Weekend in Review: Benny's Big Weekend, Royals Win Another Series and What's Coming Up

Lots of missed chances all weekend, but the series belongs to KC.

And just like that, there’s only one road trip remaining for the Royals this season. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster on the road for them. They started off the year 8-5 away from Kauffman Stadium and then the next time they hit the road, they were swept by the Tigers. They split a four-game set with the White Sox right after that and then split six games on their next trip. But after that, they lost 18 of 20 on the road. And now since the break, they’re 16-12. This team is streaky and when they’re good, it’s easy to think teams wouldn’t want anything to do with them. When they’re not, teams are absolutely lining up to face them. They’re down to 19 games left with seven on the road, so they have a shot to get some very real momentum into 2022.

Benny’s On Fire

Well, not literally. I hope not anyway. I wrote about this a bit on Royals Review on Friday, but his season has been not unlike the Royals season with all the ups and downs. You might recall before the season that I wrote that I thought he’d start the year slow. I figured that because he was in a new organization after spending his whole professional life with the Red Sox and he was retooling his swing and all that, so it made sense that he’d struggle early. And he did, but he was really turning things around before that rib injury that popped up suddenly in Oakland hit him. Then he came back without any rehab assignment and that seemed odd, but his issues lingered far past the time that it should have impacted him.

The thing that got me, more than anything, is that his walk rate was just disappearing. A guy known for his patience had three walks in 84 plate appearances in his first 23 games off the IL. After walking a couple times in New York, he went 21 games between walks, but he worked a walk in a nice plate appearance against the White Sox in that series finale and then walked in the next two games and it really looked like he was locked in. And now he’s coming off one of the most bonkers road trips we’ve seen. Between what Benintendi did this week (.500/.516/.929 with three doubles, three homers and 14 RBI) and what Salvador Perez did in Houston and Seattle on the last trip, it’s easy to see why they’ve improved on the road. The Royals have a decision to make with Benintendi and they have three options.

  • They can go to arbitration with him and pay him probably somewhere around $9 million.

  • They can work to extend him and give him something like a three-year deal worth $25 million or so.

  • They can non-tender him because they don’t think he’s worth either.

I’m almost 100 percent confident they don’t do the latter and the last week had helped. Personally, I’d probably hope for him to continue this stretch over the rest of the season, just worry about the final year of his team control and see what happens into next season. Guys don’t tend to give up free agency when they’re that close, but if he can look like the guy who was getting it going before his injury and the guy from the past week and he likes it in Kansas City, they can get a deal done then.

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The Games

The Royals and Twins don’t play a lot of close games, at least not this year, but they did play a couple this weekend.

Friday - Royals 6, Twins 4, 11 Innings

This one was crazy from the word go. An innocent from Whit Merrifield started the game, but then Nicky Lopez doubled, Salvador Perez walked and then the aforementioned Benintendi stepped to the plate. On a 1-1 pitch, Griffin Jax put a changeup in a bad, bad spot for a lefty hitter.

That was the start of Benintendi’s big game, but it gave Daniel Lynch and the Royals a 3-0 lead.

Unfortunately for Lynch, like his last start against the White Sox, he came out and had some big problems. He fell behind Byron Buxton 2-0 and then put a sinker that was a bit away from Buxton, but it let him extend his arms and the ball landed about 457 feet away to basically dead center. That’s not great!

Then he gave up a double, a single and then a rope of a home run to Josh Donaldson. It took four batters for him to not only give up a nice three-run lead but to put the Royals behind. Including the flyout from Miguel Sano after the Donaldson home run, here is what it looked like for Lynch with the Twins first four batters.

That’s also not great!

But to Lynch’s credit, like Kowar the other night, he settled down and pretty quickly. He gave up a single in the second, but struck out Buxton while only putting the ball on the outer third with off-speed stuff (mostly). And then he started rolling. He threw a 1-2-3 third, gave up a couple hits in the fourth but it never felt like he was in peril, had a 1-2-3 fifth and then a 1-2-3 sixth.

