Michael A. Taylor
There is obviously also a designated hitter spot available for any, but that will likely be filled by Pasquantino most days and Perez on days he doesn’t catch. So the reality is that there are going to be days when someone doesn’t play. Actually, where two someones don’t play. I think the general rule will be that Melendez, Witt and Perez play essentially every day. There’ll be the occasional day off for all of them (well, maybe not Perez), but they’re going to be in there basically every single game.
And the rest are going to move around a bit. You might argue that Dozier shouldn’t play or maybe even Taylor, and that’s fine. I don’t even disagree with that sentiment, but it doesn’t matter what any of us think because this is the way it’s likely going to be. I think part of it is that there’s a slight concern for balance in the lineup. Pratto, Massey, Isbel, Pasquantino, Lopez and Melendez are all lefty bats. It does set the team up for some situations where a lefty reliever could have their way with them. We saw it in Chicago last week when it was four lefties from six through nine and then Melendez at the top of the order. So that’s five straight lefties. I believe that’s where we’ll see some of Taylor and Dozier come in to break that up. Of course, yesterday, Dozier hit fourth and was the third straight righty, but it worked because Taylor and Eaton were in there as well.
The nice thing here is that with eight players for six spots and all of them somewhat versatile, it allows for almost every day at bats for all of them. I want to see Massey in there every single day just like I want to see Pratto and Pasquantino and all of that, but with 53 games left, I’d bet they all play 45 or more of them. There are just going to be days where one or two aren’t there. There have been at least five rookies in every lineup since the trade deadline and that will likely continue the rest of the season. The Baby Royals are here and that’s a good thing.
Friday -Red Sox 7, Royals 4
This was a game of missed opportunities for both teams, but the Red Sox capitalized a bit more than the Royals and that was that. Zack Greinke, who I thought had been locating his fastball extremely well, just kind of didn’t have it. The weather in Kansas City has made for some tough pitching conditions with the warmth and wind blowing out, so when he’s not locating his fastball, it can be something of a problem for him. It wasn’t all game, but that command sort of came and went for him throughout the night. You can see there was just too much in the middle
By the time he gave up his fourth run in the fifth inning, you sort of felt like it was just too much to overcome with the fact that this Royals team still hasn’t come back from even a three-run deficit to win this year.
For awhile, it looked like the only offense would come from lava hot Salvy. He absolutely DESTROYED a ball in the fifth inning.
That was tied with three other home runs he’d hit in his career for the longest he’s ever hit. He hit three longer last season. It was the fourth hardest home run he’s ever hit, behind three from last season.
Down 5-1 heading to the eighth, the Royals turned to Josh Staumont to keep the game tight with the hopes of getting to a bad Boston bullpen. It did not go well. Staumont faced four batters. He walked the first two and was bailed out by the Red Sox putting down a sacrifice bunt by the third. He then gave up a two-run double to score both walks and make it a 7-1 game before Joel Payamps came in and cleaned up his mess. Staumont threw 16 pitches and four strikes.
You see that blue curve in the middle? It was the double. The red fastball in the middle was a 3-0 pitch that Reese McGuire was taking all the way on. The other two strikes he threw were a missed bunt and then the actual bunt, but even the actual bunt was a pitch off the plate.
I tweeted during the game that you almost have to hope he’s hurt because he’s essentially unusable. His velocity wasn’t terrible, but was still down and the spin rate on his curve was way down as well. I don’t know what the answer is, but he is most certainly a question. A number of people lamented not trading him at the deadline, but I have to ask why anyone would willingly acquire him with the way he’s pitching? Sure every team would love a shot at the big fastball and his top-end potential, but there’s no way they’re offering anything close to even mediocre value right now.
Those runs he allowed felt big because the Royals came back with a nice inning in the bottom half. Pasquantino singled, Dozier walked and Pratto walked to load the bases. The Royals got a sacrifice fly from Eaton and then a single by Taylor to load the bases. After Lopez struck out, it sort of felt like they were going to leave them loaded, but Melendez came through with a two-run double, but that was that. The ninth inning was quiet and the Royals had another loss.
Saturday - Royals 5, Red Sox 4
This was another tough night for pitchers with the wind blowing out and the ball carrying like crazy anyway. But it ended up a very fun night. The Royals got home runs from their first batter of the game and their last batter of the game for the second time in team history. The first time was July 3, 1973 when Freddie Patek led off against Bert Blyleven with a homer and Paul Schaal walked it off with one against Ken Sanders. What I was unable to find is if Patek homered on the first pitch like Melendez did, making it homers for the good guys on both the first and last pitches of the game.
Here was how Melendez kicked off the festivities:
Remember how he hit his first leadoff homer on Thursday? Well now he has two. But this game was back and forth. After a very good first, Lynch was starting to leave some pitches in the middle of the plate. He gave up a double to JD Martinez and then a soft single to Christian Arroyo. He did get the grounder he needed, but it wasn’t hit hard enough and Witt made his 16th error of the year as he kicked it. The run scored and Lynch escaped with no further damage, but he got hit a bit.
The Royals reclaimed the lead with two more in the bottom of the third. Isbel and Lopez singled and Lopez stole second. After a Melendez strikeout, I thought Witt put a fantastic swing on this ball.
