The Royals just seem destined to lose to the Twins. It's been inescapable the past 10 or so years and this week's four game series was no exception. On paper, it seems as if the Royals are a better team than the Twins, but it didn't work out that way this weekend as the Royals dropped 3 games in a 4 game series to lose to their I-35 foes.
3 White Sox -4.0
4 Twins -5.0
5 Royals -12.0
Game 92: Royals 4 @ Twins 8
In the four game series with the Twins, only one Royal reliever gave up any runs: Blake Wood. Unfortunately, he gave up 4 of them in a single inning and put the game out of reach. A relief pitcher giving up that many runs isn't a rare occurrence in baseball, but it has been for the Royals in 2011 --that makes it particularly difficult. Brayan Pena and Melky Cabrera both gathered a pair of hits in the loss.
Game 93: Royals 2 @ Twins 1
This was one of the best games of the season. Starter Luke Hochever threw 7 inning and allowed only one eared run. Going into the 9th inning, that was one run too many as the Royals had only managed goose eggs against Twins starter Nick Blackburn. However, in the top of the 9th inning rookie Eric Hosmer blasted a ball over the center-field wall and gave the Royals a 2-1 lead. Closer Joakim Soria came in in the bottom of the 9th and helped give the Royals a much-needed win. If only there were more games like this each season. How fun would that be?
Game 94: Royals 3 @ Twins 4
Royals starter Jeff Francis has done a very good job of keeping his team in the game this season. He hasn't been a great pitcher, but he's been more than adequate. It's something quite rare it seems from a pitcher wearing Royal blue. In this game, being in the game just wasn't enough. The Royals offense continued to fizzle as they were held to a mere 3 runs. Alcides Escobar accounted for most of that as he hit a two-run home run.
Game 95: Royals 3 @ Twins 4
This game was highlighted by recent Dayton Moore acquisitions. Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer both had a pair of hits and starter Felipe Paulino struck out 8 but allowed 4 earned runs. It simultaneously shows how much improvement this team needed and also how much improvement it still needs. While there were some solid contributions from new players, they will likely need to be replaced very soon and also supplemented with additional talent. It still only translated into yet another one-run loss to the Twins.
Position player of the week: Jeff Francoeur
There were only 4 games this week, but Francoeur lead the team in extra-base hits and even took a couple of walks. It suddenly seems as if the Royals are planning on keeping one of Francoeur and Cabrera and trading the other. Whether or not that is the ideal move, it should put some pressure on Francoeur to play well if he wants to stay because he's been significantly out-played by Cabrera as of late.
Starting pitcher of the week: Luke Hochevar
The Royals coaching staff has said that Hochevar has been working on adjustments to help alleviate his tendency towards the big inning. I'm solidly of the belief that his problems stem from issues he has pitching from the stretch, not the more widely accepted and impossible to define "mental issues". If he can put together more outings like he did this week, then he's actually deserving of a #1 spot in the rotation.
Relief pitcher of the week: Aaron Crow
It was a pretty good week for the former Mizzou Tiger. Crow got to don an American League All-Star jersey although he wasn't going to get in the game due to sickness and the fact he is a setup man for the Kansas City Royals. He did however pitch 2.1 scoreless innings in relief for the Royals and continued being a valuable asset in relief.
On the farm
Johnny Giavotella can no longer be ignored. He went 4-for-4 last night with 2 home runs. There is no reason for him to not be getting every day playing time at the MLB level today.
Lorenzo Cain is also decimating the competition in AAA. He's hitting .405/.450/.622 in his last 10 games.
Pitcher Mike Montgomery has been improving lately. His last three starts have been quality starts and he's lowered his ERA to 5.14. More importantly, he's only walked 3 batters in his last 20 innings.
The week to come
Trade talks should heat up big time this week. Watching what the Royals do on the market will be more interesting than what happens on the field.
7/18-7/20 vs White Sox
7/22-7/24 vs Tampa Bay
It seems pre-destined at this point. The Royals would somehow, someway find their way to last place in the American League Central. They actually played pretty well on the road this week, but it didn't translate into wins. They went 2-4 in Oakland and St. Louis and dropped a game below the Minnesota Twins in the standings. It's depressing, sure, but it's not unexpected. This season wasn't about contending, but taking a step forward for the franchise. In that regard, it's been a mixed bag but overall things are going as expected. My advice is to just take a step back, ignore the scores and watch the young players develop.
