After some rough years following a 2015 world championship season, the Royals appear to be serious about competing in 2021.
Result: The Royals finally got the starting pitching they needed, which led to a 3-0 win at Cleveland. The win improved the club to 3-1 on the year and kept them tied for first place with the Minnesota Twins.
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Duffy Shines: The Royals got a good outing from a starting pitcher. You heard me right. Danny Duffy allowed just two hits and walked three in six scoreless innings. Was it perfect? No. He was around 60% strikes. I would like to see something around 70%, but that’s asking for a lot. The first three starts of the season had Brad Keller at 59%, Mike Minor at 63%, and Brady Singer at 65%. So it’s not just the percentage of strikes a pitcher throws but the quality of those strikes.
First Base Defense Does Matter: I talked in my positional analysis of first base before the season started about how it is important to have quality defenders at all positions. Some people think that first base is an exception and just a place to put a strong bat.
Let’s look at the Cleveland ninth inning to understand just how important defense is at first. The Royals led 3-0 with runners at first and second and no outs. Eddie Rosario then hit a hard ground ball down the first base line. A poor defensive first baseman doesn’t make the play, and we are looking at a runner at second or third, no outs, and a 3-2 Royals lead.
Instead, Carlos Santana backhands the ball, turns and fires it to Nicky Lopez covering second for an out, and then Lopez fires to Jesse Hahn covering first for the double play. Now it’s just a runner on third and two outs.
Defense matters everywhere, even at first base.
A Little Goes A Long Way: Nobody is asking Nicky Lopez to be George Brett. He doesn’t need to be that kind of hitter. All the Royals need from Nicky Lopez is to get on base. Turn the lineup over every now and then.
In the second inning of this game, Hanser Alberto and Ryan McBroom made two quick outs with Nicky Lopez coming up. Most probably expected a third out and would be ok with that because it would mean Whit Merrifield leads off the third. But that’s not what happened.
Nicky Lopez hit an infield single to keep the inning alive. Whit Merrifield then steps to the plate and hits his third home run of the season. The Royals take a 2-0 lead. That’s all they would need in this low-scoring affair.
This was game four of the season. The Royals are 3-1. Whit Merrifield has hit a home run in three of those games. It’s about time I talked about him.
See, I’m guilty of taking Whit Merrifield for granted. He is such a good player that I expect nothing less than a great game every time out. And that’s unfortunate, so I’m going to talk about him in the upcoming Royals Monitor newsletter.
A Bullpen Shall Lead Them: As nice as it was for Danny Duffy to finally give the Royals a quality start, it’s the bullpen that will be critical for this team’s success. I expect the starting rotation to be decent. But the bullpen is going to help this team win as they did in 2015 if this is going to be a good year.
The bullpen entered this game with a 2.20 ERA. After Duffy pitched his six innings to start, Scott Barlow and Jesse Hahn combined for three scoreless innings of relief. Those two allowed just one hit and one walk, both by Hahn, in their three innings.
There is nothing more demoralizing to a team than to play a competitive game for six innings only to blow it in the end. And nothing gives a team more confidence than knowing that they can keep fighting on offense, because they know the bullpen will stop the other team and give them a chance to catch up.
Through the first four games of the season, the bullpen has been terrific. If they can keep it up, this team might surprise some people.
Next Up: The Royals have an off day Tuesday before concluding the two-game series at 12:10 pm on Wednesday.