Weekend in Review: Buying Prospects, A Motown Series Win and What's Next
The Royals could hav easily swept this series, but another road series win is a heck of a consolation prize.
Happy Independence Day, everyone!
A road series win is nothing to sneeze at, no matter who you’re playing. And that’s especially true when you’re the Royals, who had won just one road series this year prior to their last road trip. But even so, when there’s an opportunity to get a sweep and it slips through your fingers, that sort of stings. With their loss on Saturday, the Royals missed their opportunity to escape the basement, or at least invite some company with them. And, as I’ll mention in the week ahead section at the bottom, they definitely could have used every single win they could grasp given the week they have coming up ahead of them (and honestly the majority of their schedule leading up to the break).
There’ll be a lot of talk about bullpen usage, and I’m going to be a part of that. It’s no longer a surprise, but I have to say that I’m a little shocked by just how unreliable the Royals bullpen has been this year. Maybe I shouldn’t be given their current coaching staff, but I believed this would be a bullpen that would win them some games they shouldn’t win rather than lose them some games they shouldn’t win. Part of it is Josh Staumont being injured and Jake Brentz being bad first and then injured. The good news is that Taylor Clarke appears to be back on track and he looks legitimately good now. I think Jose Cuas is a nice piece and Wyatt Mills is probably not much, but he threw very well on Saturday afternoon. I still believe that even with the issues, they need to be moving relievers, but I think Mike Matheny has overcorrected some of his Cardinals issues by being a little too quick to move on from guys and I’ll get to why that was an issue this weekend.
Taking on Salary
Plenty of talk around the Royals has turned to John Sherman and what kind of an owner he is to let this continue to go on without doing anything about it. I’ve addressed that, so I won’t again, but he’s shown something in a couple of trades this season that we didn’t see from the previous ownership group. He’s included money to trade veterans. He sent money with Mike Minor to Cincinnati and he sent a decent amount of money with Carlos Santana to Seattle. That’s a heck of a way to pay for better prospects. Whatever you think of the return for Santana, it would have been lighter if there hadn’t been money involved. That’s huge that Sherman is willing to do it and actually has done it. But there’s another step that can be taken and I’d love to see it. He needs to be willing to take on a bad contract in return on a trade to get a better return as well.
In my head, this is about Andrew Benintendi, who is a nice piece to move but also is a free agent at the end of the season, which limits his value. But if the Royals are willing to take on some salary, maybe a team would be more willing to give up something else. Think about the Yankees. No, they don’t need the help financially, but what if the Royals were willing to take back Joey Gallo in exchange for Benintendi? Could they get Hayden Wesneski in return? I don’t know, but that would be better than what they’d get without eating any money in return. What if they took back Marcell Ozuna? I’d hate to have him on my team, but if they just cut him, why not? That’s a lot of money since he’s signed for a couple more years, but that’s the idea here. Take on Kyle Gibson or Jeurys Familia. Bring Wil Myers home for a couple of months. It doesn’t really matter who. It’s all about getting a better return for their current players and all it takes is a little money. I’m sure Sherman doesn’t want to spend it that way, but it’s a great way to improve what you can get back.
Friday - Royals 3, Tigers 1
This one was pretty fun because it included a first big league home run and a glimpse at good Brad Keller, who we see about every other start these days. There isn’t a lot to recap in this game, but there are a couple of things I’m interested in from what happened. First of all, Keller really was quite good. His control completely disappeared in the seventh and he ended up hitting Spencer Torkelson in the head, but up to that point, he was definitely on.
He didn’t have the swing and miss stuff on his slider, but I guess he didn’t need it against a Tigers offense that is one of the worst we’ve seen in awhile. He got just four swings and misses, but elicited a ton of weak contact with an average exit velocity of 86 MPH and he allowed just six hard-hit balls throughout the entire game. Where he found success was when he was in slight trouble. And I say slight trouble because he never seemed to be on the verge of disaster, but did hold the Tigers to 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position. It didn’t happen often, but when he got in trouble, he handled it.