2 Tigers -1.0
3 White Sox -5.5
4 Twins 8.0
5 Royals -9.0
Game 67: Royals 7 @ Athletics 4
This might be the most illustrative game so far of how the youth on the Royals can impact the games. Starter Danny Duffy went 6 innings while only giving up 2 earned runs. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both collected a pair of hits, while Alcides Escobar gathered 3 of his own. It's a small example of how the young players all can put together solid outings to help a team win on both sides of the ball. It's something we should expect in the future as the rule rather than the exception.
Game 68: Royals 1 @ Athletics 2
Staring pitching was the name of the game on this night. Luke Hochevar for the Royals and Josh Outman for the Athletics both wen 7 innings. However, Hochevar gave up 2 earned runs while Outman gave up none. Alcides Escobar continued his hot streak going 3 for 3 with a double. It wasn't enough though, as the Royals lost in a pitchers duel.
Game 69: Royals 4 @ Athletics 8
The Royals hit 5 doubles and stole 3 bases, yet somehow only managed to score 4 runs. On this day, that wasn't nearly enough as Jeff Francis had a disaster of a start, giving up 6 runs in only 3.1 innings. The Royals were never able to climb out of that early hole.
Game 70: Royals 5 @ Cardinals 4
At this point, it's time to ask: "Who are you and what have you done with the real Alcides Escobar?" The weak hitting but slick-fielding shortstop has suddenly become a one-man offensive juggernaut. He went 2-for-4 in the win against the Cardinals. Felipe Paulino got the start, and other than one bad inning he kept the Cardinals offense under wraps giving them their 7th straight loss.
Game 71: Royals 4 @ Cardinals 5
It seemed that the Royals had this game in the bag. They had a one-run lead, but the Cardinals had been scoreless since the 3rd inning. The Royals took a 4-3 lead in the top of the 7th but with their bullpen it always seems safe. Unfortunately, both Tim Collins and Greg Holland allowed runs and the Cardinals took a lead they would not surrender. Oh, and ho-hum, Alcides Escobar collected two more hits including a triple.
Game 72: Royasl 4 @ Cardinals 5
This game was representative of the entire series in St. Louis. A constant back and forth, resulting in a one-run win that neither fan-base felt comfortable with until the final out. It made for interesting baseball, although this loss put the Royals in last place in the AL Central for the first time this season. Danny Duffy had an odd pitching line as he went 3.2 innings, struck out 9 and walked only 1. He was removed with a pitch-count of 90 and the bullpen was put into action early. Alcides Escobar hit his first home-run as a Royal on his way to another multi-hit game. But even that was not enough as the Royals dropped the finale and ended a rough road trip with a loss.
Position player of the week: Alcides Escobar
An absolute no-brainer of a choice. Escobar hit .545/.583/864 in the last seven days. No, that's not a mis-print. He had a home-run, a triple and two doubles and even stole 4 bases last week. Combined with his defense, he had an M.V.P. type of week. Sure, it's only 7 days in a long season, but what a 7 days.
Starting pitcher of the week: Danny Duffy
He gets a little bit of the nod here for starting two games over just one for Luke Hochevar. However he had one solid outing and one good but weird and short outing. The biggest reason I chose Duffy is the fact that he struck out 11 while Hochevar struck out 0. As we've seen with Sean O'Sullivan, strike outs are vital. The kid also got his first "win" this week. While this blog generally considers that statistic to be meaningless, it is something the kid will always remember and deserves some recognition.
Relief pitcher of the week: Joakim Soria
Joakim Soria pitched 2 innings, but struck out 3, walked one and allowed only one hit. He seems to have re-found some of what he lost earlier in the season. The strikeouts are the most important number for him right now, and he's putting some on the board. What he needs now are more save opportunities to convert.
On the farm
In his last 10 games, Johnny Giavotella (2B) has hit .415/.455/.634 and he's hit 2 home runs for the Omaha Storm Chasers (AAA). He's inching closer to the point where he's forcing the Royals to promote him.
