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Weekend in Review: The 2023 Rotation, A Non-Sweep in a Tough Series and a Look Ahead
Snagging one of three from the Dodgers beat the odds and the math. They had one ugly final three innings, one ugly full game and then a beautiful series finale.
It’s always good to set a benchmark of where a team is. The Royals have been playing significantly better baseball since the end of the first third of the season. They started 17-37 and entered the Dodgers series 30-29 in that time. But it’s interesting to see who they’d beaten in those 59 games. They got there largely by beating teams that you’d hope they’d beat. Or at least playing .500 baseball against them. They were 2-2 against Baltimore before they started taking off. They were 3-3 against both the Angels and A’s. They were 5-2 against the Tigers. And while there’s a 3-1 stretch against the Red Sox and 4-3 against the White Sox, both those teams are thoroughly mediocre They were 2-3 against the Blue Jays in that time, 1-3 against the Yankees and 1-3 against Houston. They generally had been in those games, but just couldn’t get the wins.
So here come the big bad Dodgers, who score the most and allow the fewest, which is really the name of the game. As big of a test as playing the Yankees or the Astros is, the Dodgers are simply better. Maybe they won’t win the World Series because the playoffs are a crapshoot that has become even crapshootier, but they’re simply the best. They’re 26-14 against teams in playoff contention and while that’s not the 110-ish win pace, it’s simply excellent. They score more runs per game than anyone and allow fewer. I don’t have to keep going, you watched them this weekend. They’re ridiculous. And the Royals aren’t there yet, even though they did get one on them. They do appear to have a guy who can match up with the best, but they don’t appear terribly close to the Dodgers in general, which is okay. I wish it wasn’t okay in year five of a rebuild, but it’s okay based on the current team.
The Dodgers came to town with 10 wins in a row and the Royals were winners of six of eight. I think you can argue that’s the best for both of these squads and now the Royals know just how far away they are from the very top. It doesn’t mean they can’t make a jump in the AL Central, but if they strive to be the best, there’s some work to do. It might help if they offer to pay some pitching coordinators in the Dodgers system a boatload of money to come to KC to work.
The 2023 Rotation
This weekend was illuminating in looking toward next year’s starting rotation. It’s something I’ve written about quite a bit over the last few weeks, but I think you can look at what this team has done this year and can, without any doubt, say that they have one starter they can count on moving into 2023. And that’s Brady Singer, who showed once again why he’s not only a part of a big league rotation but a legitimate front end of the rotation pitcher. Maybe he’s not a true ace, though I’m not so sure. I’ll get to his start, but the other two I think you feel pretty good about are Daniel Lynch, who I’ll also get to and Kris Bubic. Both have ben very good recently and seem to be parts of a winning rotation. But the question is where the rest come from, including depth.
I’ll also be getting to Brad Keller after his horrific start on Saturday night. And my question with him is if he’s even tendered a contract. I know it seems ridiculous and almost shocking to say, but if you think about the way arbitration works, up until the final year, players can only compare themselves to others in arbitration to come up with their salary. In the final year, they can compare themselves with free agents.
Keller currently has a 4.93 ERA and 4.66 FIP. His teammate, Zack Grienke, had a 4.71 FIP and got $13 million. That was on name recognition, but still. The Royals opponent on Sunday, Tyler Anderson, had a 4.53 ERA and 4.37 FIP and got $8 million. Alex Cobb had a much better year than that, but in only 18 starts. He got $10 million per year. Andrew Heaney got $8.5 million coming off a 5.83 ERA and 4.85 FIP. The point here is that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Keller is wanting $8-$10 million. Can you bring him back at that cost? I just don’t know. I think the Royals probably do, but it’s hard to say. This is a guy who we think of as an innings eater, but he’s also never thrown more than 165.1 innings. With three young pitchers stepping up, it becomes plausible that Keller is non-tendered.
As for the rest of the rotation, I truly don’t know who fills it out. It’ll likely to have to be a trade or two and/or a free agent signing or two. There are some solid pitchers out there they could look toward, so options exist, but it would be nice if Keller wouldn’t be having his second-worst season after having his worst season of his career. For what it’s worth, I’d be supportive of Greinke getting the Wakefield deal but whatever the modern version is. Give him a recurring $7 million option or something and know you’re going to get 20-24 starts out of him until he wants to retire.
Friday - Dodgers 8, Royals 3
Yes the Royals ended up getting rocked by a team that came into the series having won 10 in a row and 32 of their last 37, but there was some stuff to like from this game. It was scoreless through six, which both says some good and some very bad about what the Royals are right now, but to be able to keep that offense off the board for six innings is incredibly impressive. And it started with Lynch.