He went after the first pitch, which isn’t a bad idea against Nathan Eovaldi because he throws strikes and he just hit a line drive back up the middle. But the Red Sox immediately came back with a single and a two-run homer. And then the Royals immediately came back to re-take the lead.
That’s Isbel’s third homer of the year and was his second really nice swing of the night. He has undoubtedly had his issues at the plate, but I still believe he can be a solid piece of a good team. He has a nice swing and if he can get back to a better approach, his ability to go get it in the outfield is enough to provide very good value.
But that was it for the Royals offense for a long, long time. Seeing how the ball was carrying, I noticed some overswinging and the next 15 Royals were retired by Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock. Other than the home run Lynch allowed in the sixth, he and the Royals bullpen generally shut down the Red Sox as well. They had a single in the sixth after the homer and then a single and a walk in the eighth, but that was it for them too.
Before I get to the fireworks, I do want to mention Lynch a bit. Sort of similar to Singer on Wednesday, I don’t think he had his best stuff. His command was iffy at best. His slider, which usually dives out of the zone was catching a lot of the plate. He got a few whiffs with it, but not as many as usual and his fastball was doing the work for him. Maybe it’s because he was too much in the zone, but he wasn’t allowing the foul balls he has been. And potentially more important than anything, he didn’t walk a batter. He still struck out six.
Now in his last seven starts, Lynch has a 28.3 percent strikeout rate and a 7.2 percent walk rate with a 3.97 ERA. Let’s see it the rest of the year, but that’s pretty impressive.
And now for the hero.
The swing was controlled and the result was violent. It was a heck of an at bat too. With two quick outs and the silly extra inning rule looming, Pratto took a ball, a strike and then another ball. He whiffed on a good changeup to make it 2-2 and Whitlock tried to come back with another, but it was up just a little too much and Pratto fouled it off. Then he spoiled a sinker up and in and didn’t bite on a changeup away before getting the one he wanted. It was pretty close to the one he fouled off, so Pratto loaded slightly later to let it travel and boom.
That’s how you end a game!
Sunday - Royals 13, Red Sox 5
The saying is that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. But with all due respect to Brad Keller, who had a very good line of allowing just one run on four hits over six innings, I’m going to say that the Royals young bats helped to carry the momentum from Pratto’s big walkoff on Saturday night.
The Royals scored two in the third, three in the fifth, two in the seventh and six in the eighth. That six-run frame was their biggest inning of the year, after they’ve scored five in an inning twice this season. They scored 16 runs from the seventh inning on in the four games of the series, so while the eight runs in the seventh and eighth were big numbers, the Royals were doing it to the Red Sox all series long.
Things started a little slow with the Royals going six up, six down in the first two innings. Witt did work a walk, but he was thrown out trying to steal. But to start the third inning, Massey showed why people are so high on him, launching a double to center over the head of Jarren Duran, who didn’t know it but he was about to have a terrible, horrible no good, very bad day. Eaton did a nice job of getting the ball to the right side to move Massey to second and then Kutter Crawford balked in a run and moved Isbel to second after he was hit by a pitch. Melendez got his first RBI of the game with a sharp single to center.
Move to the fifth and a Massey walk was followed by the first misplay by Duran.
Eaton put a nice charge into it, but that was just a bad route. After Isbel went down swinging, Melendez had his biggest hit of the day.
He is just swinging such a good bat right now. He’d end up getting two more sacrifice flies to give him six total on the day, which is a high number, if you were curious. He’s now hitting .283/.324/.550 as a leadoff hitter and .297/.356/.563 since the break. He was struggling some before the Toronto series and the subsequent break, but he’s been outstanding since.
What got me especially excited was the fact that after Taylor Clarke gave up a two-run homer to turn it into a game again, the Royals offense came right back to get both runs back immediately. Yes, Duran played a part in that. He lost a popup from Eaton in the sun.
Give Eaton credit. He was busting it the whole way and got to third base on a ball many big leaguers would have to stop at first. Then Isbel put a charge into one. It wasn’t quite as egregious, but Duran probably should have had this one too.
Things in the eighth just got wacky. Darwinzon Hernandez came on and did a very Royal thing, walking the first three batters. Massey then capitalized with a two-run single and after an Eaton walk, the Red Sox went back to the bullpen to get a lefty to face Isbel, who put a fantastic swing on a ball and came a lot closer to a grand slam than I realized when he hit it.
A Melendez sacrifice fly and a Witt RBI single got the Royals to 13 runs and even though Luke Weaver gave up a couple in the ninth, it was a good, good win.
The Royals get a much-needed day off after playing 17 straight days since the break. The good news is they get to stay home, but they have a tough series against the White Sox, who continue to fight to stay in the playoff race. It’s especially tough because it starts with a doubleheader on Tuesday. We know we’ll see Brady Singer and Lance Lynn at some point, but we don’t know yet who will start for either team in the other game. Maybe this is a spot for Jonathan Heasley? The White Sox will also throw Johnny Cueto and Dylan Cease in the series. Cease is on some kind of run and Cueto is having a heck of a year, so they’ll have to play well to win in this series.
Then they get the Dodgers, who are always tough. Right now, it looks like they’ll be up against Tony Gonsolin, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson, but that’s obviously subject to change. The Dodgers are the best and most complete team in baseball, so I don’t think I’d be too shocked if a young team like the Royals has some trouble. But hey, you never know. Sometimes young teams are too naive to know they’re supposed to lose.