Weekend in Review: More Trade Talk, Winning a Guardians Series and the Last Week Before the Break
It was a weekend of extremes. A walk-off, a blowout loss and a comfortable Sunday win made for another winning weekend.
Would you believe it if I told you that the Royals are 15-15 in their last 30 games? I doubt you would because I looked it up about seven times before I committed to putting it in this spot. In those 30 games, they’ve scored 133 runs, which is an average of 4.4 per game. They’ve allowed 146, so obviously there’s a little luck in there, but this is a team playing generally better. It’s largely on the back of the bats, who have steadily seemed to get better as they get more and more time under the Alec Zumwalt/Mike Tosar/Keoni DeRenne trio, but there have also been some positives on the pitching staff. They’re playing like I think we all expected them to play before the season. No they aren’t great, but they’re generally competitive. And if you were wondering, they’re 10-5 when scoring four or more during this stretch.
I think it’s easy to say that it’s the same old Royals, providing hope after the season was largely over, but I don’t believe that’s the case here. In fact, I think that the wins are actually coming in about the best way possible. The young players are generally the guys getting the job done, with a notable inclusion of Andrew Benintendi playing so well, but I think the issues that people want to lead to changes on the coaching staff are still there every single day. I suppose it’s possible that wins could mask some of the issues, but I believe it’s going to take more than .500 baseball for even a 30-game stretch to change minds in the organization. I anticipate changes regardless of how this team finishes, unless they finish in such a way that changes actually don’t make sense, which is hard to envision. And that’s especially true because they’re going to move Benintendi soon. This leads me to that trade deadline.
The draft is obviously incredibly important and we’re now less than a week away from that starting, but the biggest talk around the team all the way up to the August 2 deadline will be what moves the Royals make. We all know the one name who absolutely will be dealt, barring a David DeJesus-like untimely injury - Benintendi. And we know the rest of the candidates. Whit Merrifield (his health is in question now), Michael A. Taylor, Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Brad Keller, Zack Greinke, Hunter Dozier, Nicky Lopez and maybe a surprise or two. I reached out to someone who is a lot more connected than me who said the trade talk is very quiet, probably because of the draft, but it is starting to pick up as teams have started to get closer to their conclusion of draft work.
The consensus is that Benintendi is going to bring back a nice chunk, maybe more than a traditional rental because of the interest in him. We’ve heard about the most interest from the Yankees, Braves and Blue Jays, but there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that he also fits with the Red Sox, Rays, White Sox, Twins, Guardians, Mariners, Phillies, Brewers, Cardinals and Padres. That’s nearly half of the league. My question that I really don’t know the answer to is if it’s smart to pair him with someone like Barlow to get a bigger return. Jim Bowden had a trade suggestion (and his trade ideas are often a reminder of why he is no longer a GM) of Benintendi and Barlow for Andy Pages, Gavin Stone, Jake Vogel and cash. Vogel is sort of meh to me and I might see if the Dodgers would replace Pages with Miguel Vargas, but if they wouldn’t, I’d still say yes very fast. If that’s the sort of haul that pairing Barlow with him gets, then it’s a wise choice.
But the other candidates have a lot of juice on their own merit and spreading the prospect return around might be wiser as well. Many teams would love to have Barlow. It seems to me the time to trade him is right now, though I don’t think I’m alone in doubting the Royals do it. Staumont needs to come back healthy and wouldn’t bring back as much, so maybe it’s not the worst idea to keep him for now. I’ve asked and the Keller market is quiet, but that could change as we get closer to the deadline. Greinke is in a similar spot and Lopez isn’t exactly coveted. He feels like more of an offseason trade anyway if he’s moved. But that leaves Taylor and Merrifield. Many teams are and will be interested. The Royals don’t have a center fielder ready to go, but that shouldn’t matter. They do have multiple second basemen either on the roster or close, so moving Merrifield is a no-brainer. To this point, as I said, it’s quiet, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if rumors start ramping up a lot at the end of this week and then crescendo right after the All-Star Game next Tuesday.
All signs point to Maikel Garcia getting the callup today. By the time you read this, you might know who he replaced. Is he the 27th man because Merrifield is hurt for a couple of days and can’t play? Is Merrifield going on the IL? We’ll know that soon, but I’ll give a quick idea of what you’re going to get with Garcia. First of all, he’s Alicides Escobar’s cousin (and Ronald Acuña Jr. too) and you’re going to see a lot of Esky in him, just with more walks. I think there’s some power left to develop but not much. He has a good approach. He plays very good defense. And he can really run. He makes a ton of contact and doesn’t strike out much. I worry a bit that he’ll be overmatched by velocity in the big leagues, but he’s on the 40-man, so he’s the call for now, but I do think of Merrifield is out for an extended period of time that Michael Massey may get the call.
