Weekend in Review - Clumsy Exits, A Rare Series Win and What's Up Next
The Royals won their second road series of the year and had just their second winning weekend of the year, but they just couldn't finish it. Again.
It’s hard to look at a series win and a winning weekend and be sort of disappointed, but this A’s team just looks like such a bad club. It feels like the Royals offense missed a big opportunity to show their stuff against a struggling pitcher in the finale and they just couldn’t. But one thing this series did show me is that, in general, the A’s are what a bad team looks like. They have a pretty well-regarded young player in Cristian Pache in center field, but he looks like he might never hit. Their next best young player might be Jonah Bride, who MLB Pipeline ranked 26th in their system. They’ve got some decent enough veterans, but I think if you found someone who had been in a coma since the start of the season and told them to pick out which lineup was better, they’d pick the Royals 10 times out of 10.
It’s just another reason why the Royals struggles can be so frustrating to watch. They don’t feel like a team that should be this bad. But they are. I don’t mean to be so negative following a series win, but I’ll get to a stat that I think is interesting even if it means nothing that I started to think about a few weeks ago and finally looked into. The Royals looked like the better team this weekend and they get these A’s again next weekend, but I’m just hopeful they can at least get back to the level of what we thought they could be before the season. I’m not asking for a trip to the playoffs. I’m asking for competent baseball. But hey, they’re now over .500 in their last 11 for the first time this season, which might seem like nothing, but it’s better than that at least.
This is crazy, but the Royals have played 19 series where the final game of that series hasn’t been rained out. They’ve won four of those final games. They are 4-15 in series finales. Look, they’re 23-42, so it’s not like they’re good in just about any situation, but to go 4-15 in series finales seems like something pretty bad. It’s easy to point to a Sunday lineup like people say quite a bit, but the Royals don’t exactly have a Sunday lineup. I think they’ve actually been sitting guys in the middle of a series more often (though I haven’t looked into it to be so sure about it).
What does it mean? I honestly have no idea. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t try to think of a way to pin this on Mike Matheny. And just because I can’t doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to do with him or the way he manages his people. Maybe they’re looking at too many games at a time and are looking ahead to the next series. They are 8-13 to open a series (remember I didn’t include series finales that had a rainout since they didn’t know it was the last game when they played the last game). That means they’re 11-15 in the middle of a series, which is merely bad. Maybe there’s something there that I just can’t find, but I think it’s at least interesting enough to note that they simply cannot close out a series.
Friday - Royals 5, A’s 1
That sound you’re hearing is the A’s swinging and missing another pitch from Daniel Lynch, who looked like he might lose it all in the second but ended up striking out 10 batters in five innings against one of the worst offenses in baseball. It wasn’t just Lynch, who had 23 whiffs in his five innings, but he was the key contributor to all those breezes for the fans. The rest of the staff had 10 more in the final four innings to give the Royals their most whiffs in a game this season, beating their previous high by four.
On the plus side for the Royals staff, they’d gotten those 29 whiffs twice in a row againt the Orioles on the last homestand.
But for Lynch, it was a special game.
My first thought was “wow,” but my second thought was, “wow, Danny Duffy was really good in 2016.”
If you want to know what was working for Lynch, the answer is everything, but his slider was pure filth. He threw 33 in the game, got swings on 19 of them and whiffs on 12 of them. The other seven swings were foul balls. So the A’s didn’t get a single slider in play. Add in two called strikes and he had a strike rate of 64 percent on the pitch. While his command was maybe a little iffy, he seemed to have his slider generally where he wanted it all night long.
I think what I appreciate his slider is that it’s pretty tight. You see some guys get their whiffs with so much horizontal movement, and while his does that, it also has a certain drop to it that’s just different than most good sliders.
That was the third slider he got Sean Murphy to swing at in that at bat alone. You don’t see that often unless it’s a really good pitch. It’s not that he didn’t get any horizontal movement. This one to Jonah Bride was nasty.
What was nice was that Lynch had his fastball generally working. He gave up just one single on the pitch and while he wasn’t exclusively up in the zone, he did spend a lot of time there.
That’s what you like to see from him. He’s been getting more whiffs on the fastball lately, so maybe it was a matter of time before he had a good game with it, but it’s pretty impressive to see how silly hitters can look on a pitch that you feel like shouldn’t be tough to hit. This fastball to Christian Bethancourt was well placed on the corner, but Bethancourt looked like he had absolutely no shot on it.
It’s a real shame he had the second inning that he did because it could have been a truly special outing. He threw 39 pitches in the second and that was after getting the first two batters quickly. He gave up two singles, a walk and then another single with a wild pitch sprinkled in to give up his only run before finally getting the third out. Matheny said after the game that if he hadn’t gotten Ramon Laureano to end the inning that he would have been out of the game.
And the Royals supported him early with single runs in the first, second, third and then two in the fifth, all against Frankie Montas. They probably should have had more in the first after a Salvador Perez double drove in one, but they didn’t. Then in the third, Perez made sure they would score.
And then in the fifth, the A’s showed why their record is what it is.
Oof. That scored the Royals fifth and final run of the night. They got four scoreless innings from the bullpen with six more strikeouts to tie them for the most strikeouts by a pitching staff in a game in baseball this season.
Saturday - Royals 2, A’s 0
For the second straight game, the biggest story in a positive way was a Royals starting pitcher, which isn’t something we’re terrible familiar with seeing. Brad Keller was coming off his worst start of the year when he couldn’t get out of the second inning against the Orioles. He came out filling up the strike zone and really never stopped, even with a couple of walks.
