Weekend in Review: The Youth Movement Must Start, Another Series Loss and What's Ahead
We've reached the point of the despair where losing two of three seems like a decent enough weekend.
The Royals last won a series on May 15 when they took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning and gave up seven runs before scoring two in the ninth to get the win. For the season, they are 3-11-3 in series with five of the series losses as sweeps. So while it seems ridiculous to say that a series loss is something that doesn’t seem terrible, losing two of three to the Astros in the way the Royals did somehow doesn’t feel as awful as some of the other recent series. Honestly, that’s a problem and just shows how low the expectations have gotten for a team now on pace to go 53-109, which would be the worst record in franchise history.
I still imagine they’ll find a good run in them and avoid 100 losses, but I get less sure of that every day. Just some food for thought. At this point, just to avoid 100 losses, they’d need to go 46-64. That’s a 68-win pace over a full season. I believe they can play at a 68-win pace, but I also understand completely if you don’t. And if you were wondering, to get to 81-81, they’d have to play at a 94-win pace and to get to my initial prediction of 79-83, it’d have to be obviously just a bit worse at a 91-win pace. I, uh, think I was wrong.
The Charade is Over
This is absolutely one of the most “duh” things I’ll ever write, but the Royals should not be wasting time with any more veterans playing regularly. The paragraph above showing just how difficult it would be to even end up respectable should seal that deal for them. They generally are playing a lot of the young guys. On any given day, they have Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez and Emmanuel Rivera in the lineup as well as Kyle Isbel many days (though less now, which I’ll get to). And Nicky Lopez is still a young guy, even if he’s now in this third full season, so he probably qualifies as well. But they need to move Andrew Benintendi ASAP. First of all, his value is never higher than today because every game you wait is one fewer game he can impact a team in 2022. Second of all, you never know when he might have a serious injury as he hasn’t been the healthiest of players in his career. And right now, we honestly don’t even know how healthy he is after he had to be pulled from yesterday’s game with a leg injury he sustained from fouling a ball off it.
Benintendi is going to play until he’s traded (or hurt), which makes total sense, but the bigger “duh” than simply playing the young guys is they have to move on from Carlos Santana. It’s just gotten to the point of silliness with the whole idea. Yes, he’s a backup now and looks like he’ll play against lefties maybe, which is okay enough to sit Isbel against some of the tougher ones, but when Olivares is back, he can’t be sitting against lefties. Also, Santana is hitting .250 with a .292 SLG against lefties. The OBP is good at .419 because of a ton of walks, but that’s not worth playing over anyone.
And the other one who shouldn’t play even though he’s been generally fine this year is Michael A. Taylor. He plays a legitimately fantastic center field. And that’s great, but is he a part of the next great Royals team? I don’t care if you think it’s 2024 or 2042, he’s likely not. And as I wrote the other day, many teams would be interested in him defensively. Plus, he’s taking some pitches and working walks these days, so he’s got some pretty real trade value right now. Putting him out there every day isn’t going to raise that value. It’s not necessary. Isbel has to play. So does Edward Olivares when he gets healthy, and I’d imagine he’s probably fairly close to a rehab stint. So like I said, this isn’t exactly breaking news, but the Royals need to completely shift their focus and get as many players on the field who could possibly be part of the next great team and not worry about the guys who won’t. I’d include Whit Merrifield here because as well as he’s played lately, he’s not part of that future, but I’m also realistic and know he’s not sitting and likely not going anywhere.
Friday - Astros 10, Royals 3
Nobody wants to re-live this game, but there were a couple things I found pretty interesting that I want to touch on. The first is with Brady Singer who was bound to have a clunker and it came against one of the best teams in the American League. There’s no shame in that, though you wish he could have been better anyway.
I was at the game and I thought his stuff looked sharp from the stands, but sometimes it can be tough to tell. And then when Mike Matheny started his postgame press conference talking about the stuff, I felt somewhat vindicated. But what got me was that he was talking about how the pitches Singer got hurt on were actually good pitches, outside of the one to Aledmys Diaz that he hit for a two-run homer. Again, being at the game, it’s sort of tough to tell that. So let’s take a look. First on the Diaz homer, yeah, that’s a problem.
Okay, it’s 2-0, it happens. Whatever. Then in the fifth, he allowed a rocket single off the bat of Jose Siri on a pitch that wasn’t terrible, but was hit 110+ MPH. And then facing the number nine hitter, Martin Maldonado, Singer tried to start him with a sinker on the outer edge.
I don’t think it was a bad pitch necessarily. It was on the outer third, but it was in the middle of the grid vertically. And Maldonado, coming into the game, had hit just .105 on pitches in that spot. So upon further review, I buy that it was a pitch where he wanted it and the hitter just executed better than the pitcher. That happens.
Now four batters later, after another hard-hit single, I don’t agree that it was a good pitch to Yordan Alvarez. He basically threw the mirror image of the Maldonado pitch, but Alvarez and Maldonado are very different hitters. Alvarez is 6’5” and you know those guys just love to get their arms extended.