Friday - Royals 4, Guardians 3
This one was kind of fun. Brady Singer was good, not great, but good is better than what we’ve seen from a lot of Royals starters this year. I thought he had command of both his sinker and his slider, which hasn’t totally been the case for him lately. He still isn’t getting the swing and miss on his slider, so I think there’s probably a small tweak to be made there, but I don’t anticipate anyone on the Royals big league staff will be able to help him make that.
But still, seven innings with three runs allowed and no walks is certainly something to be excited about, even against a lineup that came into this series struggling like the Guardians were. I think location-wise, the slider was exactly where Singer wanted it.
Sure a couple caught too much of the plate, but that’s the trajectory of that pitch without a doubt that he wants. In my opinion, I think the slider struggles when he catches too much of the zone with his sinker. On one hand, you love strikes, but on the other hand, I think I’d like to see some better strikes than some of these that he threw.
He didn’t use many changeups, but I also didn’t see a spot where I think he should have thrown one and didn’t, so it’s hard to get too upset about that. But if you look at the one true mistake he made, it was on one of those sinkers that just caught too much of the plate. He left it in the middle to Franmil Reyes and while Reyes is a badly struggling hitter, he also has massive power and hit it into the right field seats to give the Guardians a 3-1 lead.
The Royals, heading into that game had come back from a two-run deficit once all season. And they certainly hadn’t come back from it when they were down in the seventh inning. And then when they went without scoring in the seventh, ready to face a solid Guardians bullpen, I think it’s fair to have assumed the game was over. But luckily for the Royals, they had Emmanuel Rivera hitting ninth and Whit Merrifield playing well in July at the top of the order.
Rivera singled against Eli Morgan to lead off the eighth and made a big mistake to Merrifield. He threw two changeups to start the at bat and then threw a fastball on a 1-1 pitch on the inner-upper third of the zone to Merrifield. Whit fouled it off. The mistake was that he threw the same pitch in basically the same spot.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen Merrifield watch a home run, but he admired this one as it sailed deep into the night and tied the game for the Royals.
It should be noted before I get to the heroics that both Joel Payamps and Barlow bent but didn’t break. In the top of the eighth, Payamps allowed a leadoff single to Myles Straw. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Then Amed Rosario had an infield single that didn’t advance the runner. So there were two on and one out for Jose Ramirez and then Reyes. Payamps coaxed a popup out of Ramirez and then had a nine-pitch battle with Reyes that ended in a strikeout.
In the ninth, Barlow didn’t have it at all. He hit the first batter on a 1-2 pitch and then walked the third after getting a forceout in between. I’ll mention that walk made me especially angry because that game was about to be the third game all season where neither team walked. Josh Naylor hit a rocket pinch hit single that the Guardians probably should have tried to score Andres Gimenez, but they held him at third. So the bases were loaded with one out. Barlow got Straw to ground out to third where they got the force at home and then Steven Kwan, professional menace, lined out to right. It wasn’t Barlow’s best game, but he didn’t allow a run.
And that allowed Vinnie Pasquantino to be a hero. Or at least close to one. I was so ready for him to hit a walk-off that I had typed my #HEYHEYHEYHEY tweet in my phone and was ready to send when the ball sailed over the wall. And boy did he come close.
Just look where that ball hit! SO CLOSE!
After a pinch runner came on for him and then a terrible at bat for Kyle Isbel where he bunted foul with two strikes, Taylor had a chance to play hero.
It turned out pinch running paid off because I think Pasquantino gets held at third there, but Edward Olivares was not and the Royals had themselves their second walk-off win of the year. The first, you might recall, was against this very Guardians team in the second game of the season.
Saturday - Guardians 13, Royals 1
Here’s the deal. I’m going to waste as much digital ink on this game as I wasted time paying attention to it. I thought it was over after the first, I was pretty sure it was over after the second and I knew it was over after the first. Jonathan Heasley concerned me with his velocity being way down. His fastball averaged just 91 and he maxed out a full 1.4 MPH below his season average. That’s not good. The Guardians were on everything he threw and because of that, he didn’t throw long. We learned yesterday before the game that he was put on the IL with shoulder tendinitis, so we’ll see how fast he gets back.
Jackson Kowar came on to relieve him and I thought he looked good. At first. Then he looked like the Kowar who has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball history to start his career. His changeup was good. His fastball had moments, but not enough and he had another dreadful big league outing.
