Weekend in Review: A Real-Life Series Win, Some Votes of Confidence and Option Talk
There was no guarantee they would ever win again, but it was nice that they actually did.
It would have been hard for anyone to predict a series win, even with the Twins coming to town struggling to get anything done. But to their credit, the Royals absolutely did get that done, which was nice to see. It doesn’t really change much because the bad stretch made it so that it’ll take far more than a series like that to move the needle, but some wins were still nice to see. In the long-term, maybe wins are detrimental to draft position, but in the short-term, it sure makes it a little easier to watch every day.
Dayton’s Vote of Confidence
On Friday, prior to the Royals actually winning a game, Dayton Moore held court with many reporters and the quote that fired people up the most was when he brought up the coaches without a question about them.
At first glance, that sure sounds like the Royals aren’t in a hurry to break anything up, which includes coaches Terry Bradshaw and Cal Eldred, both under fire. When I read that, my first thought was back to when the team finally let Trey Hillman go, weeks after it was beyond apparent that it was something that had to happen. I couldn’t remember the exact quote, but I knew it was a couple days before that he had said something very complimentary about Hillman. I still haven’t found it exactly, but I found enough that I could tweet this:
Josh Vernier @JoshVernier610Royals GM Dayton Moore expressed support for his players and coaching staff prior to tonight's game. "We're not in a hurry to break anything up," he said. #Royals
Does this mean that Eldred or Bradshaw or both are going to be gone within three days? No. But I also don’t think they’re going to do much of anything as far as coaching staff changes within a week and a half of the All-Star break. We can argue all day about whether or not they should, but I don’t think many teams will make a move like that in such close proximity to that time off. And I still don’t think I’d be surprised if a move isn’t made until after the season anyway, even though you all know what I think should happen yesterday.
Friday - Royals 7, Twins 4
It was a real-life win that seemed like it might never come after the nine-game losing streak. And it started off in a way that was entirely too predictable. Brady Singer got the ball and immediately was ahead on the leadoff man, Luis Arraez, 0-2. So of course the third pitch was right down the middle and hit to left for a double. The next batter, Josh Donaldson, hit an 0-2 pitch to dead center for another double. I have no idea how Arraez didn’t score.
But then Trevor Larnach hit a hard ground ball that bounced off Singer and Singer tried to throw home, but threw the ball away for yet another error.
Another single two batters later got the Twins their third run and there was only one out and it sure seemed like the losing streak would reach double digits, but two strikeouts ended the first. Then a very fast bottom of the first added worry, but Singer settled in for the second with a 1-2-3 frame and the comeback began.
It started with Salvador Perez, who had just been announced as a Home Run Derby participant, which is pretty cool.
It was immediately followed by a Hanser Alberto double, a Hunter Dozier single (and an error by Travor Larnach) and then a Michael A. Taylor double and the Royals had scored three to tie the score.
Singer tried to give the runs right back with a leadoff walk, a single and another walk with a strikeout and a fly ball sandwiched in the middle, but a mound visit was followed by a really good battle between Singer and Max Kepler that ended with a strikeout on a slider in what I thought was a little too elevated to end the inning and ultimately end Singer’s outing.
When you see a pitch chart like that, it really is so easy to see why it is so important for him to develop a third pitch, whatever it might be.
After Singer’s exit, the Royals continued to do work off Happ, which hasn’t been an issue for most teams. With two outs and nobody on, Salvy singled to center to bring up Hanser Alberto, who was brought in to mash lefties and really hadn’t mashed lefties. But after the double the inning before, he got a slider that was down but caught too much of the zone and he finally mashed a lefty.
The Royals would add a couple, but the biggest story, to me, was that Richard Lovelady came on after Singer exited and looked really good again. He threw two scoreless innings and was really filling the zone. He’s a guy Royals fans have been wanting for a long time, but he struggled in the big leagues in 2019 and really didn’t get much of an opportunity last season. He started this year hurt, but would be a huge piece of a 2022 bullpen if he can figure some things out. He looked very sharp in this one and ended up getting his first career win as a result of Singer’s inability to get deep enough, so congrats to Richard!
