As the Royals headed to Oakland this past weekend there was a ton of speculation about just what might happen as these two teams clashed for the first time since April. Most remember that tension filled series a few months back, as what started as a rematch of a great wild card game from 2014 turned into a heated and bitter battle that saw fielders injured and batters getting thrown at. If you forgot or were in a coma back in April, here is my summary. So with all this said, there was hope that all the drama had vanished and these two teams would just focus on the game being played. The A’s came into the series on a bit of a winning streak and the Royals were just the team with the best record in the American League. So what unfolded? Just a fun three game series that sure didn’t bring the dull.
Series MVP: Kendrys Morales
I was wrong. When Royals General Manager Dayton Moore signed Kendrys Morales this past offseason, there was a lot of worry that the Royals had gotten rid of one regressing DH(Billy Butler) for another regressing DH(Morales). Morales was coming off of a disaster of a season, as he didn’t even sign with a team until a few months into the season and just never seemed to get his feet out from underneath him. Morales had a line last year of .207/.285/.347, an OPS+ of 83 and a WAR of -0.3. I was one of those worried that Kansas City got a player on the decline and locked him up for multiple years(he is signed through 2016 with a mutual option for 2017). Instead, Morales has been one of the(if not the most) consistent hitter for the Royals this season and has solidified the middle of the order for Kansas City. This series was no different, as Morales was 4 for 11 against Oakland this series, 1 home run, 3 RBI, and 2 walks and had a number of key hits for them this series. His clutch percentage this season is 0.6 compared to last year’s -0.5 and is close to his best seasons of 0.8 back in 2010 and 2013. Morales even got some time at 1B in this series, as Hosmer was the DH on Sunday, thanks to sprained finger on his left hand. Even when others in the middle of the batting order have been slumping, Morales has been the rock of this team. There is still another half of the season to go but at this point you would have to say that this has been a plus signing for Moore and shows sometimes a player will play above his peripherals. A great signing that continues to pay off for Kansas City.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez
Speaking of great signings this past offseason, it is safe to say that Edinson Volquez is also in the plus section of that category. Volquez continued to marvel on Friday night, throwing 7 innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 3. It was also a milestone game for ‘Easy Eddie’, as it was his 200th career start and he achieved his 1,000 career strikeout. It was Volquez’s best game in over a month, as he had a game score of 69, his best since May 17th against the Yankees. At this point it appears that when Volquez keeps his walks down(2 or less) he seems to shine. When he walks 3 or more, he seems to struggle a bit more. One would assume more baserunners mean more trouble, and the walks have always been Volquez’s big issue throughout his career. The positive is that with some of the Royals younger pitchers struggling this season(Ventura, Duffy) Volquez has been a steadying force in the rotation and has kept his team in games while eating innings in almost every start. In fact so far this season he is averaging 6 innings a start, well above the rest of the Royals rotation. As we get deeper into the season, the need for a starter like Volquez is a must and will help keep the team atop the American League hierarchy. Now, if only the Royals could get some of his consistency to rub off on the rest of the rotation…
‘C’ is For Clutch
Let’s venture back to the 6th inning in Sunday’s game. Jesse Chavez was still on the mound for Oakland as they led the game 2-0 and he would give up a leadoff double to Mike Moustakas followed by a single to right from Kendrys Morales. Chavez would get Eric Hosmer to fly out to center field, with neither runner advancing. This would bring Salvador Perez to the plate and he would hit a chopper to third base. Max Muncy fielded the ball cleanly but with Moustakas chugging it home, Muncy would throw the ball high to catcher Steven Vogt, allowing Moose to score and also allowing Morales to get to third base while Perez would safely advance to second. Chavez would then intentionally walk Alex Gordon, loading the bases and making it possible for a force out at any base. Alex Rios would follow by hitting a fly ball to center field, a sacrifice fly and a productive out, to score Morales and tie the game, while Perez advanced to third. To cap off the Royals rally, All-Star hopeful Omar Infante would line a single to right, scoring Perez and putting the Royals in front for good. The Royals have been about as clutch as humanly possible this season, leading the American League at 3.06 clutch percentage. In fact, the Royals are one of only 4 teams in the league hitting above average in those situations. There is a lot to be said for a team that steps up when necessary, but when you are doing it as often as Kansas City it also means you have the best record in the American League. Can you imagine just how much higher this stat would be if the Royals took a walk even occasionally?