I’ve talked about the hole in the middle of one of these charts before. It’s not huge, but that spot that’s directly in the middle was completely empty. The heat map might actually be a better way to look at where he put the ball all game long.
With five lefties in the lineup, putting the ball on the outer third as often as he was is something that was just very impressive. And one of the fun things you can see as a fan is when you open up your MLB app and see the little No-Hitter badge next to your team’s game. We got to see that on Saturday as Keller carried a no-hitter into the sixth before giving up his first hit with two outs.
I still don’t think the slider for Keller was quite as good as it was earlier in the year, so there’s probably some work to do on that pitch. He still had four whiffs on it on 14 swings, but it was hit hard. His fastball, which has been a huge source of issues over the last two years, was a little better. He also had four whiffs on it on 14 swings, but it wasn’t hit hard at all with the hardest contact only coming in at 89.9 MPH.
In the end, his line of seven innings with one hit allowed and six strikeouts with three walks was good for game score of 78, which has only been topped once this year. That was in Jonathan Heasley’s great start against Baltimore last weekend. And now, as up and down as Keller has been, he has three of the six games scores of 70+ this season by a Royals starting pitcher.
But the game would still be going if not for Michael A. Taylor’s leadoff triple (on a bad misplay by Seth Brown in left) and then Ryan O’Hearn doing his pinch hitting magic. He came into face Domingo Acevedo in place of Emmanuel Rivera and hit a chopper over first base for a double.
It wasn’t the hardest-hit ball of the season, but was placed well and was yet another pinch hit for O’Hearn, who is now hitting .583/.643/.917 in 14 plate appearances as a pinch hitter. That’s just crazy.
Whit Merrifield came through with a clutch single in the ninth for some insurance and Scott Barlow shut the door with 1.1 innings to give the Royals their second road series win of the year.
Sunday - A’s 4, Royals 0
To be honest, there isn’t much to say about this game. The offense was a kind of embarrassing no show against a rookie lefty who didn’t look especially good. Jared Koenig had made two starts before this game and had given up 14 hits in eight innings. In this one, he got into the sixth and gave up two hits. He did walk four hitters and hit one without a strikeout, but they just couldn’t square up the ball against him at all.
In the meantime, I thought Brady Singer looked good enough. He had that bout with his control in San Francisco in his last start, but he didn’t walk a batter in this one and did throw 58 strikes in 82 pitches, so that part was good, but I didn’t think his slider was quite as sharp as it has been. He only had five whiffs on it in 20 pitches and while he got some weak contact in general, he also left some out over the plate. I don’t know. It just didn’t seem like the slider had quite the same bite that it has had in the past.
I was a little frustrated too with his lack of changeups against a lineup featuring five lefties, just like Keller dealt with. He threw six in the game, and there were a couple of spots where I do think it would have helped to at least show. While he did throw one in the first inning to Brown before Brown homered, he followed it up with three straight sliders. Now, they were not in the same spot, so it had a different look. But I just think that if he could have dropped a changeup below the zone in the middle of those three, maybe the third one doesn’t get hit out.
The other spot was also to Brown and while it didn’t end up hurting him, he threw a slider on the third and fifth pitches in the same spot and Brown dropped a single to center. Taylor bobbled it and eventually threw out a runner at the plate, but I really believe a changeup there could have made a difference. And, as the Royals themselves have even noted, having that pitch to make hitters think at all can be absolutely huge. I don’t think the A’s had to think much about it. The six he threw were all over the place, so maybe he just didn’t have the feel for it, but I’d have liked to have seen more.
Ultimately, after a fantastic escape in the bottom of the fifth, he got himself in more trouble in the sixth with a single and a hit batter. He threw a wild pitch, but got a strikeout of the next hitter before yielding to Jose Cuas. The first batter Cuas faced popped one up to first, but then he hung one to Sean Murphy and the A’s went up 4-0. You all know what that means for the Royals. Yep, curtains.
The offense wasn’t without their chances. They had MJ Melendez on second in the third with one out and he didn’t score. They had two on and two outs in the fourth and didn’t score. Melendez had a leadoff double in the fifth and didn’t even move. Then in the sixth, they had the bases loaded with one out and didn’t score. In the eighth, they had a leadoff walk who didn’t move anywhere. And finally, in the ninth, they had their leadoff man on and then got a two-out walk. But nothing.
So, again, they couldn’t close out a series.
What’s Next This Week
The Royals finally have to leave their hotel as they head to Southern California to finish their nine-game road trip with three against the Angels. This seemed like a much more difficult series a few weeks ago, but the Angels lost 14 in a row and even with three wins in Seattle over the weekend to end their five-game series, they’ve put themselves in a very tough spot. Now they’re without Anthony Rendon for the rest of the season. Still, though, they’ve got plenty of talent. There’s obviously Mike Trout, but Taylor Ward has been outstanding this year and there’s some guy named Shohei as well, who you may have heard of. The Royals get Noah Syndergaard, Reid Detmers and Shohei Ohtani in their three-game set. While Detmers has been up and down, he’s thrown a no-hitter this year. While Syndergaard’s velocity is way down, he’s still been effective. And Ohtani seems to just keep getting better on the mound.
Then they come home and get this A’s team one more time. We’ve seen that they’re not especially good, but this series should also mark the return of Zack Grienke, who had seven solid innings in Omaha on Saturday and should be back for Friday night’s start, you’d expect. If you want to look beyond that series, they’ll also welcome in the Rangers on the homestand before they head to Detroit. So including the three they just played, they’re in the middle of a stretch of 12 straight games against sub-.500 teams that they’ve gotten off to a good start in, but is a chance to get that record a bit more respectable before they get seven against the Astros and Guardians.