He ended up going six innings with just the first four runs allowed and he didn’t walk a batter, which is notable because he had walked at least three batters in five straight games. I’ve mentioned this before, but seeing young pitchers respond to failure is especially interesting to me, especially in a year where the win itself isn’t that important. And Lynch, like Kowar before him, responded extremely well.

The Royals were able to tie the game in the fourth on a Michael A. Taylor double to score, of course, Benintendi, but that was it for either team for a long, long time. The Royals did have a couple chances, but squandered them as they have done so often this year. Sebastian Rivero doubled to lead off the fifth, moved to third on a Merrifield groundout and that was it. In the ninth, Benintendi singled to leadoff the inning but never even got to second.And then in the 10th, the Royals ended up loading the bases for Perez, but he grounded out and the inning was over.

After Ervin Santana masterfully worked his way through the 10th, semi-intentionally walking Luis Arrez and then getting Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Rob Refsnyder out in succession, the 11th was the time for Benintendi to play hero again. On the first pitch of the inning with Perez on second, Juna Minaya tried to get a changeup away by Benintendi. He failed.

The Royals were up 6-4 and Greg Holland was going to get his first save chance since his return from the IL. The runner at second never even moved and that was that. A game one win was in the books.

Saturday - Twins 9, Royals 2

The second game played out like so many in the season series have. It wasn’t close. The Twins came out hitting like they came out on Friday, but the Royals did not, and it was just ugly from the start of the game on. Brady Singer simply didn’t have it, and it was another in a long line of examples why he can’t consistently get by with his current pitch mix.

It took him seven pitches to get Arraez to strike out to start. Then on the sixth pitch to Buxton, he left a sinker middle-middle and Buxton hit this one 444 feet. The next batter was Polanco, who hit a middle-middle sinker 387 feet for a home run. Nick Gordon started the second by hitting a middle-middle slider 432 feet. In the fourth, Max Kepler hit a middle-middle slider 382 feet. Then in the fifth, Polanco hit another middle-middle sinker 406 feet. That’s five home runs. Here are the pitch locations for them:

That…doesn’t work.

His stuff wasn’t bad. You don’t get seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings with bad stuff, but you simply can’t put pitches there. I remember talking about Singer throwing too many strikes earlier in the year and wanting him more on the edges. He was getting way too much of the zone on Saturday. Just look at these pitches.

You’re just not going to succeed that way. One of the reasons that I think Carlos Hernandez has passed Singer by so much and why I have more confidence in Daniel Lynch and even Kowar now that he’s throwing his slider is that these guys all have a different pitch to go to if something isn’t working. You see those green pitches for Singer? Those were the five changeups he threw, all arm-side and up way too much. Again, I’m not going to judge him too harshly until he spends the off-season on that pitch, but if he comes to spring training and that isn’t at least usable or there’s a different pitch (hint: splitter) he can use, then he has very little chance to be consistent enough to be anything more than a four or five starter.

Offensively, the Royals had their chances. Merrifield singled to start the game, but got picked off with Benintendi at the plate. In the fourth, they had two on and nobody out and Benintendi drove in one to give them two on with nobody out and one in, but they didn’t score again that inning. Hunter Dozier doubled with one out in the fifth and couldn’t score. Benintendi doubled with one out in the sixth and didn’t even get to third. They had two on and nobody out in the eighth and nothing. They did get one back in the ninth with back-to-back doubles from Hanser Alberto and Hunter Dozier, but it was far too late.

Sunday - Royals 5, Twins 3

Like Friday night, the Royals got on the board quickly with a Merrifield double, followed by a Lopez single and a Perez sacrifice fly to give him the lead. But like we saw so much this series, they squandered the chance to score more. After Perez’s sacrifice fly, Benintendi and Carlos Santana made outs quickly and that was that.

The Twins scored in the bottom of the first, but Adalberto Mondesi, who had been in a slump that was getting deeper and deeper didn’t like that. Mondesi was hitless on the road trip coming into this at bat, but Bailey Ober left a 3-2 fastball right down the middle and Mondesi did what he was supposed to do.

