The Royals have fallen behind by at least four runs in each of their first two games.
With the first game down and an initial look at each player under our belt, the game analysis shifts to more of what I will normally have for each game.
Result: The Royals seem to be under the impression that they have to spot their opponent four or more runs before the offense kicks in. That might work against the Texas Rangers, but it won’t against most teams.
This time the Royals spotted Texas four runs before a fifth inning rally got them back within one, and then a sixth inning rally blew the game open.
The 11-4 win improves the Royals to 2-0 on the season. They remain tied with the Detroit Tigers at the top of the American League Central.
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Fifth Inning Rally: The Royals had done next to nothing offensively in the first four innings, but Michael Taylor sparked them with a home run to start the fifth. That alone isn’t a rally starter, but then Mother Nature stepped in and helped. Texas center fielder Leody Taveras lost a Kyle Isbel fly in the sun, and instead of a routine out, Isbel had what was ruled a triple, and the rally was on.
Hanser Alberto followed Isbel’s “triple” with his second double in two plate appearances.
Then things turned to Nicky Lopez to see if the player who had been struggling at the plate for over a year could keep things going. Lopez responded with a beautiful bunt past Kohei Arihara, where second baseman Nick Solak had vacated to cover first base, and the rally continued.
The Royals ended up scoring three runs in the fifth to pull to within one.
The first time through the order against Arihara, the Royals were 1-for-8 with a double. The second time through the order, they improved to 5-for-9 with a home run, triple, double, and bunt single. The sixth inning rally blew the game open, but this rally in the fifth got things started and gave the Royals the confidence they needed.
Patience Is A Soler Virtue: Jorge Soler is going to make a lot of money this offseason. If the Royals cannot sign him to a contract extension and fall out of the race, they must, must, must trade him and get something in return.
His patience at the plate gives him more quality pitches to hit, and he is taking advantage of it. You can see how his swing percentage on pitches outside the zone has improved since arriving in the major leagues:
Any batter must lay off of pitches outside the zone. If he goes after pitches outside the zone, he won’t make good contact, if he can make contact at all, and no pitcher will ever throw him a strike. But Soler, who was swinging at around a third of the pitches outside the strike zone when with the Cubs, is now swinging at a quarter of those pitches. More takes on pitches outside the zone means better counts and better pitches to swing at with which he can do damage.
Taylor Made: What is going on with Michael Taylor at the plate? I’m telling you that he is here for his defense. Taylor is trying to prove me wrong. But I’m not wrong. Enjoy what he is doing at the plate now, but I don’t think it will last. And no, I’m not talking about the home runs. Of course, he’s not going to hit a home run every game. I’m talking about how he is locked in at the plate right now. Maybe a change of scenery is helping him get off to a hot start.
You can see that there is nothing that would make you think he can keep up this offensive success. That doesn’t mean that a fresh start can’t help him have a career year. Let’s hope that’s the case and that he never comes back down to earth. Just don’t get frustrated with him when he becomes the bottom-of-the-order bat I expect he will be.
Wave Your Hanser In The Air: Hunter Dozier couldn’t go in Saturday’s game because of a hand injury he got in the season opener, so Hanser Alberto got the start at third base. And how about Hanser?! Offensively he was 3-for-4 with two doubles, but defensively he played just as well. He recorded outs on two hard-hit balls in his direction. I would expect him to get the start again on Sunday if Dozier still can’t go.
Minor Concerns: Two wins in two games will make everyone happy, but if this winning is going to continue, the starting pitching is going to have to improve.
After Brad Keller went just 1 1/3 innings Thursday, in which he allowed six runs on nine hits, Mike Minor went six innings but allowed four runs on four hits and two walks. Clearly, Minor was better, but that’s two poor starts to start the season for the Royals. In Minor’s defense, he did find a way to give Mike Matheny six innings and not force the bullpen to go long in another game.
Brady Singer gets the start Sunday. The Royals need a good start to turn things around.
Bottoms Up: The bottom of the order has carried the Royals in the first two games. The bottom four were 8-for-12 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run on Saturday. Thursday, the bottom four combined to go 8-for-19 with a home run. No team wins consistently by being carried by the bottom of the order, and this team won’t either, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
It’s not that the top of the order has been bad. Whit Merrifield has hit a home run in each of the first two games to match Michael Taylor. Carlos Santana is the new Greek God of Walks. Andrew Benintendi hasn’t got going much yet on offense, but I fully expect that to happen. And Salvador Perez has done some good things as well.
But the best offense the Royals have had so far has come from the bottom of the order. That’s a good sign. If those guys have good offensive years, it’s going to be a fun summer. We knew the lineup was deeper. We never expected this.
Brentz! There It Is: Jake Brentz made his major league debut Saturday, and everything was going great until Rex Hudler said he had never thrown a ball in his major league career. He was terrific against the first batter he faced, David Dahl. His fastball was around 100mph. His breaking ball, it looks like a slider to me, was breaking sharp and in the zone.
Everything was great, and then Rex Hudler pointed out that Brentz had never thrown a ball in the major leagues. After that, Brentz couldn’t throw a strike. So he walked Joey Gallo and allowed a base hit to Nick Solak. Cal Eldred went to the mound to settle down Brentz after the Gallo walk. And even though he then allowed a hit to Solak, Brentz settled down and struck out Nate Lowe.
Then Mike Matheny made a great move. He pulled Brentz after the strikeout. It leaves Brentz in a good mindset, having struck out his first major league batter as the last thing he did in this game to help the Royals win. And thank you, Jesse Hahn, for coming in and getting the final out of the inning to prevent any runs from going against Brentz’s stats. It’s just a mental thing for Brentz.
Brentz looks like he might be a great arm out of the bullpen if he can throw strikes.
Salvy Pitch Framing: This is something that I will bring up from time to time because it drives me crazy. I hate pitch framing. There should be no need for it in the game. When we get the automated strike zone, pitch framing will be a thing of the past. Until then, it’s something that will be discussed and has to be addressed.
And I don’t care what the numbers say, as is usually the case with me, Salvador Perez is not good at pitch framing. I would argue that he costs his pitcher strikes more than he gets him strikes. Watch him some time. He’s slightly better than a youth catcher who grabs the ball a foot outside the strike zone and pulls it back to the middle of the plate to try and sell the ump on a strike.
Catchers should receive the ball in a way to show it in the zone if possible, but you don’t want any major glove movement. Perez pulls every pitch near the bottom of the zone up and everything near the top of the zone down. That movement can make an umpire believe the pitch was outside the zone resulting in a ball being called. If he would just receive the ball properly, he might get more strikes for his pitcher.
P.S. – My brother preached to me about the automated strike zone years ago before it was a possibility. I laughed at the idea. He was right. Don’t tell him I said that.
Next Up: The Royals clinched their opening series Saturday, so Sunday they go for the sweep at 1:10 pm on Sunday. Brady Singer gets the start for the Royals.