The only highlight was brought on by all the lowlights and it was Taylor taking the mound. He pitched the final two innings and threw a pitch at 93.8 MPH!
He also made Reyes look silly going for it all.
Reyes would strike out in that at bat.
I’m sure there were people watching who were getting big mad that the Royals were laughing in the dugout, but I’m glad they were able to find a little levity in a truly awful day of baseball. Ideally, that’s Taylor’s last pitching performance, but at least he was better than Kowar or Heasley.
Sunday - Royals 5, Guardians 1
If Saturday’s game didn’t prove that momentum isn’t a real thing game to game for a team, Sunday’s game must have. The Guardians scored early and often against Royals pitching, but came out on Sunday and couldn’t do much of anything against Greinke. He didn’t get deep into the game, needing some pitches to get through his five innings, but to hold a team that put up 23 hits the day before scoreless seems like a pretty decent accomplishment.
He hasn’t exactly been known for getting swings and misses this year, but his curve was working well for him. He had five whiffs on it, but also used his cutter again. It wasn’t as much as he’d used it in the past few starts, but it worked well for him. He had six swings on it and got three whiffs. So those two pitches were doing the work for him, but he was getting some weak contact on his changeup as well. I thought his control was just a touch iffy (for him), but he was able to get through five scoreless. And he even got some recognition from Pitching Ninja on that curve.
You love to see that. Leaving the game after five with a one-run lead with the way the Royals bullpen has been pitching is not always the most comforting thing in the world.
That’s why it was so nice that they were able to put up three runs immediately in the bottom of the fifth inning, and they did it partly with some hustle. With one out and Lopez on first, Rivera hit a weak grounder to Jose Ramirez, who elected to go to second for the force, but Lopez beat the throw (after a review). Benintendi came up next and did what he’s done so much this year.
After Bobby Witt Jr. reached on an error (it’ll probably be changed to a hit eventually if it hasn’t already), MJ Melendez came up with the bases loaded.
They tacked on another in the bottom of the sixth after Jose Cuas pitched well after he had some rest. And that led to the new late inning crew while Staumont is working his way back. It was Dylan Coleman for the seventh. Just like Friday night in the late innings, he made it tough on himself. He walked the first two batters, which is obviously an issue for him and the entire pitching staff, but particularly the bullpen. With a five-run lead and his stuff, you’d think Coleman would be able to throw strikes, but he gave himself a stressful inning. But thankfully, like Friday night, he got out of trouble with two fly balls and a groundout.
The rest of the game was quiet and the Royals picked up the series win, but I want to touch briefly on Taylor Clarke, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He did have some help from a ridiculous catch by Isbel.
Clarke had a very tough go of things in the middle of the season, but after a mechanical tweak, he’s been dominant in the bullpen. Here’s what he’s done since the start of that road trip to the West Coast:
14 K (29.2%)
2 BB (4.2%)
In my opinion, he should be added to the list of players available. But for now, he’s on the list of players who helped the Royals win a series. Oh, and on the list of players who helped to finally hang a loss on Zach Plesac.
The Week Ahead
We have almost achieved the All-Star break as we have one more week of baseball left to go, but it’s a busy one for the Royals with eight games in seven days. It starts off with four games in three days against the Tigers. These two teams did just meet the weekend before this last one and the Royals took two of three. It looks like this series will mark the return of Daniel Lynch and the Royals look like they’ll be facing the same three pitchers they saw in Detroit plus Alex Faedo up as the 27th man today. That’ll be a reunion for Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar to see their college teammate. The Tigers looked like a team circling the drain when the Royals were in Detroit, but they started winning as soon as the boys in blue left. They swept a four-game set with the Guardians and won the first two against the White Sox before dropping the last two. So they’re playing with a bit more confidence.
Then it’s on to Toronto for what I think will be an interesting trip. I’m very curious to see who will be able to travel with the team and who won’t. I’ve already noted that Singer was shifted so he wouldn’t be a starter in Toronto. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it could open up a chance for some others to get a few big league games under their belts with some on the restricted list. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays season has gone off the rails a bit. They were 11 games over .500 on July 1 and are now just a handful of games ahead of the last place Orioles. So this is a big series for them.
When Whit was pulled yesterday, I honestly thought it was because of an impending trade and KC didn't want to risk injury.
Wouldn't think a nagging toe injury would be something that benches a modern day ironman.
If Benny gets traded before the All-Star game , do the Royals lose their representative in the game? Or worse, would Benny lose his all-star slot?