Saturday - Royals 6, Twins 3
Danny Duffy’s third start back off the IL without a rehab stint looked like his absolute best through three innings. He still wasn’t getting a ton of swings and misses, but I thought his location looked good and he was generally pitching really well. Through three, he had thrown just 35 pitches, which seemed like he’d be able to get a little deeper into the game than he had. On the other side, Griffin Jax was doing a nice job as well and the game was scoreless through three.
After Duffy had thrown 35 through three, he threw 34 in the fourth alone. It was a long inning with deep counts. Ryan Jeffers led off the inning with a six-pitch walk. Then Miguel Sano singled on the sixth pitch. Gilberto Celestino grounded into a forceout (and an error) on the seventh pitch. Arraez made an out on the fifth pitch. So even with just one run allowed and four batters faced, he’d already thrown 24 pitches. Andrelton Simmons singled on the third pitch and then Jorge Polanco on the sixth pitch. Thankfully Nick Gordon bailed Duffy out with a first pitch out to end the inning, but the damage and Duffy’s day was done.
But just like on Friday night, the Royals came back quickly. Carlos Santana walked and after a Perez fly out to center, Alberto laid down a really nice bunt that the Twins threw away to put runners on second and third with one out. Dozier dropped a ball in front of Gordon in center that got past him and ended up a double that scored both Santana and Alberto to even the game. Taylor then singled to right and Dozier was sent home for some reason and was out by a mile and a half.
With the potential of a big inning, the Royals ran into yet another out, something they’ve done quite a bit of lately. But thankfully the guy who knows I-29 better than anyone, Edward Olivares came to the plate and picked up his teammate and coach.
Like Friday, the offense tacked on a couple more, but it was never really a game in peril after the Royals took the lead. The story wasn’t one reliever, though, it was basically every Royals reliever.
Kyle Zimmer threw nine pitches to get through the fifth easily. Josh Staumont threw 10 to get through the sixth. Jake Brentz struggled a bit with command and threw 20 pitches, but he got through a scoreless outing for just the second time in his last eight. Greg Holland had a bit of a huccup with a long home run allowed to Larnach, but Scott Barlow picked up his fourth save of the year to put the clamp down on their first consecutive victories since June 20th and 22nd against Boston and New York and their first series win since that series against the Red Sox.
Sunday - Twins _, Royals _
I think we all started this game with our collective breaths held with Keller on the mound. He’d struggled so much lately and the Royals absolutely needed innings. I jokingly (I say it’s a joke now after we saw what happened) said that he was going to get through six on 178 pitches. Given the innings the rotation had been giving, he was going to be out there for awhile pretty much no matter what (though Carlos Hernandez was available still). And he came out in the first and got a quick two-pitch out, then worked around a double to get a strikeout and a flyout.
The strikeout is something I want to touch on quite a bit here. It wasn’t just that one, but he had seven throughout the game because his slider was probably as good as its been all season. The first strikeout to Larnach gave us a hint of what it might be.
In all, he threw 96 pitches and 53 sliders. You might recall earlier in the year that I was wondering if he was hurt because he wasn’t throwing his slider nearly as much. You certainly can’t worry about that after this one with so many sliders thrown. But he kept going to it because it was nasty all day long. He got 24 swings on those 53 sliders and 15 whiffs. That’s 63 percent of swings ending with air. He also had six called strikes on the slider. His season whiff percentage on the slider was 27.6 percent coming into the game. Take a look at some of these locations. It was about as good as you’ll get with a slider.
