Weekend in Review: Trade Possibilities, Another Bad Weekend and the Week Ahead
The Royals lost two of three to the worst team in baseball, but some injuries may have given the Royals some options.
I know that the Royals are bad, but it sort of feels like they’re not Oakland bad. Only this past weekend combined with the weekend before shows that these two teams are partners in crime. The Royals lost two of three to the A’s after taking two of three from them last weekend, which means they’re dead even and that’s the end of the season series. And once again, the offense struggled to show up in a series finale with them falling to 4-17 for the year in scheduled series finales. I say it that way because they’ve had some series end prematurely due to weather and I still find myself wondering if there’s something going on that’s causing them to struggle when a series is about to end.
But what could it be really? Complacency? I think that makes some sense if they’ve won the first two games of a series as they had against the A’s last weekend and the Angels directly following. But that just doesn’t add up when you either haven’t won a game in the series or are tied heading into the final game. Are they looking ahead to the next opponent? I suppose that could be it. It could also be just random chance or that they’re a predictable team and once opponents have had a look at them, they don’t have any real issues against them. That could explain losing the series to the A’s in general given that the two teams did just face off. I truly don’t have any idea what it is, but it’s weird and I’m ready for it to stop.
Injuries Pushing Trades?
The trade deadline is just 36 days away, and while talks often don’t get hot until the break, there is one thing that can make a trade happen sooner - an injury. And for my money, injuries are what can take a trade market from lukewarm to hot because if you think about teams in need, they’ve generally been playing to this point with their weakness on the team. They know what it is. They’re a contender or close enough to be buying anyway with that hole. But when a team loses a player, it feels more urgent. And two teams lost players over the weekend that could have an impact on the Royals potentially.
The biggest one is the Phillies losing Bryce Harper, and they’re not even sure for how long. He got hit by a pitch and broke his thumb and while a fracture is generally a minimum of four to six weeks, some of the talk around their team is that he might be lost for the season. They should know soon, maybe even by the time you’re reading this, but he’ll be out for a while regardless. And while losing Harper is a huge hit to them, it does allow them to put one of their designated hitters in the outfield in the DH spot because Harper was forced into DH duty due to another injury that he was able to hit through.
Enter Andrew Benintendi. It’s kind of the perfect solution for the Phillies. He’s a free agent after the year, so they don’t need to try to manage playing time in the long-term with him, Harper, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. Benintendi plays solid defense, which is something the Phillies badly need. And he’s a solid hitter. His power numbers would almost definitely perk up in that ballpark too. And here’s the best part about trading with the Phillies. Dave Dombrowski is in charge. He is obviously fantastic at turning teams into winners, but he definitely does so at a pretty decent expense of not especially worrying about how stocked the farm system is. And the Phillies system isn’t good at all, but there’s also not a ton of value on a pending free agent, even one having a season as good as Benintendi is.
I wrote a few weeks ago about what someone like Kris Bryant brought back last year and the value may be sort of similar. He got the Cubs the Giants numbers nine and 30 prospects at the time. For the Phillies, that would be someone in the Griff McGarry, Franicsco Morales or Erik Miller group and then what’s honestly just a flyer. First off, I’d LOVE Miller. He’s had a strike-throwing problem, so that’s a little scary, but he has three big league pitches. The pipe dream here is that Dombrowski gets desperate and includes Hans Crouse. I also think the Royals likely would take a shining to Kendall Simmons, who could fill the third base hole in the system.
The other injury was Ty France, who may not be out too long, but we just don’t know that yet. I wonder if they might be interested in a bat like Carlos Santana, who has come around big time lately and looks a lot like the guy the Royals thought they were getting when they signed him before last year. And honestly, like the guy they did get for the first two months of the season. He’s up to a 17 percent walk rate and .349 OBP for the season, which is solid. But he’s up to .357/.478/.554 with 11 RBIs in June in 69 plate appearances. I don’t know what the best the Royals can hope for here. Maybe Victor Labrada as an absolute top-end return. Maybe they look for some top-tier velocity and target Dayeison Arias? I don’t know, but the return doesn’t matter as much as clearing the roster spot.
