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Weekend in Review: Rehab Assignments, an Eventful Series and the Week Ahead
The losing streak ends, but an opportunity to take a series was blown.
1The Royals entered the weekend staring at four games with the team with the best record in the American League after having lost 11 in a row. Oh yeah, it was the same team they got swept by last weekend and that they’d gone 2-13 against over the last two seasons. So to assume things were going to get worse was probably fair. But also, they were bound to win eventually.
And then something amazing happened. They actually won the first game of a double header. Maybe the seven-inning game got them there because their bullpen is still thin (I’ll get to that), but they were able to pick up a win to end the losing streak and even had a chance to enjoy it for an hour before the second game came. But all in all, I have to say that in spite of the way they lost yesterday, it was a successful weekend. The pitching performed, they got a few big hits and they’re three days closer to having a more complete team on the field.
I’m actually going to start with big leaguers not in the big leagues in this week’s review because of that.
The Royals bullpen is very thin right now. They have two relievers you can count on in Josh Staumont and Scott Barlow. They’re missing Kyle Zimmer in the worst way and, even if you can’t fathom him being good after the way he started, Jesse Hahn as well. Both of them pitched in Omaha this weekend. Hahn has two scoreless outings so far with two strikeouts and no walks, though he has hit two batters. Zimmer has pitched twice and hasn’t allowed a run while striking out four and walking two. Both are close, though I’d assume Zimmer is closer since he’s pitched more recently. Getting both of them will help in a significant way.
The big one, though, is Adalberto Mondesi finally going on a rehab assignment at Northwest Arkansas. After news that he was still feeling pain from his left side, it was kind of curious that he was sent out so quickly, but he seems to be doing okay, at least as far as both the reports and the numbers. He hit his first home run yesterday and it was a massive one.
And from the left side to boot. That’s certainly encouraging. There’s been some talk of him coming back for the series against the Brewers starting tomorrow, but I would like to see him get at least a few more games under his belt. Still, it’s not unreasonable to think he might be back for the weekend series against the Tigers if all goes well. That’ll set off a chain reaction that likely sends Nicky Lopez to second base and Whit Merrifield to right field. That will help.
A Split Against the Best Team in Baseball Feels…Not Good Enough
Let’s take a look back at the weekend of games and a four-game split that feels better on paper than it does in reality.
Friday - Game One
After the start of Brad Keller’s season, each of his starts is met with significant edge of seat action. For the second straight start, he’d get a very good offense with the White Sox, which was kind of scary, but he did pitch quite well the week prior, so there was reason to hope it was something he could build on. While he was good last week, he was even better in this start. But it didn’t start off great. He just couldn’t seem to get out of the first inning, and if not for a very questionable strike three call on Yasmani Grandal, that inning might still be going.
And then suddenly, it was like 2020 Keller was back. He had a 1-2-3 second and third before running into a little trouble with a now nemesis Zack Collins leading off with a double and the White Sox eventually getting him home. He was clearly running out of gas in the fifth, but was able to get Adam Eaton to hit into a double play and then get Collins to ground out to end the inning. And with the game only slated for seven innings, they didn’t really need him to go much deeper.
He was also helped by the offense finally getting going a little bit. Of course, they had a little help from the stadium. Michael A. Taylor hit a 351 foot home run to the opposite field that had an xBA of .160 to give the Royals a 2-1 lead in the top of the second. Then in the third, Salvador Perez hit one to a similar spot, but not quite as far even at 344 feet with an xBA of .190. That one was worth three and the Royals had enough. It felt kind of nice for them to get hits they probably shouldn’t have after seeing a lot of less than wonderful luck.
And for whatever it’s worth, Barlow was about as good as it gets in the sixth inning to keep the Royals in front, striking out the side. The first two were swinging and the third called. Barlow threw 12 pitches and got six swings and misses on seven swings. It was pure filth. Just look at what he did to Grandal.
Josh Staumont closed it out in the ninth to end the losing streak. You could feel the relief in the team through the screen, which is definitely not typical. Of course, it’s not every day that you break an 11-game losing streak.
Friday - Game Two
Jakob Junis made his return to the rotation after a few relief appearances to make room for Daniel Lynch in the rotation. I know it’s pretty popular to look at that move as wrong, but I think it’s also fair to mention that Junis had been hit awfully hard in his previous starts. You can see his percentile ranks.
This isn’t to say that he didn’t pitch well early in the year, but it’s not terribly surprising that eventually the hard hits started to fall in. He got out of the first with a borderline strike three call against Yermin Mercedes, but got hit around in the second. He got in trouble in the second by giving up a double to Adam Eaton and then a home run to Andrew Vaughn. Then it was another double, this time to Collins before he got Billy Hamilton out that led to a pitching change.