It’s a small sample, but on pitches in that spot, Alvarez was hitting .333 with a .722 slugging percentage on pitches in that spot. In his career, he was a .373 hitter with a slugging percentage of .807 on that pitch. So I will argue vehemently that he did not make a good pitch there. And I think that the argument Matheny made about him hitting the glove all game probably didn’t work there either.
Melendez set up down and away in the zone as you can see. Singer didn’t miss by that much, but he did miss. That’s four of the seven runs he allowed on pitches in a bad location, so I don’t think you can fully just credit the Astros for a good approach on an off night for Singer.
The good news is that his slider was fantastic. Matheny mentioned in his manager’s show on Saturday before the game that he thought Singer just had trouble getting to the slider because they hit the sinker before he could. I think that’s a terrible way to look at it. His slider was seriously great. He threw 20 of them, got 11 swings and seven whiffs on it. When they did hit it, it wasn’t hit hard at all, outside of one. This is why he has the changeup as a weapon now. He should be running with the slider as much as he can and if they start to sit on it, break out that changeup.
The way I see it, his sinker is simply there to set up his slider. It can be a very good pitch, don’t get me wrong, but Singer is going to earn his money on that slider and if it’s working like it was on Friday, he needs to just get to it himself.
There was but one offensive highlight in this game, which was good for about 15-20 seconds of joy in an otherwise joyless night. Coming to the plate down 10-0 and with one hit, the Royals got their first two on with a Merrifield single followed by an Benintendi double. Up came Witt.
Okay, at least that was pretty fun. And as I noted on Twitter, at least somewhat meaningful development-wise. Yes, it was a middle-middle fastball, but that’s a pitch he’d struggled with a fair amount previously. Coming into the weekend, he had actually struggled with velocity. Actually, it wasn’t even velocity he struggled with. On pitches 92+, he’d hit just .164 with a .213 SLG. He’d hit the ball hard, but hadn’t done any real damage. And he was 0 for 11 on pitches down the middle at 92+. Maybe it was a blip, but that’s a pitch he needs to be doing damage on and he absolutely did there.
Saturday - Royals 6, Astros 0
Yeah, if you’ve checked out, that score is real.
With Zack Greinke on the IL for who knows how long, the Royals needed a starter. I thought they’d turn to Jackson Kowar, but instead it was Kris Bubic, who hadn’t exactly pitched well in AAA in three starts since his demotion. I feel like I’ve always been a little higher on Bubic than most. I just love the way he’s willing to change and learn in a way that someone like Singer never had been before this season. Obviously things haven’t gone well for him this year, but I think there’s a mid-rotation starter in him.
I don’t think you can really say he was good in this game, but you also can’t argue with the fact that he threw five shutout innings against a good offense like the Astros. It wasn’t easy. He threw 98 pitches in those five innings and of those, just 52 were strikes. That shouldn’t work. But it did. And it did because he really relied on his changeup about as heavily as I’ve ever seen from him. Prior to the start, he threw his changeup 24.3 percent of the time this season. He threw it for exactly half of his pitches. The only other time he threw at least that many was actually almost exactly a year ago on June 3.
He kept throwing it because it was working and it was kind of all that was working. Out of 15 outs, 13 of them came on the changeup. And it was all part of the plan.
So I think that can be taken a couple of different ways. One is that it was identified that his changeup could and maybe should be his carrying pitch. I agree. While he struggled with his changeup last year, it’s a very good changeup when it’s good. But the other way to see that is that maybe he was throwing a little shade at the current pitching coach. I kind of lean away from that, but I also want to lean into that a little because it’s fun to think about the Stanford guy and probably most adept at pitching science on the team saying that.
Whatever it was, the pitch worked even if I don’t think it was especially great for him. It got hit hard and I’m not sure I’d say he put it where he wanted to put it.
But he gutted it out and gave the Royals those five shutout innings. What continues to bother me about Bubic is how good he can be with his fastball when he isn’t throwing it in the upper-80s. He arguably looked his best in the fifth inning before he exited and made his biggest pitch in that inning with his hardest fastball of the game. I find it hard to believe that he couldn’t find a way to maintain 92-94 rather than 89-91 throughout his starts.
The offensive highlight to start things off for the Royals came off the bat of Salvador Perez, who had been thoroughly horrible since coming off the IL and vowing to stay in the lineup in spite of looking like he belonged back on that list.
Boy this crow tastes salty. That was the first swing from him that looked like him. It’s hard to say if it’s a sign of what’s to come, but it was certainly nice to see. As much as the kids absolutely need to play, a lineup with Salvy hitting and Merrifield hitting both takes pressure off the young bats and just helps so much.
The eighth inning was fun too. The Royals were threatening to waste a Lopez leadoff double, but then Witt came up and found another fastball in the middle. He hit it 105 MPH up the middle to drive in Lopez for an insurance run and moved to 2 for 2 for the weekend on those pitches. Then it was Salvy again.