Edit: Santana has been traded to the Mariners. Score one for Inside the Crown.
Friday - Royals 3, A’s 1
In a game where one starter averaged 89 MPH on his four-seam fastball and the other averaged just 90.2 MPH, this was a well-pitched game between Cole Irvin and Zack Greinke in Greinke’s return to the Royals rotation after almost a month on the IL and two very good rehab starts with Omaha.
But in a game with just four runs scored, the star of the show was another player who was just off the IL. Edward Olivares strained his quad on May 8 and after a few games on a rehab assignment came off the IL to replace Salvador Perez, who went on the IL and is going to miss some big time.
Olivares, when he went on the IL, had taken on the role of leadoff hitter while Whit Merrifield was struggling and was hitting .371/.421/.486 when he got hurt, so to get him back was definitely welcome by the Royals. And on the second pitch he saw after a .212/.333/.364 rehab stint, he welcomed himself back to the big leagues.
That’s a serious poke for a guy who hadn’t seen a big league pitch in more than six weeks. And it gave the Royals a 1-0 lead. Then two innings later, Irvin must have figured the opposite of a high fastball is a low changeup. It didn’t matter.
It’s not exceptionally rare or anything for a hitter to hit out on pitch at the top of the zone and then another at the bottom of the zone, but it’s something that does show an ability to cover the whole plate vertically, which is nice to see. To get someone who can come back and provide impact when Perez is now looking to be out for quite a while is just absolutely huge.
And while Olivares was returning from the IL with an exclamation point, Greinke was picking up where he left off. Okay, maybe not where he left off, but where he left off before he started having some arm discomfort than ended up putting him on the IL.
He ended up matching a season-high with six innings pitched and gave up just one run for the fourth time this season. I thought he was great, but one thing stood out to me and it was that he kept throwing cutters. In all, he threw 17 of them after throwing just 44 the whole season prior to this one. It’s not a new pitch for him necessarily. He’d thrown 820 of them prior to this start, but that’s just about two percent of the total pitches he’s thrown in his career. It’s just so interesting to see him use that pitch so much in his return.
That location is kind of fun because the vast majority of them were to righties, so it was clearly a pitch he was using to get right-handed batters. And he got three strikeouts on it!
I have to say, I like that pitch. Greinke also had three whiffs on his slider. A lot of times a cutter and a slider can kind of meld, but there was a pretty big velocity difference between the two pitches. And you can also see different movement.
Those are definitely two different pitches. I’m intrigued to see more of that cutter moving forward, especially because he spoke earlier this year about wanting to use a slider more and that’s only been sporadic for him.
With the score 2-1 in the sixth, a single by Carlos Santana gave the Royals their third run and that was enough. What I found interesting was that Josh Staumont was stretching in the top of the sixth, but then when Greinke exited, it was Dylan Coleman who came in and then he was followed by Jose Cuas and then Scott Barlow. I wondered at the time if Staumont was injured because it seemed weird that he wouldn’t be pitching the eighth after an off-day. As it turns out, he was, in fact injured. So that’s not great.
But, long story short, Greinke got his first win with the Royals in 4,285 days and the Royals had won six of eight games.
Saturday - A’s 9, Royals 7
This one was cursed from the start. The Royals defense which is usually air-tight simply wasn’t, and that’s ultimately what cost the team. Brad Keller gave up a leadoff double to Tony Kemp, who advanced to third on a line out to right. And with the infield in, Bobby Witt Jr. made an error. The run didn’t score, but with two on and one out instead of one on and two out, the inning was different. Seth Brown singled in a run and then a groundout scored the second run.
