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Weekend in Review: Roster Moves Ahead, Another Losing Weekend and What's Next This Week
The Royals offense has come alive, but that pitching still needs an overhaul.
It’s kind of amazing what getting a few wins can do for perspective. Even though the Royals lost two of three games this weekend, including the last two, getting three in a row before it made it seem somehow slightly less dire. This isn’t to say that anything is fixed or even remotely close to it, but even just a few wins allow you to breathe just a little bit. Now, if the last two losses turn into four or five, as they very easily could against a good Giants team, that feeling comes back, but for the moment, two losses in a row are a touch less frustrating than they would have been a week ago.
They’re still on pace for the worst record in team history But as I wrote on Friday, you can kind of start to see how it might come together if they make the changes they need to make. You see glimpses of it, which I’ll get to in the recaps, but you can see a great start from Jonathan Heasley or another great start to the start by Daniel Lynch and you can absolutely see it’s in there. They just need someone to figure out how to coax that out consistently.
And sometimes there is a confidence factor. The Royals had none of it for a long time. With a couple of losses in a row, they’re in danger of falling back into a hole, but they at least got a taste of some wins. And I’m sticking with it that I don’t think they end up losing 100. It’ll be a lot closer than it should have been with this roster, but I think we’re starting to see the flashes from the middle of that order and eventually, we’ll see Vinnie Pasquantino (he was pinch hit for late yesterday, though it was a blowout) and maybe Nick Pratto and a bunch of guys are coming back from injury, which leads me to my big discussion topic.
Roster Moves Coming
The current Royals roster is likely not going to stay intact for a whole lot longer. Cam Gallagher started his rehab assignment about two weeks ago while Amir Garrett joined him in Omaha on Wednesday (and then was brought back to the big leagues yesterday). Edward Olivares and Zack Greinke joined them this weekend as well. It won’t all happen at once, but I have a hard time thinking any of them won’t be joining the big league club when they’re ready to go. Add to that the fact that the newest date for the 13-pitcher maximum on the big league roster should go into effect after this upcoming weekend and we know we’ll see some differences. We already saw Collin Snider get sent down after being absolutely brutal since his great start to the year, but the question now is what’s next for this team?
Garrett’s return sent Angel Zerpa back to Northwest Arkansas, which isn’t that big of a surprise, but the relievers who didn’t get sent down for him can’t feel like they’re safe. For one thing, that roster rule is going to cause someone to get sent out soon if the league actually sticks to it. For another, Matt Peacock and Gabe Speier both are on the Covid-IL and will likely be ready to go for a couple of rehab outings themselves soon. Peacock might just head back to AAA, but Speier had been solid in the big leagues when healthy, so he’s going to take someone’s spot. Does Albert Abreu get put through the DFA ringer again? Maybe it’s Arodys Vizcaino who has walked five and struck out three. Or maybe Taylor Clarke gets the boot (don’t count on that even if he’s fallen off big time). But something is coming there.
Olivares was hitting leadoff for this team when he got hurt and was playing every day. I hope that they would insert him back into the lineup regularly. This may seem a little odd, but I’m not sure what that means for Nicky Lopez. If they move Whit Merrifield back to second base full time, I could see them sending Lopez back down to AAA because of a pure numbers game (and the fact that Lopez is struggling so much). I don’t think I would have expected that Lopez would be a big league roster casualty for Olivares when the season started, but here we are. And then with Greinke, the question is who leaves the rotation? We know Brad Keller and Brady Singer are staying, if healthy. Kris Bubic hasn’t been great, but also hasn’t been terrible. Heasley had just been okay before he was dominant this weekend. Lynch, though, has been pretty bad over his last few starts in spite of some good beginnings here and there. Those last three might be competing for two spots, so that’ll be pretty interesting to watch during Greinke’s two or three rehab starts he’ll get. I guess I’m assuming it’ll be more than one start at least because if it’s not, I don’t know how Lynch keeps his roster spot at this point.
Friday - Royals 8, Orioles 1
Come on, let’s give it up for Heasley because that was absolutely outstanding work by him. Heck, outstanding might be an understatement. He got some help from his defense, sure, but this line slaps:
I could look at that all day long and just marvel at it. This is a guy who had done a decent enough job of keeping the opponents off the scoreboard and had kind of started to round into form over his last couple, but hadn’t been especially good at any point. He had 18 walks and 15 strikeouts in 25.1 innings this season. And I’d said a few times before that I still haven’t seen the Heasley from the minors at any point during his time in the majors, even during spring training. Well this was it.
His fastball had life that had the Orioles struggling and then he was mixing in his changeup beautifully. One thing I really like about Heasley is he isn’t married to a pitch mix. He’s had starts where he wasn’t feeling his fastball as much so he threw more changeups than anything. He’s had starts where he didn’t have the changeup so he used both his slider and curve more. In this start, I think it was all working, but the fastball and changeup mix was working just incredibly well. He only threw more than 15 pitches in one inning. He was just great.
