Weekend in Review: Coors Helps the Offense, Taylor Hits Second, Salvy Hits and What's Ahead
The Royals offense finally scored some runs with an assist from the thin air.
No matter the outside force, getting to see the Royals actually touch home plate a few times was a nice change of pace over the weekend in a series win. Things were pretty touch and go yesterday when the Royals blow that huge lead in the seventh inning, but handing the Rockies their first one-run loss of the year is something that could have changed the trajectory of the rest of the season if you have any belief that there’s a rest of the season to worry about. Since the end of that Orioles series when the frustration started reaching things written in the media, the Royals have gone 3-3. That’s a start at least, but it’s clear there are still big issues that need to be worked out.
My guess is change is coming in some form. I don’t believe that’s a move for the manager, but I do think a coach will pay the price for the start to this season and I believe that will happen relatively soon. I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference, but it’ll be a move that is made because the Royals feel like they’re left with no choice in the matter. Not to pile on, but that in itself is a problem. A team should make a change because they believe a change is needed, whether it’s a move the fans like or not. When they moved on from Don Wakamatsu and Dave Eiland, I disagreed but they did it because that’s what they thought was right. It turned out to be wrong, but at least there was some conviction there. I guess we’ll wait and see what the decision is.
Late Add: Yep, it happened soon alright. As in like three hours after this posted. Terry Bradshaw is out and Alec Zumwalt and Mike Tosar are now with the big league club along with Keonni DeRenne. The architects of the minor league hitting development that changed after 2019 are now with the big club.
Taylor at Two
I usually start thinking about my Weekend in Review on Friday during the game and watching Michael A. Taylor go 3 for 4 with a ball that was literally inches from being a home run got me thinking about the changes he’s made to his game this season. It’s a popular cry to sit him for Kyle Isbel or Edward Olivares (when healthy) and I’ve been among those saying that. But I also don’t think I had quite comprehended what he’s done this season. Taylor has a walk rate of more than double last season and nearly six percent higher than his previous career high. He has a strikeout rate nearly eight percent lower than last season. He’s swinging at more pitches inside the zone and making way more contact inside the zone. His xSLG heading into the game yesterday was .644!
So when I saw Taylor’s name at the second spot in the order, I kind of…liked it? What? I think I believe in this change. Now, Taylor still isn’t what you’d call a good hitter, but for his career, his OPS is about 60 points higher against lefties than righties. He hasn’t been quite as good this year against them as he was last year, but the sample is pretty small and he was very good against lefties last year. I’m not entirely convinced that he should hit second often, but strikeouts and walks tend to stabilize pretty early in the season and we’re past that stabilization point, so maybe he actually has changed his stripes a bit. His defense hasn’t been as good this year from the eye test or the numbers, but he’s still been a very good defender and he made a heck of a play yesterday. So in a lineup full of players who look like they have zero plan at the plate, Taylor’s plate appearances have generally been quite pleasing aesthetically and I just thought he deserved a little recognition for that. Oh, and he walked twice more yesterday including a huge one in the top of the ninth.
Don’t worry. This doesn’t have anything to do with an injury to his back. He’s just…back. Salvador Perez started the season hitless in three straight games and then he had two hits in his fourth game and two home runs in his fifth. He was generally fine for the next few games before he was hit on the hand and it looked like he might be out for a long time. But he played the next day and hit two doubles. Looking back, I’m not entirely convinced he wasn’t still in pain. The two doubles were softly hit and well placed. Over his next nine games, he hit .053/.077/.079 with 17 strikeouts in 39 plate appearances. Those are the kind of numbers that get guys days off.
Good news for the Royals is Mother Nature saved them from themselves. They were off the next day and then got two more days off from rain. If my (and many others, I’m not taking credit here) theory on his hand is correct, three days off did him wonders. He got two hits in each of his next three games, including two doubles and then finally went deep in Colorado on Saturday night. Maybe more importantly, in his last 10 games, he has just four strikeouts in his last 40 plate appearances and has hit .308/.325/.487 in that time. He’s gotten big hits. He’s gone the other way. He just looks like the guy who the Royals need in the middle of their lineup. It’s nice to see Salvy get back in there and actually doing some damage after a few days off.
Friday - Royals 14, Rockies 10
I resisted the urge to put Chiefs and Broncos because that’s overdone even if I smile a little every time I see it. The Royals offense finally had a big game, but what’s crazy is that it could have easily been an even bigger game. I’m not going to dwell on that because wins need to be celebrated when a team is not good, and not critiqued, but that should at least be mentioned. They were 6 for 17 with runners in scoring position, but twice had golden opportunities to score and missed. In the first, after they were already up 2-0, they had the bases loaded and nobody out and got nothing more. The Rockies took a 3-2 lead shortly after. Then in the third after scoring four runs, they had a runner on third and nobody out and didn’t score him either. It didn’t end up hurting them, but 14 runs could have easy been 16 to 18.