I loved his general location with the hard stuff toward the top of the zone and his sliders were mostly done and designed to get either a chase or some weak contact. You can see the one changeup in the batter’s ear and that’s the on that literally hit Torkelson in the ear, but other than that, he was very good.
He was supported by an RBI single from Benintendi and then a fun fourth inning that started with Vinnie Pasquantino.
It’s not often that a player can say they were tagged out at second on their first big league home run but after some consideration, the umpires correctly ruled that the ball made it over the wall. It was a nice blast in his third career game and gave the Royals all they’d ultimately need.
Then Hunter Dozier decided they needed a little more.
That gave the Royals a lead they wouldn’t give up, but I think some of Matheny’s bullpen management may have cost them a win on Saturday. Taylor Clarke came in to clean up Keller’s mess in the seventh and was outstanding. He got the job done, no problem and I’m good with how that played out. Clarke has been pitching better and he deserves some higher-leverage work with Josh Staumont out.
Where I wasn’t happy was with Jose Cuas and how he was used in the eighth. He walked the leadoff hitter, but then got both Javy Baez and Miguel Cabrera. With two outs and a three-run lead, for some reason, Matheny thought that was the time to go get him and bring in Scott Barlow for what would eventually become a four-out save opportunity. And Barlow got that third out in the eighth, but he needed 20 pitches in the ninth and gave up a run. In total, he threw 24 and, combined with the up and down of sitting for a half-inning, I think he made himself at least moderately unavailable on Saturday.
Saturday - Tigers 4, Royals 3
It would be very easy to point to how this game ended and place the blame on that and have that be the end of it, but we all know it’s never quite that simple. Kris Bubic gets blame for not being able to even get out of the fifth inning. The Royals offense deserves blame for missing plenty of opportunities to make the ninth inning less important. And Matheny deserves his share of blame for both relying on Joel Payamps for a two-out save and for putting the Royals in a situation where they didn’t have their closer available. And then also for having Dylan Coleman warming up but not in the game.
Bubic labored, as he seems to do way too often. He threw 94 pitches in 4.2 innings against an offense that no pitchers should have trouble against. He threw 57 strikes and I thought looked good at times, but just not good enough most of the time. His changeup wasn’t bad, but he was using his curve quite a bit. It was actually pretty effective for him also when he was able to get it into the zone, but that didn’t happen enough. And that’s what ultimately hurt him. He gave up two hits, a walk and a run in the fifth inning before he was replaced by Cuas who was immediately bailed out by a phenomenal play by Bobby Witt Jr.
What he’s able to do on a baseball field is just stupid. Even with Miguel Cabrera on second, that play saved a run. So while there was plenty of blame to go around, he gets credit.
But the real issue was the offense taking their foot off the gas. They scored two in the first and still had two on with just one out and didn’t score again. They had two on and one out in the third and didn’t score. They got their third run in the fourth, but had two on and one out and didn’t score after that run. And then Tigers pitchers retired the next 17 batters they faced before they hit back-to-back home runs to win the game. Payamps made the pitches. Matheny made the calls. But there’s more blame than just those two. I guess it doesn’t matter because a loss is a loss, but this was way more of a team effort than it might have seemed on the surface.
Sunday - Royals 7, Tigers 4
Okay, first of all, that broadcast on Peacock was terrible. I loved the idea of no announcers droning on about whatever it is they drone on about. But they didn’t stick to it. Instead, it was a Tigers forward broadcast on a national stage with random interviews with fans that nobody could have possibly cared about along with some bizarre homerism. I don’t know. I liked the original idea, but it was executed poorly. Now to the game.
It sure seemed like Brady Singer was going to be in for a special game. Through four innings, he had allowed no runs on three hits and struck out eight while walking just one. Like Bubic, he didn’t finish the fifth, which was just so disappointing because he came into the inning with just 61 pitches and threw 36 in that inning. He had some chances to get out of it. Witt could have gotten him the final out on what was a tough play. And he got squeezed big time on a 3-2 pitch that was ultimately his final pitch, but it wasn’t a good enough effort out of him.