In the fifth, Ryan O’Hearn picked up his second hit of September and then went to second on a Sebastian Rivero single. Jovani Moran was brought in to relieve Ober and on his first big league pitch, Whit Merrifield hit a ball pretty softly, but it fell and was a double to score O’Hearn and get Rivero to third with one out.

But Lopez and Perez couldn’t get him home and that was that for the rally. Another opportunity to put a crooked number up was stalled. then in the sixth, the Royals got an O’Hearn walk - his first since August 20 - and then a two-out walk from Kyle Isbel, but Rivero couldn’t get either home.

That latest missed opportunity looked like it would come back to bite them when Kris Bubic ran into trouble in the sixth and needed to be bailed out (but wasn’t), but the Royals were actually sort of relentless. In the eighth, Benintendi (of course) singled to start the inning. Then Santana walked. After Mondesi laid down a sacrifice bunt (I hated that choice) and O’Hearn meekly grounded into a forceout getting Benintendi at the plate, the Royals needed a hero.

And that hero was Kyle Isbel, fresh onto the roster after Taylor was put on the family medical emergency list. He stepped up against Jorge Alcala and smoked a single to right to score Dozier who had pinch run and the Royals had their lead back.

Then in the ninth, Benintendi picked up his 14th RBI of the trip and had an RBI for the fifth straight game. The 5-3 lead would stand.

Overall, the team was 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position in the game and 6 for 31 in the series. They were much better in Baltimore, which salvaged their RISP on the road trip, but that’s definitely something that needs to be addressed.

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I thought Bubic was okay. It sort of felt like he might be in trouble a couple times, but until that sixth inning, nothing really came of it. He struck out six in 5.1 innings and walked just one. I really liked some of the velocity he got on his fastball, but I also still feel like he needs to get that consistently a bit more firm. I’m not sure if it’s the Twins or if he was just better, but I thought his changeup looked better than it had in awhile and the numbers agree. He got a 33 percent whiff rate on 12 swings and also had six called strikes for a 40 percent CSW%. He did catch too much of the plate with it sometimes, but it was generally away from righties.

The Twins have some bats who can handle lefties, so if Bubic had made a mistake, he would have made them pay. We saw that with Singer on Saturday. It was a really nice outing for the young lefty. And the bullpen showed out again.

I know you can’t do this, but if you remove Wade Davis and his rough time against the Twins on Saturday, the bullpen went 11 innings in the series and allowed no runs on four hits with 12 strikeouts and three walks. Yes, Davis ruined it a bit, but that’s some really impressive work.

The Royals now lead the season series with the Twins 9-7, so just one win when the Twins come to visit on the final homestand will clinch the season series against them for the first time since 2018.

Additional Notes

I spent most of the weekend out of town, and I caught some of the game on the Twins radio network on satellite radio and they were weirdly complimentary of the Royals. I think sometimes we, as fans and those who cover the team on a daily basis, get locked into some thoughts because we’re so close to the team and the day-to-day, but their comments about the Royals playing good fundamental baseball and all of that were really interesting to me. They noted that the Royals absolutely need to add some power to the offense, but they couldn’t stop gushing about the way the young pitching was developing and how it probably won’t take much before they can be really dangerous. I always like to hear differing opinions.

What’s Next

The Royals have an off-day today before they welcome in the A’s and Mariners for a six-game homestand in their penultimate homestand of the season. They lost three of four to the A’s back in June and took three of four from the Mariners late last month, so there’ll be revenge on some minds at Kauffman Stadium. It feels like a yearly tradition that the A’s come to Kansas City late in the year and absolutely tee off on Royals pitching, so hopefully that doesn’t happen, but it appears that the Royals will see both Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea, so their hands will be full. We just saw the Mariners and the Royals handled them just fine, but both these teams are fighting for a playoff spot, so they’ll be two tough series and the Royals can play spoiler if they continue to play pretty well.