No, he didn’t hit it all that hard by comparison to some other balls, but he went down and got it and the ball just traveled. That’s a very good sign. A couple more hits gave the Royals two more runs and a 6-0 lead that they didn’t relinquish after a couple that they have.
Sunday - Astros 7, Royals 4
In hindsight, this one hurt more than when watching it. It was there for the taking. Sort of. Jonathan Heasley pitched…okay enough. Framber Valdez was really good for Houston, as he has been all year, but it just felt like when looking back that they could have done more. And maybe this is ignoring the baseball butterfly effect because the ninth inning would have been different if Collin Snider hadn’t struggled in another clean inning he was given. But boy, to get the winning run up there with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in spite of all of it feels like a missed opportunity.
I’ll start with Heasley because he was better than I think I’d seen him before. For one, he walked just two in six innings and he struck out five. So the line looked better just with actually striking out a few guys and limiting walks. But I thought his curve was especially impressive. It got hit hard when it got hit, but I think that’s somewhat the nature of a pitch like that. If it gets left in a bad spot, it will get punished, but he had five whiffs on it in 12 swings and had seven called strikes as well. His fastball velocity was impressive as well, averaging 95.1 MPH for the day, which was 1.3 MPH higher than his season average.
He gave up his first run on a bloop double and then a sacrifice fly on a pitch that I thought was a good one. It was a fastball just above the top of the zone. I liked the pitch and just thought Mauricio Dubon did a nice job of lifting it. His second run came because of a pitch that I didn’t hate to Alvarez who is punishing everything. It was up and in to him, which has been a good spot for him in his career, but also I understand trying to jam a guy like that with his long arms. The execution has to be perfect when he’s hitting the way he is. And it wasn’t, so Heasley got hurt. Then Hunter Dozier misplayed the ball a bit and then Heasley threw a wild pitch to score him.
His biggest mistake was to the next batter. He simply left a fastball in a spot that Kyle Tucker could crush. And that was that. But after that, he settled in and gave the Royals a chance to win. And Salvy wanted to try to help him achieve. that goal.
Now this one was a rocket. He went down and got a sinker and just drilled that ball to dead center. After Arodys Vizcaino came in and tried to help the Astros put the game out of reach by leaving a changeup in a bad spot to Alvarez and then walking the next two, Dylan Coleman showed why I was so excited about him before the season.
He got Jeremy Peña with three straight sliders. The first two were strikes. The third was not. Peña had no chance. Then he had a long battle with Chas McCormick. But on the eighth pitch, he threw a slider just below the zone and McCormick had no chance. Then it was Martin Maldonado. This at bat wasn’t as clean. He threw a slider in the dirt, a fastball way low and outside and then a slider that missed a bit low.
Melendez went out to the mound, talked to his pitcher and the next three pitches were just perfect. The first pitch was a fastball that was unhittable at 96.4 and just on the edge. The next was another fastball that was probably hittable, but Maldonado took that for a strike. And then he did this:
That’s just dirty. He’s had strike throwing issues, but he’s seriously a future elite closer. That gave Salvy another chance after a Witt walk.
I’m a little hesitant to say he’s back, but this feels a lot more like last season.
But as I said, Snider had a clean inning and made it dirty in the ninth. He had two outs with one on, but then hit Alvarez and then gave up consecutive singles before Albert Abreu replaced him and gave up a single on his first pitch and then walked a batter, but got Maldonado on a 3-1 pitch to hit into a forceout.
The ninth was kind of fun. With two quick outs, Ryan Pressly ran the count to 3-0 on Taylor with the first and the third pitch coming way inside on Taylor. The umpires decided he was trying to retaliate for the Astros getting hit and issued warnings to both benches and Pressly got upset and ejected. I’d say he took his ball and went home, but he actually flung the ball back onto the field as he exited. Then Phil Maton came on and proceeded to finish the walk to Taylor, walked Merrifield and then gave up a pinch hit single to Ryan O’Hearn before he walked Witt.
So next was Salvado…oh no, he was pinch run for after his double in the eighth. Look, it was the right call in that situation. The Royals trailed by one with one out and they had Lopez on the bench to run. Personally, I’d have run with Isbel, which would have put a more potent bat in that spot (and would have avoided having to move the defense around too much with Benintendi coming out of the game), but that’s not what they did. And so what could have been Salvy up with the bases loaded, down by three in the bottom of the ninth was instead Lopez, who predictably hit a weak grounder to end the game and the series.
It’s a very East Coast flavor this week at Kauffman Stadium as the Blue Jays and Orioles will come to town. The Blue Jays start things off with three (day game Wednesday, don’t forget) and the Royals will miss Kevin Gausman, which is good news, but will get Alek Manoah, which seems like a tough matchup for them. They’ll also get Yusei Kikuchi, who they have hit well in the past in the series finale on Wednesday. The Blue Jays are good, but not scoring like I expected. Then it’s the Orioles, who we saw a few weeks ago and look better but still not good. There’s always entertainment potential when two of the bottom dwellers match up at least.