The bullpen struggled a bit. Tyler Zuber was the first man out as he seems to be a lot in these situation and he walked Danny Mendick before he got what should have been an easy inning-ending double play, but Hanser Alberto made an error. With the bases loaded, Zuber struck out Leury Garcia and Mike Matheny came too get him and bring in Jake Brentz, who continued to struggle with control and walked in a run that was somehow still charged to Junis even though it seemed like it was about an hour between him getting pulled and that run scoring.
The bullpen continued to pitch pretty well and held the White Sox scoreless for the rest of the game, but outside of a third inning home run from the suddenly scorching hot again Carlos Santana, they just couldn’t score enough. But here’s his home run because there’s nothing else good from this one.
Carlos Rodon entered this game having allowed 12 hits all season in 31 innings, and 25 percent of those were to Salvador Perez last weekend in Kansas City. You could tell he wasn’t exactly right in the first when he gave up a leadoff double to Whit Merrifield and a walk to Santana followed by a double steal. After a strikeout of Perez, Jorge Soler finally got a big hit with runners in scoring position. It only scored one, though, and then Rodon struck out the next two.
After a 1-2-3 inning, it sure seemed like things were about to revert back, but Rodon found himself very frustrated by the umpiring, which is a theme with this crew. It started after another double and walk by Merrifield and Santana respectively, and then Perez hit another three-run home run on a pitch that I still can’t figure out how he hit the pitch.
Rodon had given up three runs all season to this point and he gave up three on one swing and four in one game. The offense mostly dried up again for the rest of the game until Santana hit another home run to give the Royals some much-needed insurance.
But the story of this one was really Mike Minor who finally came through with a great start. It had been awhile since we’d seen Minor at his best, really not at all this season. And just last week, he gave up five runs in five innings to this same White Sox team, but on Saturday he was in control pretty much the whole time.
He was keeping hitters off balance all game with lots of fly balls that really had no risk of any damage. I really liked the way he used his fastball and his changeup. He caught more of the middle of the plate than I’d like with his velocity, but by using them to play off each other, which is the whole idea, he had White Sox hitters guessing all night.
This was exactly what the Royals were looking for when they signed Minor and they finally got it. It was a master class in pitch execution and giving the team the innings they needed all season long. If he can keep doing that, the deal will be worth it even if he gives up three or four runs in these starts instead of just one.
The issue with this game is that it impacted Sunday’s game. Barlow came in to protect a 4-1 lead in the eighth and while he ended up getting the job done, things got very difficult. Barlow got Eaton to strike out on four pitches. Then he got Nick Madrigal to ground out on the fourth pitch. This is where the White Sox likely won the game on Sunday in a game they probably didn’t think they could win Saturday. Tim Anderson put together a fantastic at bat and on the sixth pitch, he singled. And then Leury Garcia took a walk on the 12th pitch of the plate appearances. Just look at some of this work he did.
So now they had worked Barlow to a point he could not go Sunday and actually probably felt like they had a chance to win the game. A very tense at bat between Barlow and Yoan Moncada ended in five pitches, but Barlow had thrown 31 pitches and any chance of him either pitching the ninth or pitching on Sunday was out the door.
After the insurance run, you could make an argument that Josh Staumont wasn’t needed, but he was warming in the eighth because of how much Barlow had thrown, so he came in the ninth anyway in spite of the team being up by four. He ended up having to throw 22 pitches, which was his third game in four days, so he was likely out for Sunday too. They secured a win using their two best relievers, but it was a risk. And we saw how it played out.
This was such a good, somewhat tense, back and forth game all day. The Royals struck first, putting pressure on Dylan Cease as they’d done in the first in two of the first three games as well. Another Santana walk (he had five in the series) followed by an Andrew Benintendi single and a Perez sacrifice fly gave the Royals a 1-0 lead and Brady Singer was good Singer yesterday.
After going away from his slider against Detroit the other day, he threw it 31 percent of the time against the White Sox and had them mostly guessing with seven swings and misses on it in 21 swings. He didn’t have his first 1-2-3 inning until the fourth, but you still felt like he was in pretty good control early on and that this was going to be a low-scoring game because Cease, who has really come on lately, was also in control.
Of course, in the fifth, he made what was really his one mistake with the slider, leaving it out over the middle of the plate to Eaton. Eaton doesn’t have the bat speed to catch up to a good fastball and while I liked the idea of trying to get him to swing over the top of a slider, when you leave a pitch in this spot, there’s not much you can do but bemoan your location.
