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Weekend in Review: Roster Rumblings, A Series Salvaged and Six Starters
The Royals looked like the May and June version in the first two games and the April and post-break version on Sunday.
Coming off a series win in Chicago with the Cardinals struggling, it sure felt like an opportunity for the Royals to go into St. Louis and maybe bury them a bit in their chase for a postseason berth. At two games under .500, losing two of three to the Royals or even getting swept with what would be 51 to play would be pretty close to the end for the Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Royals couldn’t continue their excellent play and they really did look like the bad Royals and not the good version we’ve seen so much more of lately. The starting pitching didn’t hold up and the offense couldn’t bail them out. It’s a familiar story, but hey, at least they found themselves a win in the series finale to salvage the thing. I’ll get to the games in a minute.
Roster Getting Full
Not having a designated hitter magnified this, but the Royals are in a bit of a bind as far as getting guys playing time. I think a lot of people will probably scoff at the fact that they have Ryan O’Hearn taking regular at bats and Hunter Dozier’s struggles have made him a popular whipping boy as well, but the roster is really starting to be a puzzle that might have too many duplicate pieces. If Andrew Benintendi is able to return to the starting lineup soon and Adalberto Mondesi comes off the IL in the next week to 10 days, the Royals will have to find playing time for those two plus Dozier, Emmanuel Rivera, Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield. I imagine it won’t be too surprising to see a lot of guys playing two out of every three days (not Merrifield, as he will never sit apparently).
An easy solution, and one that I think they absolutely need to do a few things is to get Olivares some time in center to see if they can determine if he can handle that role moving forward. That will help the logjam quite a bit and I doubt Mondesi plays every day after Dayton Moore’s comments, but it really is tough to see how these pieces end up fitting together while getting the information they need on Rivera and Olivares. If it was me, I’d probably put out this lineup more often than not:
But I’m not sure the Royals will. They want to give O’Hearn playing time (and he did have a nice series in St. Louis at least). They want to keep running Michael A. Taylor out there (and his defense is quite good). Those two are really the biggest issues, and seem like easy enough solutions, but I just think we’re going to be frustrated with some lineups that don’t include certain players many believe should be playing every single day. This is another reason why I’m not so sure we’ll see Bobby Witt Jr. this season. It’s not necessary and it’s probably more important to get a look at Rivera, but I guess it’s still possible.
It took a way-too-tough win on Sunday, but they at least didn’t get swept, right?
Friday - Cardinals 4, Royals 2
This game was just frustrating. It didn’t feel like the Cardinals were running away with anything, but the Royals just couldn’t do anything against Adam Wainwright, at least not in the first three innings. They had one hit the first time through the order, but the O’Hearn single was erased immediately on a double play ground ball. They had a rally in the fourth with two on and one out and then the bases loaded with two outs, but nothing came of it.
Finally in the sixth, they were able to break through. Carlos Santana led off with a single and then O’Hearn tripled to right center. Yes, you read that right. Then a Dozier single to center scored O’Hearn and the Royals were right back in the game at 4-2. Unfortunately that was it for the Royals and that was actually it for the Cardinals with just three more base runners total from the bottom of the sixth through the end of the game.
I thought Mike Minor looked really good at times, but just ran into so many of the issues we’ve seen from him all season long. He was getting whiffs on all his pitchers, but his curve and slider were the best of the bunch. The issue has pretty much been the fastball almost every time Minor finds himself struggling. He left this one to Paul Goldschmidt in the first inning that ended up in the seats.
You just can’t put a fastball there to a guy like him. Here’s one at 90.8 MPH that split the plate way too much, even though I like the height of the pitch.
If you’re going to throw that, it has to be above the zone. Tyler O’Neill likely would swing through it if it was another three inches up, but it just stayed too much in the middle of the plate. In the end, the Cardinals were 2 for 10 with a double and three strikeouts on his non-fastballs and they were 5 for 11 with a double and two home runs (and four strikeouts) on his fastball.
The bullpen was good in the final three innings, trying to give the offense a chance to come back, but the bats just couldn’t wake up in time to reward the effort.
Saturday - Cardinals 5, Royals 2
Brad Keller was so good in July and then came out against Toronto in his last start and did a nice job in the first two innings before he found trouble in the third and left with a back issue. So when he came out in this one and walked Dylan Carlson to start the game on four pitches and then Goldschmidt on eight pitches, it sort of felt like you’d actually kind of hope he was still stiff.
