When I started covering the Royals in 2010, they had one of the worst defenses in the American League. Now they have one of the best. Last season, Bruce Chen was the number one starter, this season hes at the bottom of the rotation. Coming into this game the Royals bullpen led the league with a 2.95 ERA and, after two more scoreless innings against the Twins that ERA went down.
In 2013 the starting pitching, defense and bullpen have been good enough to win, but the offense has scuffled. If the Royals can find enough offenseand they did in this gamethe other pieces are in place. Tuesday night Mike Moustakas homered twice, Eric Hosmer had three hits, Alex Gordon had two and Salvador Perez had another pair of singles. With the Royals pitching and defense, 12 hits and seven runs were plenty. Kansas City won its seventh straight game and went over .500 for the first time in two and a half months.
By the time you read this the Royals may have made a decision: theyll either be sellers and make moves that will help them in the future, or theyll be buyers, decide to push their chips into the middle of the table and go for it right now.
Tuesday nights 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins showed what the Royals look like when they get some offense. If the Royals can find that missing ingredient, the rest of the summer should be pretty interesting.
*Like a lot of good pitchers, Ervin Santana tends to struggle a bit in the first inning. Fans should pay attention to what happens in the first inningsometimes were still finding our seats and visiting the snack barlots of games are decided by what happens right out of the gate.
*In the second inning Jarrod Dyson struck out looking and it reminded me of something Clint Hurdle once said about hitting: every pitch is a strike until its not. A hitter shouldnt be thinking maybe-yes-maybe-no, he should be thinking yes, yes, yes and then no if the ball is out of the zone. With two strikes a hitter has to be very aggressiveyou cant spit on a borderline pitch and leave it up to the umpire.
*In the third inning with runners at first and second base, Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon didnt dive to keep Miguel Tejadas ground ball on the infield. That cost the Twins a run. When you see the catcher come out from behind home plate and make downward motion with both hands hes reminding the infielders to knock a groundball down, even if they cant make a play. Hosmer was the runner on second base. Had Florimon gotten his uniform dirty, Homser wouldnt have scoredat least until Moustakas hit his first home run.
*Miguel Tejada played his fourth game in a row and picked up two more hits.
*The Royals scored four in the top of the third inning and the Twins scored none in the bottom half of the third. When your team scores big, ballplayers believe a shutdown inning immediately afterwards is hugedont let the other team crawl back into it.
*Like Ive said before, the biggest pitch of an at-bat may not be the final one: in the sixth inning Ervin Santana threw Joe Mauer a 2-1 fastball for a strikea pitch Mauer has a habit of hammering. Mauer fouled this one off and that allowed Santana to get ahead and go to his slider. Two sliders later, Mauer struck out, but the turning point in the at-bat was the fastball Mauer missed.
*In the top of the ninth Jarrod Dyson was on first base and that put pitcher Brian Duensing into a slide step. Barely lifting your foot off the ground when delivering a pitch gets the ball to home plate more quickly, but it can also leave the ball up in the zone; the front foot gets down faster than normal and the arm never catches up.
Duensing left a sinker up in the zone and Alex Gordon whacked the ball into left field. Whenever you see a big hit with a fast runner on first, check the pitchers front foot; once you start looking for it, youll be surprised at how often the pitcher was in a slide step.
*After Gordons single Eric Hosmer hit a double down the right field line on a pitch well inside off the plate. To keep that ball fair isnt easy: the hitter has to pull his hands in close to his body and keep his bottom hand in charge of the bat. Push the bat head out with the top hand and the hitter hooks the ball foul.
*Its not much when youre getting you butts kicked, but the Twins got a couple runners on in the ninth inning and forced the Royals to get closer Greg Holland up and throwing. Even when youre losing by five in the ninth, theres still something to be accomplished: if you can make the other team use an extra reliever oror even bettertheir closer, it might help you win a game later in the series.
How home runs can hurt you
Fans love all home runs, but ballplayers dread certain guys hitting them. Dont misunderstand; they want the runs on the board, but they know if certain guys hit a bomb, those guys are done for a while. Theyll start thinking thats part of their game and alter their swing. The guy that was a steady contact hitter is about to go in the tank.
To see how a homer can hurt you, take a look at Chris Getz home run earlier this season in Atlanta: he hadnt hit one in a long time and he got a lot of attention for hitting that one. It was early in the season so the numbers were still jumping around, but even so, the effect on Getz was dramaticimmediately after the Atlanta home run, Getz was hitting .30010 games later he was hitting .229.
Chris and I talked about it and he admitted the home run may have hurt more than it helped. He said people start thinking maybe theres something more there and you want to believe that: "Yeah, maybe I can hit a few bombs. Hit some out in batting practice and you get encouraged; guys around the cages are telling you way to go, thats the way to swing a bat. Meanwhile, youre drifting farther and farther away from your skill set. Youre abandoning the things you do well for something you dont do well at all and things crash and burn.
So next time a guy hits a home run, ask yourself: was it a good thing? If the wrong guy hit it, a home run might hurt you more than it helps.
Three approaches to hitting home runs
Ive heard at least three approaches to hitting home runs (maybe more, but my memory sucks).
Never try to hit a home run: This theory says home runs should just happen. Dont alter your swing and try to hit a home runthat hardly ever works. George Brett has said the goal should be taking good swings: take a good swing on the right pitch and the ball will leave the yard. Fred McGriff was once asked how he hit 30 home runs a year and he said there was a certain pitch, in a certain location, thrown at a certain speed that hed hit for a home run30 times a year some pitcher threw it to him.
So under the first approach you just try to hit line drives and once in a while, its a home run.
Always try to hit a home run: There arent that many of these guys around, but Adam Dunn comes to mind. Ive been told he has no two-strike approach; hes always looking to hit something a long way. His job is to find 30 mistake pitches each season and do damage. If he drives in enough runs, his team will live with the strikeouts and low batting average.
Pick your spots: To me this sounds like the most difficult approach: you look to hit line drives up the middle and the other way and thenin certain counts with certain pitchersyou try to get the bat head out in front and pull the ball into the short part of the yard. I believe this is what a hitter like Billy Butler is doing: waiting until hes in the right count against a pitcher whos somewhat predictablethen going for it. If it doesnt work out, you go right back to your other approach.
Whatever approach a hitter takes to hitting home runs, he probably needs to have a plan and stick to it. One sign that a hitter has no plan is when you see him swing at a fastball in and an off-speed pitch away on consecutive pitches. Maybe there was a thought process there, but a lot of those guys are just hacking at whatever looks good at the moment. Wade Davis said he guys who are dangerous are the guys who sit on a pitch. They ignore everything else until they get what theyre looking for and when they get it, they dont miss it.
Pay attention and youll be able to spot the guys who have a plan and the guys who have no approach at all.