Keep in mind, the Royals have yet to win a game where they trailed after one. And they’ve also yet to win a game where they trail by three or more at any point. So a 2-0 deficit in the first is an almost full-on disaster. But the defensive issues didn’t stop there. Kemp hit a fly ball to right that Olivares lost in the sun. After two walks, Keller gave up an RBI groundout and there was the three-run deficit.
In the fourth, Olivares lost another fly ball in the sun, this time off the bat of Elvis Andrus. The very next batter hit a ground ball up the middle that kicked off Merrifield and went for another double that scored Andrus. After a strikeout, Jonah Bride singled to center to score Nick Allen, who had the double off Merrifield. Ramon Laureano singled and that was that for Keller.
It’s a tricky game to evaluate. The A’s had three doubles that should have been outs. All three runners scored. The Witt error in the first led to an additional run. Suddenly, Keller allowing five runs on eight hits looks a lot different when you factor those balls in. But I noted on Twitter that a game like that with heat, wind and sun can get a little nutty.
And this game did get a little nutty. Witt got back the run he cost Keller with one swing in the third.
In the fourth, after a single by MJ Melendez and a one-out double by Santana, the Royals were in danger of wasting the opportunity, but Cam Gallagher, who is now poised to take on a bigger role as well with Salvy’s injury, came through.
Another Gallagher double scored a run in the sixth, but the Royals gave that back in the seventh and gave up two more in the top of the eighth on a Tony Kemp home run, which is…kind of embarrassing. But the Royals still had a chance because it was definitely a weird game. The bottom of the eighth got crazy.
Sam Moll walked the first two batters he faced, which brought Michael A. Taylor to the plate.
After the home run, he walked Gallagher and Kyle Isbel pinch ran for him. Then Lou Trivino walked Merrifield. A 1-2 pitch that was up and away got away from Sean Murphy just a few feet, but Isbel took off and made one of the most asinine baserunning decisions I think I’ve ever seen. And keep in mind that I’ve probably watched 90 percent of Royals games in the last 20 years since they started broadcasting every game. Just look for yourself.
The lack of situational awareness is just appalling here. I absolutely understand the desire to be aggressive. But Isbel has to be aware of the situation. While there were two strikes on Benintendi, there was nobody out with the two-hitter currently up and three and four on deck. The Royals were down by one in an inning that the A’s had walked four hitters. And Isbel just took off. It wasn’t even a situation where it took a perfect throw. He was out by 10 feet. That changed the inning dramatically.
The very next hitter, Witt, singled to left-center. I know that things may not have happened the way they ended up happening, but if Isbel was on second, that’s a tie game and maybe things end up different. It also didn’t help that Isbel stayed in the game in right field and ended up badly displaying a fly ball for yet another A’s double that shouldn’t have been. And, of course, that runner scored. It was a bad day for Isbel and he didn’t even come in until the eighth inning. The Royals had a glimmer in the ninth with a leadoff single by Melendez, but he ended the game on first and the Royals lost.
Sunday - A’s 5, Royals 3
I think Brady Singer pitched well. He looked good. But he also gave up five runs. But he also pitched 8.1 innings. He only walked one batter. But he also only struck out five. It was just kind of a weird game for Singer because he was super pitch efficient as the first Royals starter to pitch into the ninth inning this year and he still didn’t crack 100 pitches. But there was trouble that was unavoidable.
Of course, his only walk was a leadoff walk. And that was followed by a wild pitch (which I called a passed ball on Twitter) that got the walk to second base. And, of course, that walk came around to score on a two-out single that wouldn’t have scored him without the wild pitch. He did make a mistake on a home run he allowed to Brown, who has killed the Royals this year, but those will happen. Where I was especially frustrated with him was in the top of the seventh. The Royals had just scored three runs to take a 3-2 lead.
Singer got the first two outs relatively easily and was facing the number seven hitter, Chad Pinder. Pinder singled to right. No big deal. And he got an easy groundball from Christian Pache that should have ended the inning.