He had an elevated pitch count because he was having trouble finishing innings. He got the first two batters in each of the first four innings. In three of the four, he walked the third batter and in the other, he gave up a hit on a 3-2 pitch. This Dodgers lineup is relentless, but his pitches to the first two batters by inning through the first four were 11, nine, eight, and four. That’s 32 pitches. To the third and fourth batters in each innings (because he always got the fourth batter), it was 10, 10, 13 and 11. That’s 44 pitches. So he gets into the fifth inning with 76 pitches, but if he had been able to finish innings as strong as he started them, you might be talking about him at 60-65 pitches instead. So that’s something to work on.
But you might recall I’ve said that overcoming failure as a pitcher is sometimes more developmental and encouraging than simply not failing. And in the fifth, Lynch certainly did not retire the first two batters. He made an error to the first batter he faced, Hanser Alberto. It was an easy little roller back to the mound and he just couldn’t field it. That hurt when he’d been giving up rockets and got a weak one back at him. Then Trayce Thompson blasted a double at 108.3 MPH that got Alberto to third. He walked Mookie Betts on five pitches. That had his pitch count up to 90. He had to go to work against Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith. That’s the heart of arguably the best lineup in baseball.
And go to work he did. He battled Turner after starting the count 3-0 on two sliders and a sinker. He came at him on 3-0 probably hoping he’d be taking because it was down the middle. Turner was. Then he attacked with a fastball up in the zone. Turner swung and missed. And then Turner fouled off two, including a fantastic slider that he spoiled. And at that point, Lynch reared back and just challenged him with a fastball down the middle.
Next up was Freeman and I absolutely loved this sequence to him. He started him with a slider that didn’t break maybe as much as Freeman expected, catching the outside corner. Lynch tried a changeup just off the plate near the same spot that Freeman took. Then he buried another slider. He came back over the plate with a slider that Freeman fouled off and then climbed the ladder at 94.1 MPH on his 103rd pitch.
He started the at bat with Smith by climbing the ladder again at 94.3, but Smith took it. Then he went to 94.5 on a pitch in the middle and Smith hit it hard. And pretty far.
But not far enough. That’s three. I think Lynch was pumped.
Look, you don’t want to load the bases in the first place with nobody out, but to get out of that jam showed me something in Lynch I don’t know that I’d seen before. And that primal scream when he came off the mound helped to add to the electricity in the park on Friday night. It was a very cool moment, and just another piece of swagger to add to the shelf for the Royals.
It didn’t work out in the end, which stinks, but if you ask me if I’d prefer a loss because of a couple of veteran pitchers struggling late and the young guy doing what he did or a win with Lynch struggling, I’d take the former every day of the week at this point of the season. It’s brutal that we’re in the final two months of yet another season where the result of the game doesn’t matter as much as what happens in it, but that’s the reality.
And I thought Lynch showed quite a bit throughout the whole game. My gut feeling is that he respected a great lineup maybe a little more than he needed to. Not that I was wanting him to just fill up the zone with hittable pitches, but he seemed to be nibbling at times against certain guys. I wonder a little if getting out of that fifth inning could be that catalyst for him moving forward to understand what he’s able to do with just his pure stuff.
The shame of it is both that Tony Gonsolin was just outstanding and it took until the seventh for the Royals to get to him and that the Royals bullpen couldn’t allow the offense a chance to get back into it after Gonsolin exited. We can’t assume the same thing would have played out if Josh Staumont looked like he did in his last two games, but he didn’t and that led to five runs for the Dodgers in the seventh. Then Luke Weaver pitched to his season ERA in the eighth when he allowed two men on before Joel Payamps gave up a ringing home run to Thompson. We did get one more highlight and it was a Salvador Perez home run, which is always nice.
At least we had a few highlights in a blowout loss.
Saturday - Dodgers 13, Royals 3
There isn’t much to be said about this game. Keller was terrible from the first pitch and didn’t get especially better. It was nice to see Carlos Hernandez touching 100 MPH with his fastball because his velocity was down some to start the season in the big leagues. If you’re talking about rebuilding that bullpen next season, a plan for Hernandez to shift to short-inning relief with that heat and some of his other pitches in tow could be really fun. Wyatt Mills stopped the bleeding for a couple of innings, which was also nice and then Nicky Lopez threw batting practice for a few hitters to make the game the deficit it was.
I’d say the one real highlight in this one was the bottom of the third when Nick Pratto doubled to left against Heaney, who is a tough lefty. Brent Rooker was hit in his first Royals plate appearance and then Michael Massey boomed a triple to left-center.