He got a groundout and a strikeout to get to two outs now with runners on second and third, but as is Royals tradition, almost getting out of an inning is often a precursor to definitely not getting out of an inning. And honestly, he made a pitch to Yadier Molina with two on and two out that I don’t think anyone expected to be hit.
I’m not saying it was a good pitch. It missed the spot badly and I think that Dozier played a role in that ball dropping (though not a big one, it probably drops even if he sees it immediately), but I don’t hate a ball in that spot. Most of the time, it’s going to be a lazy fly ball or a foul ball. Really, he just didn’t know where the ball was going most of that first inning.
That’s a lot of glove side missing. After the game, Mike Matheny talked about Keller just having no command of his fastball and boy he wasn’t kidding.
Both the four-seamer and the sinker were all over the place, which isn’t always the worst thing in the world, but he ended up walking five and striking out five and giving up five over five innings.
The Royals did briefly tie the game up with two in the top of the fourth inning on RBI singles from Taylor and Hanser Alberto, but once the Cardinals went back up immediately in the bottom of the inning, they never seven saw a tie again. The bullpen had three scoreless innings once again, but the offense couldn’t do anything to take advantage.
Sunday - Royals 6, Cardinals 5
With the Royals so far out of the race, there’s only so much excitement one can muster when guys like Minor or even Keller are on the mound. While Keller is one of the young arms at just 26, he’s not as exciting as Daniel Lynch, Carlos Hernandez, Jackson Kowar (if he gets back up), Brady Singer (as much as he frustrates me) and Sunday’s starter, Kris Bubic. When those guys are going, there’s interest and Bubic’s start on Sunday was actually the one game that I paid the most attention to this weekend.
After the way he finished his last start against the White Sox, just letting the fastball go, I was really interested to see if we’d see more of that. His first fastball was 89.6 MPH and out of the zone. And then he threw a changeup to Carlson that went 403 feet to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead after one batter. He got out of the first with just one allowed, but it was pretty clear his control was just off. The broadcast speculated that he was having some trouble getting a grip with all the humidity and I’d buy that, but also he has to figure that out.
It was just a struggle all game for Bubic, but what he did do was wiggle out of trouble in seemingly every inning. In the second, he hit the leadoff man and then got a double play and ended up facing just three. In the third, he gave up a double to Jon Lester to start the inning and ultimately got out of that.
But the pies de resistance for Bubic was his fourth inning. It certainly wasn’t a masterpiece. After the Royals had gotten their first lead of the series at 2-1, Bubic walked Tommy Edman leading off the inning. He walked Harrison Bader next. Then he hit Paul DeJong. Fortunately he was in the right part of the lineup for this kind of trouble, though bases loaded and nobody out is daunting no matter who is up.
He threw 10 pitches to Andrew Knizner before he hung a changeup in about the same spot that Carlson hit out to start the game, but Knizner tapped it to Bubic and that started a 1-2-3 double play.
That’s a heck of a pitch chart for one batter.
Then he just had to get through Lester, but after going to 0-2 on him, he threw three straight balls before ultimately getting him to pop out to third and end the threat. In the fifth, Bubic just couldn’t get through it. After his fourth walk of the game with two outs, the Royals had to turn to Domingo Tapia to get him out of the jam. They really wanted Bubic to get through five, but he just couldn’t quite do it. But to gut it out and only give up the one run to the first batter when he had as little as he did, there’s something good to see there.
The offense kinda sorta had it going for the Royals in this one, even though it took a little longer than expected. Lester had a really nice start to this game, but in the fourth inning, he gave up a hit to Santana and then another hit to Dozier, and then himself hit Olivares with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Taylor won a long battle with Lester and hit a ball just out of the reach of Edman to drive in the first run.
Then an Alberto fielder’s choice gave the Royals their first lead of the series. They really manufactured a run in the fifth when Merrifield walked and was bunted to second. Then he stole third and scored on a Perez sacrifice fly. And then in the sixth, the inning started strong with Dozier almost launching a home run but it staying in the park and him being held to a double. Then he scored on a Taylor single and an O’Neill throwing error. And they got their fifth run when O’Hearn pinch hit with a single to score Taylor.
Even with 12 outs to go, a 5-1 lead felt pretty good. And then when Wade Davis made it through the sixth easily, it felt even better. But Jake Brentz gave up a single and then threw a wild pitch. Then he gave up an RBI single and worked around a walk. It was 5-2.