I know that Singer’s pitching is what really matters, but the guy is a terrible defensive pitcher. I’m not saying that’s an easy play, but when a ball hits you in the glove, you should catch it. I think the spin was weird, but it also doesn’t look great for Merrifield that he couldn’t even knock it down. That’s another double that shouldn’t have been. And one batter later, a very soft bloop to center scored two, giving the A’s a lead they wouldn’t give up.
Here’s where I take issue with Mike Matheny. He left Singer out there to start the ninth inning and Singer got a flyout on the first batter. Then he allowed an infield single with that same 7-8-9 up next. I know they hurt him in the seventh inning, but that’s the 7-8-9 of a very bad lineup and he was at 99 pitches. If you’re going to let him pitch to start the inning, I just don’t like taking him out there. And, on the flip side, why not let Barlow start with a clean ninth? Neuse ended up stealing second and then advancing to third on a wild pitch before scoring on another single by Pache.
Singer didn’t have the swing and miss stuff yesterday, but he was getting a ton of called strikes. He only had three whiffs apiece on his slider and his sinker, but he still had six called strikes on the slider and 12 on the sinker. Overall, his CSW% (called strikes and whiffs) was 25 percent, which isn’t great, but it’s okay, especially with just six swings and misses. I, once again, wish he had thrown more changeups. I thought his location on them was outstanding.
There wasn’t necessarily one spot that I thought he should have used it and he didn’t, but the A’s did a nice job of laying off them and I think if he had used it a little more, it might have been tougher to lay off.
The offense was pretty well stymied for most of the day by James Kaprielian, who entered the game with a 5.98 ERA. They had walks in the first and second that went nowhere. They did get a single and a stolen base in the third, but it went nowhere. They finally got something going in the sixth with a triple from Nicky Lopez and then two more walks before Santana drove in two more runs and then Olivares pinch hit and blooped a single to right.
On the play, Jonah Bride and Pinder collided and the ball just kind of sat there for a second. Santana was rounding third to score while Olivares was trying to get to second, but Olivares was thrown out at second before the run could score. It was a scary play with Bride and Pinder both on the ground for awhile. Pinder obviously got up and kept playing, but Bride had to leave the game.
They did have a very real chance in the ninth. Santana led off with a double that almost got out. Then Taylor singled to get Santana to third and he moved to second on a wild pitch, but Isbel popped out and Lopez struck out and the Royals had given the A’s their first series win since May 23-25 in Seattle.
It should be noted that Witt had three walks in this one. His first such game in the big leagues. I’m very curious to see what his walk numbers do with Perez out. Even if you believe in Olivares or Melendez or whoever will hit fourth behind him, they’re not Perez.
On Deck This Week
The last six of 15 straight games against sub-.500 teams take place this week. First, the Rangers come to town for three and while they are under .500, they are playing some generally good baseball. Since starting 6-14, they’ve gone 28-23, which isn’t world-beating, but it’s pretty solid. The Royals will get their best pitcher in Martin Perez, their big free agent signing in Jon Gray and one of their young trade acquisitions from a few years ago in Dane Dunning. Their offense is a bit different than even the last time the Royals played them simply because Marcus Semien is hitting, which gives them a different element. While this is a series the Royals should theoretically be able to win, it might be tougher than it looks.
After an off-day Thursday, they head to Detroit for the first time this season in a battle of which American League Central team is more disappointing. The Tigers had such high hopes for this season after they finished strong last year, but they’re just 28-44 and are doing it with an offense ranked last in all of baseball in wRC+, runs scored (19 fewer than 29th place) and home runs (10 fewer than 29th place) while ranking in the bottom five in average, OBP and SLG. Their pitching has been an adventure with Casey Mize now out for the year, Matt Manning out for a long time and Eduardo Rodriguez on the restricted list for personal reasons. Tarik Skubal has been fantastic, which is great for them, but the Royals appear to be in line to miss him in this series. It may be a competitive series, but it’s hard to predict it’ll be a good one.