Now, the good news. They scored in the first! A Whit Merrifield single led to Andrew Benintendi celebrating his arbitration win with an absolute bomb to right-center on a big mistake from Kyle Freeland.
There’s always been a jet stream to right-center at Coors, but that ball went 433 feet. It was going out everywhere. That’s a great swing. The other huge news from the night is that they just kept scoring. I don’t know how many times they’ve scored runs in one or two innings and maybe even had a lead and then just packed the bats away and didn’t score again. They had to because Zack Greinke wasn’t great in this one, but they piled on and just kept scoring. That included runs in the third, fifth, seventh and eighth in addition to the two in the first. Scoring in five separate innings was the most innings they’ve scored in this season in a game.
There were multiple offensive stars. Whit Merrifield continued his efforts to pull his season out of the toilet with a two-hit game. Benintendi had three hits, including a triple. Perez had two hits, including a double. Bobby Witt Jr. went just 1 for 5, but he had a triple and scored twice. Taylor had his three-hit game. The only Royals hitter without a hit was Emmanuel Rivera and he was pinch hit for by a guy who has no business being on the roster but who did hit a ball to halfway to where he should be playing - Omaha.
And I left out one hitter - Hunter Dozier. He went 5 for 5 with four singles and a ringing double and he scored four runs. It was his first career five-hit game and the first for the Royals since Benintendi did it last September. His four runs scored were tied for fifth most in a game by a Royals hitter with at last five hits and he was the second Royal to score four runs in a game on this road trip. You might recall Merrifield did it in Texas. That’s just crazy to me that in a year where the Royals have struggled to score four runs in a team this season, they’ve had two guys do it by themselves in the last week. Dozier was just the 65th individual four-run game in Royals history. Baseball is weird.
The pitching left something to be desired as often does happen in Coors Field. Zack Greinke actually had double digit swings and misses, but the biggest whiff of the night, to me, was Mike Matheny leaving him in the game in the fifth inning when it was clear he was running on fumes. He ended up having to go get him anyway and he had given up seven runs before getting through five, which is a shame for his win-loss record, but I think it was a poor decision letting him go. Oh, and Gabe Speier finally gave up a couple runs, which kind of stinks because seeing a 0.00 ERA is fun, but whatever.
Saturday - Rockies 10, Royals 4
Carlos Hernandez,your performance…WOOF!
Fine, I’ll give you more than that. Hernandez continued what he started during his implosion in Baltimore on Monday. Remember he had gone four solid innings before just letting things get out of hand. Well in this one, he just picked up where he left off. He gave up two in the first, one in the second, four in the third (after the Royals tied the game) and then couldn’t get out of the fifth and had inherited runners come home.
What happened? Well it’s actually kind of simple. His fastball continued to not get the swings and misses he needs to get to be successful. But way more than that, just look at this heat map.
When you put pitches down the middle, big league hitters are going to hit them. That deep red spot is right down the middle. I’ll say it again. Woof.
His curve was actually good. His splitter looked really good. Both got lots of swings and misses and weak contact. But he missed with his slider too much and his fastball was just too hittable. And the other thing is something the broadcast mentioned, which I was kind of surprised they’d notice. But he wasn’t getting any hitters to chase. He threw 45 pitches outside of the Gameday strike zone that you see on your MLB app. The Rockies swung at nine of them. A chase rate of 20 percent is elite. The Rockies do not have elite plate discipline.
There is a possible piece of good news here. He could be tipping something, which would make sense that his fastball looks fine out of his hand but hitters can’t help but hit it. And that he’s not getting hardly any swings and misses in spite of the fact that his breaking stuff also looks pretty solid out of his hand. I don’t know what he could be tipping, but that’s at least something to think about with a guy like him. Of course, he also wouldn’t be the first to have stuff that looks good but just doesn’t play for big leaguers. I don’t know. I’m guessing he won’t get another start for a bit, but the Royals also have five games in four days this week, so unless they give the ball to Ronald Bolaños, who did give four solid innings, it might have to be Hernandez.
Offensively, there wasn’t as much to celebrate. The Royals got five total hits and scored just one run after their three-run third inning. But three of the four runs were on home runs from two guys who need to get it going for this team to have a shot to score enough to win.