And that stinks to say because he was good until he wasn’t. He had everything working. The sinker was moving in ways that are simply unfair and he had his slider looking quite sharp.
He ended up with nine strikeouts and of those, four were looking. You know things are good for Singer when he’s getting all those called strikes, and they weren’t there for him when he really needed them in that fateful fifth inning. He got help from Cuas to get out of it and keep the Royals in front, but that went from a great seven-inning start to a mediocre at best start where he couldn’t even get through five. Very disappointing.
Thankfully, the Royals offense came to play against his 2018 draft buddy, Tarik Skubal. Edward Olivares started things off in the second with a home run down the left field line that looked an awful lot like his two home runs in his return from the IL.
And after another Pasquantino walk, Emannuel Rivera took advantage of some rare playing time and hit a ball that I didn’t think was going to get out.
But it did and gave the Royals a 3-0 lead. The offense stayed pretty quiet until the fifth inning when Skubal, like Singer, seemed to hit a bit of a wall. He seemed to have gotten things back on track, but the inning started with a nine-pitch at bat for Rivera, who singled. Then Nicky Lopez laid down a sacrifice bunt because he apparently thought this game was being played in 1988. Cam Gallagher had a nine-pitch at bat of his own that got Rivera to third with a fly ball. Then it was an eight-pitch walk by Whit Merrifield and Benintendi hit a dribbler down the line that ended up as a run-scoring double. That ended Skubal’s day.
Like Singer, he threw a ton of pitches in the fifth - 31, to be exact - and couldn’t get out of the inning. Witt and Edward Olivares drew back-to-back walks from Wily Peralta to drive in a fifth run and to give the Royals their five-run lead that Singer struggled with. As it turns out, the fifth run was all the Royals would need, but I thought they played exceptionally poorly the rest of the way and were bailed out by the Tigers being just as bad, if not worse.
And there were more weird bullpen decisions. The Royals are in the middle of 18 games in 17 days leading up to the break, and Matheny even made note of that at the start of the series. So when he brought Jackson Kowar in to pitch the sixth, I thought it was with an eye on two or three innings. He faced three hitters, threw 15 pitches and got three outs.
I have no earthly idea why he would be removed from that game. I suppose you could argue that you want him available for the Astros this week, but also, I don’t know that you actually care that he’s available for the Astros. Plus, the Royals have a double header a week from today. He seems to be a pretty decent candidate to get that start. If he throws 50ish pitches in a game during the Astros series, I won’t worry about that, but you’d want to keep him stretched out.
And it definitely doesn’t help that the results made the decision seem even worse as Dylan Coleman came in and struggled, but not with throwing strikes. He gave up a leadoff home run and then a double. He eventually gave up two runs in the inning. Again, it didn’t impact the final score, but it might impact a final score in a couple of days. I just didn’t like that decision. But the good news is that Clarke and Barlow pitched solid eighths and ninths and the Royals had their series win in a game that was way uglier than it needed to be.
One thing that I found interesting is that the Royals had worked one bases loaded walk all season long. Only one team had fewer, the Twins. But on this day, the Royals worked two RBI walks and should have had a third if not for some (surprise!) shoddy umpiring.
The Week Ahead
The Royals just finished a stretch of 15 straight games where they’ve played sub-.500 teams. They went 8-7, so I guess that’s sort of taking care of business. But now that changes. They’re about to take on the Houston Astros in Houston for four games. The Astros are on fire and are now running away with the AL West. It looks like we’ll get the chance to see Jake Odorizzi make his return to the Astros, then it’ll be Justin Verlander, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier. The Astros rotation is quite good, and nobody is going better than Javier right now, who has 27 strikeouts and one walk in his last two starts over 14 innings. Oh yeah, he’s allowed just one hit in those two starts. This is the Royals right now:
After leaving Houston, they come back home and will take on a Guardians team that has gone from hovering around .500 to inching close to the top of the AL Central. I think they just had a particularly hot stretch and they aren’t that good, but they can pitch and they’ve figured out how to hit a little bit. Plus, they always give the Royals a lot of trouble, so this week could either be very bad or very surprising.