So at 2-1, it sort of felt like the Royals were in trouble, but in the seventh, back to back singles by Michael A. Taylor and Cam Gallagher gave the Royals a rally. A sacrifice bunt by Nicky Lopez pushed them to second and third and I was worried that they were going to waste their last chance, but Whit Merrifield hit a little dribbler that Jose Abreu couldn’t field, which drove in one run and then Santana came through again with a big sacrifice fly to give the Royals the lead.
Except, there was a problem. Remember how many pitches Barlow threw on Saturday? So Matheny pushed Singer a bit and brought him back out for the seventh inning to face the eight and nine hitters. I don’t know if he was always going to get pulled before Anderson came up again, but he got one out and gave up a soft single to Nick Madrigal (does he hit any other kind?). So in came Greg Holland, who had actually been pretty good since his rough start to the season.
But he handled it pretty well. He got Anderson to strike out, but he did walk Eaton, which was a mistake and then got Moncada to weakly fly out to end the innings. Now the formula was this: Get six outs with some combination of Holland, who had already thrown 13 pitches, Jake Brentz, Tyler Zuber, Jake Newberry, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis.
Matheny felt his best option for the eighth was to stick with Holland and it was quite the adventure. It started with a single to Abreu and then a walk on nine pitches to Yermin Mercedes. He got Grandal to strike out and Vaughn to hit a weak grounder, but the tying run was on third and the lead run on second. He then walked Garcia to load the bases and was lucky to have Madrigal up next. On an 0-2 pitch, Madrigal chased one he shouldn’t and hit one very softly in front of the mound and Holland made maybe the best defensive play of his career.
So the rally was for naught, but again the White Sox set themselves up for success with great plate appearances. If Holland could have gotten them out quietly, the bottom of the ninth would have been set up with the bottom of the order. But it wasn’t.
And I’ll say this. Going to Davis was wrong. He doesn’t have it anymore. My choice would have been Zuber, but you could make a good argument for Brentz or even Santana. Some were wondering why they didn’t go with Staumont, but this is a guy who struggles on back-to-back days and you want to throw him three days in a row and four days out of five? A day after throwing 22 pitches? I don’t think so. And Davis predictably blew the game. I will say that the double he allowed to Anderson was on a good pitch, but he just isn’t worth a roster spot at this point. And it’s hard to see and say that, but it’s true.
And of course, on the day I praised Gallagher on Twitter for doing such a great job blocking pitches, Davis bounced one that nobody could have blocked. Abreu was alert and came down the line and scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. It was, of course, controversial.
Mike Matheny was steaming in the post-game press conference. I don’t blame him. I didn’t see a definitive tag, but I didn’t see all the replays either. But whether or not Abreu was tagged, a mistake was made in using Davis. And at the same time, I have a hard time seeing how much different it would have been with the other options. This is part of why the White Sox are so good. They worked Royals pitching so hard in this game and the day before that it led to this.
So the Royals had three of four in their grasp and then let it slip away. A split is still good on the road against a good team, but man, going into an off day at 19-21 and after winning three of four would have felt so nice.
The Royals have themselves two off-days this week with a two-game series against the Brewers inside the bread of a couple breaks. It’s going to be very tough to score runs against the Brewers with the Royals due to face Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, both sporting ERAs under 2.00. The Brewers offense has been struggling quite a bit, but with their pitching, they can still win some games and the Royals offense seems likely to have some issues with these two.
Of course, there’s also a lot to pay attention to over the next day or two as we’ve officially reached Dayton Moore’s magical 40-game mark, which he likes to reach before starting to make changes. This is the perfect opportunity. It’s a day off and they’re headed home. I still think the obvious move here is to swap Ryan O’Hearn with Edward Olivares. Even with Mondesi on his way back soon enough, Taylor has struggled enough that the Royals need a better option in the lineup. Olivares is hitting .354/.446/.625 with three homers in 12 games. It’s the easy move. It’s the obvious move.
The return of Zimmer and Hahn should spell the end of the time at the big leagues for Jake Newberry and Davis (as much as that hurts to say). I already mentioned the Olivares move I’d make, but Mondesi’s return, whenever it does come, is not quite so easy. As much as Hanser Alberto has been a lot of energy in the dugout, it’s hard to justify his roster spot given that he’s hitting .250/.273/.313 against lefties and that’s what he’s suppose to do well. The sample is impossibly small, but decisions need to be made and I think he might just be the guy to go if they make the Olivares move. If they don’t, it’s probably just Mondesi swapped for O’Hearn, but that’s boring.
The Brewers are struggling and the Tigers, even after sweeping the Royals last week, are still not very good. At 18-22, the Royals have a chance to get back to .500 this week if they can have a great homestand.