Lorenzo Cain (CF) has hit .368/.415/.763 with 4 home runs in his last 10 games for the Storm Chasers. He's a Melky Cabrera trade away from being the every-day center fielder at the Major League level.
Wil Myers (OF) has recovered from his knee bruise and is hitting .289/.372/.500 in his last ten games for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (AA).
Salvador Perez (C) has broken out of a slump and is now 11 for his last 31 with a home run and two doubles for the Naturals.
In his last start, Chris Dwyer (LHP) went 6 innings while striking out 9 and allowing no earned runs for the Naturals.
Jake Odorizzi (RHP) bounced back from a rough start by striking out 11 and allowing no earned runs in 5.2 innings for his last start with the Wilmington Blue Rocks (A+).
The week to come
The Royals will be back at home this week. They have two inter-league series against the Diamondbacks and Cubs, fortunately they will get to use the DH and won't have to choose between Hosmer and Butler.
6/21-6/23 vs Diamondbacks
6/24-6/26 vs Cubs
In the last inning of last night’s Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays game, the Royals were down by two runs with the bottom of their order due to bat. Every team’s last three batters are the most woeful on the team, but the Royals last three are worse than average. Chris Getz, Brayan Pena and Alcides Escobar currently have on-base percentages of .318, .295 and .241. So, the odds of overcoming the two run deficit were looking slim.
Predictably, Chris Getz grounded out to second base for the first out. However, Brayan Pena stroked a ball to center field for a single which put the tying run at the plate. A tying run which was represented by Alcides Escobar and his .210 batting average and matching .242 on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He isn’t just the worst batter on the Royals, he’s likely the worst option in the Majors to bat in that situation..
A logical strategy in that moment would have been to utilize the well-known Rule 3.03:
A player, or players, may be substituted during a game at any time the ball is dead. A substitute player shall bat in the replaced player’s position in the team’s batting order
However manager Ned Yost decided to waive his right to use Rule 3.03 and left significantly better hitters Mike Aviles and Mitch Maier on the bench.
Escobar watched the first pitch go by for a called strike and fouled off the next two offerings attempting to go to the opposite field. The fourth and final pitch of the at-bat was a called strike that looked to be outside, but seemed to be a good pitch to hit the other way. The strikeout was followed by an RBI double by Alex Gordon and a just-too-short bloop by Melky Cabrera to end the game.
When asked after the game if he thought about pinch hitting for Escobar Ned Yost replied:
"Do I think about pinch-hitting for him every time in those situations? Yes, yes, I’m dying to. But I know it’s in our best interest right now, that we don’t do it -- for big picture thought."
But thinking about it and doing it are clearly two different things. He also said:
“Not right now, I’m not gonna do it. I don’t care what anybody says, I’m not gonna do it.”
“This is a kid that I think is going hit some day and I want him getting as many at bats as he can get, because one day there’s going to be in line to win a championship and I want him to be able to handle himself in those situations.”
Leaving Alcides Escobar in to hit in that important game situation wasn’t a matter of inept managing; it was a development philosophy. It’s easy to scream at the manager for making a bone-headed decision, and in the context of last night’s game, that’s exactly what it was.
This decision goes deeper than that, what’s better for the Royals as a franchise: a 15% increase in the probability of getting the tying run on base in a relatively meaningless game in June, or trying to improve a player who is going to be a contributor for the next five years?
The answer depends on who are. If you are fan who goes to a couple games a year and last night was one of them, then you want to see that walk-off win – screw the development of Alcides Escobar. It’s just one at-bat! If you are building a franchise and you feel that Alcides Escobar is an important component, then things look a bit different. That slight increase in probability for a single game becomes much less important.
Context matters, sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war. It’s not a guarantee that Escobar will eventually turn around his offensive game. Leaving him out to fail in clutch situations could eventually crush his confidence. It’s all a calculated risk.
I believe it's a risk worth taking. What does the Royals franchise gain in the long haul from giving Mike Aviles or Mitch Maier that chance last night? At best, they win one game -- a game that will be forgotten in a week's time. Neither of those players are going to be on the Royals when they are in the playoffs, while Alcides Escobar just might. Developing him at the cost of a small win probability increase is the right call.