As I was driving home from the game on Thursday night, Denny Matthews was talking about the Royals pitching struggles and how it always felt like they were on the verge of disaster. He made a point that they just need to string some 1-2-3 innings together. It doesn’t matter how, but they need to do it just to give everyone a little break from the stress. Heasley had five 1-2-3 innings out of his seven. He allowed a hit in the first to the third batter he faced and then Emmanuel Rivera made an error in the fourth. That was it.
Because the Royals offense did some work, he didn’t have a ton of huge pitches, but there was one point that I thought things could get away from him a little bit. After that error in the fourth, he was facing Anthony Santander, who had the only hit against him and the count was 3-2. Heasley obviously hadn’t walked a batter yet, but, as I mentioned, had walked a ton in previous starts. And on that 3-2 count, Heasley went to his fastball and this one was really good.
Yes, it was a ball and if he had taken it, it would have been a walk and maybe you can’t see the way it’s moving from that gif, but that is a near impossible pitch to lay off. And it’s not like Santander hasn’t been patient this year. Heasley just got him. In all, he did a great job of filling up the zone, but the not the middle of the zone with the fastball.
That big hole in the middle is something I love to see with pitches surrounding it. And actually if you look at the rest of his pitches, he just generally stayed out of the middle extremely well.
Look, this isn’t an especially good Orioles lineup, but they aren’t without their solid hitters at the top of the lineup. They have an ability to score a few runs and Heasley just kept them guessing all game long. Maybe my favorite pitch of the night was his very last one.
Woo boy, that’s a pretty changeup. Before I get to the offense’s performance, the defense had a very nice day, but I want to highlight Melendez in right field because he made a catch that made him look like he’s been playing out there for years.
That’s just…wow. More from MJ in a minute.
Maybe one of the keys to the Royals finding better consistency in their pitching is getting the offense going. I’m not going to try and pretend like there’s an excuse for the way they’ve pitched this season, but when you feel like a single mistake will end the day for the team, it can be difficult. And the Royals have done a much better job lately of scoring some runs early. They picked up three runs on Wednesday in the first and did it again on Friday. What I loved about the first is they got it done starting with a double from Merrifield and RBI double from Benintendi before Bobby Witt Jr. hit a fly ball. Then Salvador Perez came to the plate.
You can tell Salvy is going good when he’s hitting bombs to center and he’s hit a couple lately. Melendez hit a double next but he was stuck on second. Still, that’s four extra base hits to start the game. After the offense went down 1-2-3 in the second, Benintendi made an out to start the third and then Witt came up and showed off just his incredible ability to hit the snot out of the ball.
A couple of things on this one. He hit the ball 109.9 MPH and while Santander isn’t an especially good outfielder, he also isn’t terrible. That ball was supposed to sink and hit his glove for a tough luck out, but it just kept rising. And then after it got over his head, Witt’s ridiculous speed turned that into a triple. Salvy doubled him home after that to give the Royals six hits, all for extra bases to start the game. Unfortunately, Michael A. Taylor ruined it with a single in the bottom of the fourth. He’d make up for it.
In the fifth, the score was 4-0 and I think we all know that four runs isn’t enough to feel comfortable with, but after a couple more singles (ugh) from Benintendi and Witt, Melendez came up with two on and one out.
That made the score 7-0 and I felt better. And because home runs are fun and Taylor felt bad about hitting a lousy single, here’s a look at his home run.
In all, the Royals ended up with four doubles, a triple and three home runs among their 12 hits in probably their most complete game of the season.
Saturday - Orioles 6, Royals 4
This was not their most complete game of the season, though it started off like they were well on their way to a fourth win in a row for the first time this season. I spent so much time on a fun game that I’m not going to go blow by blow here, but I do want to hit on some key points. The offense scored another first inning run and then tacked on a couple more in the fourth, but Lynch’s struggles when a lineup turned over that he exhibited against the Blue Jays during the week popped up once again.
First I’ll say that Lynch had the fastball popping early. He had four whiffs in the first and another in the second, which was the fourth most he’d had in any game all year. So the stuff was there. But in the fifth inning, he ran into some trouble and was bailed out a bit by some poor Orioles base running. I said at the time on Twitter that I was very interested to see how he responded in the sixth. It looked like things might be unraveling, but he got out of it with minimal damage.
And the answer was not well. He got a lineout of Austin Hays to start the inning, but then gave up an infield single and a hard-hit single. That brought out Cal Eldred. Anyone want to guess what followed? Well duh, you know it was a three-run homer. The Orioles had a lead they wouldn’t give back.
The good news is that Lynch truly was sharp. His fastball had life and even though it wasn’t as good after the first inning, it was still fine. His slider continued to be nasty. I think Lynch needs to find his changeup. He’s always facing a lineup of righties and he just couldn’t locate it.