He gave up a couple runs, but the line of 6.1 innings with two runs allowed on five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks is one you will take all day long from Keller. It’s easy to put him in the category of Mike Minor and Duffy, who are the veterans you would hope would be giving the team lots of innings, but Keller doesn’t turn 26 for about three weeks. He’s only under team control for two more seasons and I don’t think anyone is clamoring for a long-term deal for him right now with the way he’s thrown, but if he can turn things around and be more the guy he was the last three seasons, that’s at least something to hope on in 2022.
After Lovelady was so effective on Friday night, he came in after the lineup turned over and Matheny didn’t want Keller to see it a fourth time and did a lot of what we saw from him in his previous times in the big leagues. His command was all over the place. He walked the first batter and then went to 3-2 on Polanco before leaving a slider down the middle and watched it get punished into the Twins bullpen to give Minnesota a 4-0 lead. Then he left another slider in the middle for another home run and it was 5-0.
You simply can’t leave pitches in these spots. Here’s the Polanco spot:
And the Alex Kirilloff spot:
That doesn’t work. There’s been a lot of talk about if there’s an issue between Lovelady and Eldred (and you know who I’ll always side with there), but at some point, you have to perform and coming into a 2-0 game after a very strong start and turning it into a 5-0 game is not a way to get back in the good graces. I hope they continue to see what they have with him and give him a shot because, as I mentioned, it would be big for him to be a key part of a future bullpen, but he has to perform when given the opportunity.
The Royals offense was lucky enough to get a version of Kenta Maeda the league hadn’t seen much of. He really did have everything working. And when you have that against an inconsistent at best lineup, there’s not a whole lot you can expect.
Even with the home run on Saturday, Olivares couldn’t escape the roster game as he got optioned to start the day on Sunday when Benintendi came off the injured list without a rehab assignment. I have some thoughts. First, I would have optioned Ryan O’Hearn. I just don’t think he adds as much to the roster as Olivares does. But the reality of the situation is that the Royals don’t have many optionable players.
Among position players, those with options are Benintendi, Dozier, Nicky Lopez, Merrifield, O’Hearn and Sebastian Rivero. Benintendi and Merrifield aren’t going anywhere. Dozier might have been a candidate if Emmanuel Rivero hadn’t gotten hurt, but he did, so he’s not. Rivero isn’t going anywhere because they need a backup catcher and Lopez is the shortstop and playing well, so it was really Olivares or O’Hearn. You can argue they could send down a pitcher, but I’d ask again with who because they need every arm because of the few innings this staff has thrown.
I imagine over the next few weeks, there will be some changes to the Royals roster that will get Olivares a chance that doesn’t end with him getting optioned every third day. Jorge Soler is likely a roster casualty soon. I still believe that Jarrod Dyson or Taylor or both are good trade candidates as a fourth outfielder that so many contenders could use. So there’ll be opportunities and I would both hope and imagine that after the moves are made and there is room for him to play most days that we’ll see him in the big leagues. I know it’s frustrating to see this when he’s put up the great numbers in the minors, but I think we’ll get our chance to see him soon enough.
It’s unfortunate that Mike Moustakas is on the 60-day IL when the Reds are coming to town as they won’t be here for at least three years after this season due to the interleague rotation and Moose may be elsewhere by then, but the Royals and Reds will play regardless. The Reds are hovering around .500 and the playoff race, so they have something to pay for and have an outstanding offense, which terrifies me with this pitching staff. Their bullpen has stabilized a bit, oddly with Brad Brach playing a key role for them. That’ll be a tough series for the Royals.
Then they end the first half with a trip to Cleveland for four. The Indians don’t quite look like the team we’ve seen so far this season with their entire rotation on the IL, but they still have that nasty bullpen. Their offense continues to be up and down, but they did get Franmil Reyes and Roberto Perez back to help them a bit, though they lost Josh Naylor to a nasty looking injury, so they’re trying to find their footing. They’re a bit like the Reds, just trying to hang around. It’s a test for the Royals over this final week. It would be awfully nice to head into four days off with at least three or four wins.