In the eighth, Greg Holland entered and he just didn’t have it. He gave up a ground ball single, then got an out and then walked a batter and hit a guy. Matheny went to his best, Scott Barlow, but Barlow just didn’t seem to have much. He was getting to two strike counts, but couldn’t put any hitters away. He gave up a sacrifice fly to make it 5-3. Then a Goldschmidt single made it 5-4. Then a bloop single by Arenado tied the game up before Barlow could get the third out.
Holland didn’t have it, but I think there deserves to be some criticism on Barlow, who simply can’t allow all three runners to score when he comes in needing to get two outs. A run or even two happens. That’s a tough spot, but if you’re the best out there, you have to be able to get two outs before all three runners score. I love Barlow, but he deserves his share of blame as well for losing the lead.
But to the Royals’ credit, after losing the lead in the way they did, they kept coming. Against Alex Reyes, Alberto started things off with a single to left and then Jarrod Dyson tried to sacrifice him to second. Goldschmidt, a multiple-time Gold Glove winner, made a mistake.
With runners on second and third and nobody out, the rains were on their way and the Cardinals ground crew got the field covered before it got too bad. The rain delay lasted two hours and 10 minutes and when the game got started again, Merrifield had a chance to get a big hit. Instead, he hit a ground ball to shortstop and Alberto may have had one of the worst slides of the year to get thrown out at the plate. Merrifield is now hitting .267/.286/.314 since the break, .226/.261/.266 since July 1 and .259/.306/.362 since April 15. He needs a day off and he probably shouldn’t hit at the top of the order.
Luckily for the Royals, Nicky Lopez continues to hit well even in the number two spot of the order. On an 0-2 pitch, Lopez got a 97.3 MPH sinker just off the inner third and pulled a single to right to score Dyson and the Royals had the lead they needed.
How rare was that hit? It was the second of the season for Lopez on a pitch 97+ MPH and the eighth of his career. Of the previous at bats, it was the fifth hardest hit ball on a pitch thrown that hard. Pretty rare, but certainly timely.
Richard Lovelady came on for the ninth with the options pretty thin and he had a 1-2-3 inning, including this final pitch to end the game, his hardest out of the 16 he threw:
I spent a lot of time on this game, but it was definitely the only one worth paying attention to all weekend. It had it all. It was actually competitive, it was a Royals win and it had one of the Royals young arms.
The Royals have announced that Brady Singer will be back in the big leagues to make the start on Wednesday afternoon against the Yankees, but nobody is leaving the rotation to make room for him. That means they’re moving to a six-man rotation for the final 52 games of the season, and I think that makes a lot of sense. I talked a lot this winter about limiting innings for pretty much all the pitchers after playing just 60 games last year and the Royals seem to be ready to help that a little bit down the stretch. Every pitcher has thrown more innings than last year at this point, so it’s a good time for it.
I am curious who goes from the roster for Singer. The Royals are carrying 13 position players right now, and they’ve carried 12 quite a bit this season, but they do have three more games in a National League park in two weeks when they go to Wrigley, so even if they do drop a position player for a pitcher, they’ll likely send a pitcher down then. Is it Richard Lovelady? He’s been a bit up and down, but has shown some flashes. I really hope for the sake of Twitter’s bandwidth that they don’t send Olivares down for Singer. I could see Rivera getting the boot to help a bit with the logjam mentioned above, especially knowing he can come back in about three weeks when rosters expand (by two) in September. If you’ve read me before, I think you know that my demotion is O’Hearn, but I’ll believe that when I see it.
The Royals get to come home for 10 games now with the Yankees, Cardinals and Astros in town through next Thursday with an off day on Thursday. The Yankees are coming off being shut out by the Mariners yesterday, but since the deadline, they’ve generally played pretty well. Now, they’re missing quite a bit due to injuries and the COVID-19 list, so that changes their team just a little bit. The Royals won’t have to worry about Anthony Rizzo, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery or Gary Sanchez. Rizzo has been a big part of transforming their offense. They picked up Joey Gallo at the trade deadline and Gallo has four homers and 11 RBIs against the Royals this year in six games. He’s been walked eight times and struck out five in those games.
And then the Cardinals come in to complete their home and home series for the year. The Royals have actually been okay against the Cardinals in St. Louis historically, going 27-28 there, but they’re just 23-42 at home against them historically. That doesn’t make any sense, but that's the history. And it’s probably worth noting that the Cardinals are a different team at home than they are on the road. They’re 32-25 at home this season and 23-31 on the road with a -37 run differential. The Royals are actually pretty okay at home, so maybe they can turn the tables from past series against them.