The first was an opposite-field bomb from Perez:
This one was probably a Coors Field creation, but they count the same.
And the second was a screamer hit out by Witt:
Witt only had the one hit on Saturday, but he hit a 112.2 MPH groundout and a 109.5 MPH groundout. Lift the ball, young man!
Sunday - Royals 8, Rockies 7
If you’re someone hunting for positives in another down season, Daniel Lynch is probably the number one comfort for you. He’s been solid this year with only one truly bad start, but his last couple have been questionable at the very least. So when he came out to pitch in Colorado after Royals starters had allowed 16 runs in 8.2 innings, the Royals needed a big boy outing. And they got it.
While he didn’t get through the sixth, he did throw 5.1 scoreless innings with some help from Collin Snider. He had his fifth game with double digit whiffs out of six stars. He was rarely in trouble until he was pulled from the game. It was just a really nice game for him and one that impressed me quite a bit because I don’t think he had his fastball at all in the first inning. He was struggling arm side and up.
But he found it later and ended up starting to feel the fastball a little later in his outings. But, as usual, his slider was just nasty. He filled the zone with it and got eight swings and misses on 19 pitches. It was really, really good.
And after the Royals offense was silent for the first four innings, Lynch got a little help. Bobby Witt Jr. worked a one-out walk and then Rivera got a fat curve after an MJ Melendez groundout.
Then in the sixth, Whit Merrifield started things off with his second homer of the road trip.
In the seventh, the offense really got it going. On the first pitch Jhoulys Chacin threw, he crushed a ball for his second homer in as many days.
That thing got out in a HURRY. Chacin, maybe a little rattled, then walked Melendez on four pitches and Rivera showed off his strength taking a pitch on the inside edge to right-center and it rolled all the way to the wall to score Melendez.
But the problem is that six runs wasn’t enough because the Royals bullpen imploded in a way that would make the mid-2000s bullpens blush. With the score 6-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, things unraveled. Snider gave up a leadoff single and then Amir Garrett came in to get a fly ball out. He then walked the next two batters, which is just ridiculous. The Rockies then went:
Single (2 runs)
Single (1 run)
Error (1 run)
Single (2 runs)
Sacrifice Fly (1 run)
Both walks scored. The runner who reached on an error from a remarkably stupid Nicky Lopez decision scored. That’s three runs.
Maybe this is Coors or maybe the Royals are finally starting to emerge from that offensive slumber, but the offense saved the day in the ninth, facing Daniel Bard. Now, I will say that I watched the Rockies on Wednesday and Bard came in to the game in a non-save situation and threw a ton of pitches and looked kind of bad. He came in yesterday and looked, well, kind of bad. Benintendi led off with a pinch hit walk. Then O’Hearn shot a single the other way. Merrifield popped up, but Taylor worked a huge walk to load the bases with one out. That brought up Perez.
Remember all that talk about Perez struggling with runners on base? Okay it was mostly just me saying it, but I was talking a lot. On this road trip, he went 7 for 16 with a double, a homer and a walk with men on base. And that was his biggest hit of the season to give the Royals the lead and ultimately the win.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the play by Taylor that made the ninth inning comeback possible. With a runner on first and two out, C.J. Cron hammered a ball to center.
If he doesn’t catch that ball, maybe the Royals come back, maybe they don’t, but it’s definitely not just 7-6 heading into the ninth. So Taylor gets big, big credit for this win.
It’s a busy week for the Royals as they’re fixin’ to play eight games in seven days, weather-permitting. First, they get the White Sox for five with a scheduled doubleheader on Tuesday. That’s one of the games that didn’t get played because the owners locked the players out needlessly before the season. It sure looks like we’re going to get to see Johnny Cueto pitch for the White Sox on the Kauffman Stadium mound as they will need at least one starter and maybe two if Lucas Giolito isn’t back from the Covid-IL before the series starts. The Royals caught the White Sox at a good time last month, but they’ve gotten some guys back healthy. They’re looking better than they did then but still not great. They aren’t playing the juggernaut role people expected them to be.
And then the Twins come in. They’re in first place and also are playing much better than they were the last time the Royals saw them when the Royals took two of three. At that time, they were toiling at the bottom of the division but have used very strong starting pitching to find their way to the top. I think the Twins are still trying to feel their way around their offense a bit and Carlos Correa is still eyeing a comeback from the IL, but they’re a good team with good starting pitching that is way better than I expected. It’s a tough week for the Royals, who at 12-20 are on life support. A 3-5 week should likely pull the plug. A 6-2 week might inspire some hope. Somewhere in between is probably the worst place they can be if you want some clarity on their direction.