I ran into some friends at the game on Friday night and we were talking about the young Royals and while MJ Melendez and Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto get all the publicity, I really believe that Massey will be a fan favorite. He’s likely not the best of that bunch, but he plays very good defense, handles the bat well and isn’t a slouch at the plate. I’m guessing we’ll see a lot of Massey fans very soon.
Sunday - Royals 4, Dodgers 0
What more can we say about Singer? He did it again. He went six innings against the vaunted Dodgers offense, albeit a very Sunday lineup. They’re still good, even with a Sunday lineup. And he allowed one hit in six innings. He was appropriately careful, I think, especially with Max Muncy who walked twice, and ended up walking three in those six innings, but he struck out seven. And he was just ridiculous.
He obviously was feeling his slider, and with good reason. You might remember after his last start that he got some called strikes on the slider that he doesn’t usually get because it spent a lot of time in the zone. He kind of combined throwing strikes with it and getting the swing and miss going in this one.
But the Dodgers just weren’t picking it up. You can see that exactly one-third of them were called strikes or whiffs, and those 10 were tied for the fourth-most in a game in his career.
But as usual, his sinker was also doing the trick. He had nine whiffs on it, which is tied for the most he’s ever gotten in a game. It was just nasty all game. He used it a little higher in the zone than usual, but it was just pure filth.
It’s hard to hit that. And in the end, Singer ended up with six innings, no runs, one hit, seven strikeouts and three walks. His updated line since he’s been back from AAA is:
101 K (25.6%)
24 BB (6.1%)
Maybe we should just be looking at what he’s done all year with his relief outings before the starts. He has a 3.29 ERA, 3.35 FIP and is striking out more than a batter per inning while walking very few. It’s incredibly impressive what he’s done. Is he a three? Is he a two? Is he a…one? I honestly think the sky is the limit.
He obviously couldn’t do it himself. After an impressive top of the first inning, the Royals, who hadn’t led once in the series got a leadoff single from Michael A. Taylor, who was moved to the top late after Melendez was scratched. Then it was a double from Salvador Perez to get the Royals on the board. In the third, they got two singles to start the inning and with the bases loaded, Pasquantino singled to get the second run on the board. Then in the sixth, it was a Pasquantino double and a two-out clutch single from Kyle Isbel for the Royals third run.
At that point, Singer left with a 3-0 lead and Amir Garrett came on. He walked the leadoff hitter and then was impressive. He struck out the next three batters swinging, two on sliders and one on a fastball. He walks way too many batters, obviously, but he’s allowed just 16 hits in 31.1 innings. The stuff is pure filth. In the bottom of the seventh, Dylan Coleman got a quick strikeout but allowed a double to Betts. Then he made a great pitch on Freeman, who squibbed one to Witt, but Witt bobbled it and couldn’t get the out, so the Royals turned to Scott Barlow to save the day and he got rid of Max Muncy with a strikeout.
As you all know, insurance is your friend and Pasquantino put the exclamation point on his big day with a big bomb to give the Royals an extra run of support.
After his big day, Pasquantino finds his season line up to .260/.341/.440. He works counts, hits the ball hard and makes contact in general. The hits were always going to fall and they’ve definitely tarted now.
Barlow struck out the first two before getting a popup to end the game and give the Royals a win and gave the Dodgers a very rare loss. They’re not 34-6 in their last 40 games. That’s six losses in 47 days. And the Royals are one of those six. That’s pretty cool.
What’s Up Next
The Royals hit the road as they take on two teams that looked like they were playoff locks a few weeks ago, but now are suddenly fighting for their postseason lives over these final weeks of the season. First they’ll head to Minnesota to take on a Twins team that has led the division by as many as 5.5 games but hasn’t played especially well in awhile and are now in a dogfight with the Guardians. The Royals will face probably the three best for the Twins in Joe Ryan, Sonny Gray and newly acquired Tyler Mahle, so that’s a series the Twins will believe they should be winning to help them regain their top spot in the division.
The Rays, as of now, will be throwing out their best in Shane McClanahan, who the Royals missed in Kansas City in their series right after the break. The Royals are also scheduled to see Drew Rasmussen, Ryan Yarbrough and Jeffrey Springs. It’s never easy against Rays pitching, but even with the edition of David Peralta to help out their outfield some, they’re still really suffering from a lot of injuries. While they might be starting to get healthy soon, it doesn’t appear they’ll get there for this four-game series against the Royals. Tropicana Field hasn’t been terribly kind to the Royals over the years, though. They last won a series there in 2017, but are 37-55 all-time in Tampa.
I am officially on vacation, so while I might write something if anything interesting pops up over the next few days, I probably won’t have anything here tomorrow or Wednesday and very likely not on Thursday. I’ll be checking in to the comments, but may not be quite as quick as usual to respond. Hope you all have a great week and that I come back to some Royals wins.