You need to be able to get the changeup in a spot where it’s an actual weapon and he hasn’t done that. The good news here is that he’s done it before. He has a good changeup when he’s right. I don’t trust Eldred to help him find it, so maybe a trip to AAA would be a good idea, but that changeup will be a difference-maker for him if he can find it.
The offense did pull an old trick of scoring a bit and then packing up for the day. But they did have a chance in the eighth inning when Taylor hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded. Perez was on third, Melendez on second and Hunter Dozier on first. Perez obviously scored, hence the sacrifice fly, but Dozier didn’t move up to second and the next batter immediately hit into an inning-ending double play.
Melendez moved up. Dozier absolutely had to move up too. I couldn’t find the best video to show, but I think Dozier wasn’t 100 percent sure he’d make it, and I get that, but he just has to be a better baserunner than that. Kyle Isbel’s grounder would have likely scored Melendez to make it a 6-5 game and as good as Jorge Lopez has been this year, a one-run game is different than a two-run game, so you just never know.
Sunday - Orioles 10, Royals 7
For a good portion of this game, I figured I’d just tell you that Brad Keller was bad and give you your time back, but this game got a little crazy because the Royals offense actually had some fight in them, which was a welcome sight. First, yes, Keller was bad. There’s just no analysis to be found here. I think he didn’t have his four-seamer, so he turned to his sinker and both got hit. When he tried his slider, it got hit. His command was bad. His control was bad. And that was that. He ended up giving up five runs in 1.2 innings, though he did strike out four of the five outs he got, so at least there was that.
And the Orioles tacked on a run in the fourth and a run in the sixth before the offense woke up for the day. In that sixth inning, Witt picked up his second hit of the day and then Perez hit a double play ground ball that the Orioles just threw into right field. Witt scored because he’s stupid fast and after Melendez was semi-robbed on a nice play by Cedric Mullins, Dozier came through.
I noted this on Twitter, but I’ve been following this since early in the year and I finally have to make this meaningless stat public. Dozier is hitting .375/.444/.833 with three home runs in the sixth inning this year. He’s actually hitting .330/.394/.523 in the sixth or later with seven doubles and four home runs.
That homer made it 7-3 and you could see that maybe it could become a game. But Amir Garrett once again struggled with throwing strikes in his first game back in the big leagues and ended up giving up a double sandwiched between two outs. Then he threw a wild pitch, walked a batter and gave up a triple to Richie Martin, who is not a good hitter. It was Martin’s second triple of the day. He gave up an RBI single to Mullins to make the score 10-3 and was bailed out by Albert Abreu, who walked a batter when he came into the game for good measure before getting the third out.
But Taylor continued his really good offensive season on the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh.
And then three batters later, Witt hit a rocket out to left.
Abreu gave up a leadoff double in the eighth, followed by a walk, but then got a double play and a strikeout to give the Royals a little hope. In the bottom of the eighth, the Royals crept even closer. Melendez popped out to start the inning, but Dozier doubled and then Carlos Santana walked. An Emmanuel Rivera single brought in one and then a Taylor groundout gave the Royals their seventh run. Merrifield walked, but Benintendi lined out to end the inning. You had the feeling that if Witt batted in the eighth, the Royals might have won that game.
But he didn’t. He hit in the ninth and grounded out sharply. Then Perez grounded out. But the Royals still threatened with a Melendez walk and a Dozier single (that was four hits for him) before Santana grounded out.
The one thing I want to point out was just how terrible Dan Iassogna was behind the plate for this one, and it was for both sides. Take a look at the Orioles called balls and strikes:
That’s four strikes that were obviously balls and five balls that were at least close to obviously strikes. The Royals breakdown was worse.
That is six balls that were pretty obviously strikes and just one called strike that was out of the zone and even that one was at least touching the edge. I cannot wait for the robot umps to call strikes.
Coming Up This Week
The Royals will get the rare road trip where they don’t have to change hotels for a full week when they head to the Bay Area. The first opponent will be the San Francisco Giants, who are good, but not nearly as good as last season. Their offense is clicking just fine, but they’re having a little trouble on the pitching side. The matchups are kind of intriguing. Alex Wood is the veteran who is having another nice season in what’s been a generally nice career. Then they’ll see Logan Webb, who struggled for a decent amount of time to start his career before figuring things out in May of last year. They were supposed to see Jakob Junis in the third game, but he was put on the IL with a hamstring issue after his start on Friday, which is a huge bummer.
Then the Royals will take on the A’s for three games next weekend. The A’s are in a bad way, but that’s by design after they traded off Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea. The crazy thing is they have some nice arms even though they rank toward the bottom with the Royals (but still way ahead of the Royals), partially because they never did trade Frankie Montas, but partially because guys like Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn have been so good for them. The rest hasn’t been great, but they’ve got three good starters, which would be nice. But they can’t hit, so the Royals pitching has a chance to get right. If they do, maybe they can build some confidence. If they don’t, well, oof.