There was much more that went on in Oakland. Here is just a few items of note:
- Most of us were wondering if there would be some retaliation from the A’s in this series from their last encounter in Kansas City, but it appeared revenge was not on the menu. There was some concern after Franklin Morales hit Steven Vogt on the wrist Friday night, but no one took it as a purpose pitch. Speaking of Vogt, I felt for the guy this weekend. Between the hit by pitch and a couple other instances of balls hitting him while he was behind the dish he was the definition of the walking wounded.
- I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the gap between the Royals and A’s defense was very present in this series. I’ve mentioned this before when comparing the Royals to other defenses, but I feel it can’t be stressed enough. While the Royals are near the top of the league in Defensive Runs Saved and UZR, the A’s are near the bottom. If you want to point to some of the struggles Oakland is having, looking at a UZR of -23.9 for a starting point. I hate picking on Marcus Semien, but his problems are very apparent. Semien was basically a second baseman and third baseman before this year, so in some ways Oakland should have seen some of this coming when they shifted him to shortstop. The A’s are always good at moving players around the diamond and getting as much as they can out of what they have. Sometimes though the focus on offense hurts them on the defensive side of the coin.
- Chris Young bounced back from his rough start last weekend against Boston to hurl a 6 inning, 1 run outing. Young is currently sitting at 69 innings so far this season, and one wonders how deep the Kansas City coaching staff will let him continue to start this year before he is shuffled back to the bullpen. Royals manager Ned Yost has mentioned he has an innings limit in mind; I have to believe he probably isn’t too far off from that total.
- Omar Infante continues to hit, as he has now gotten a hit in 12 of his last 13 games. The current top vote-getter in the American League at 2B, Infante is hitting .360 over the last 2 weeks, with 5 doubles, 6 RBI’s and a BAbip of .419. The Royals are still looking at possible second base trade possibilities before the deadline, but for now Infante is earning his keep in the lineup.
- Wade Davis came close to losing his streak of innings pitched without allowing a home run. Marcus Semien hit a ball off the wall in left center Sunday afternoon that was a little too close to the top. I did a little digging, and the last time Davis gave up a dinger was on August 24, 2013 to Ian Desmond of the Nationals at Kauffman Stadium. I don’t know if we will see this streak fall this year but it really puts in perspective just how impressive Davis’ performance these past couple years is.
- Salvador Perez’s reached a milestone with his home run Sunday afternoon:
Congratulations to Salvy on this achievement, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to gain control of the ball afterwards:
Although I think Salvy might know who has it:
I’m going to die laughing if a guy named Mike Stone actually has the ball. If not, Mike Stone is getting unjustly blamed for being a jerk.
- Speaking of milestones(not #mikestones), Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie piled up his 1,000th career strikeout on Sunday. A nice achievement for a guy who is not a strikeout pitcher. The Royals were able to procure this ball though, so Mike Stone can’t be blamed for keeping another ball with significance.
- And finally, Mike Moustakas continues to put himself in the front of the comeback player of the year category:
Not only are those numbers highly impressive, but Moustakas is also currently sitting at 85 hits for the season. In 140 games last year he got 97 hits.
Tweets of Royalty
With only three games remaining on the road trip, the Royals are 5-1 so far with Houston on the track for the next series. The Astros could be a fun series, since they have played above expectations this year with a nice core of younger players. The Royals are surely going to try and stretch out their 5.5 game lead in the American League Central before Minnesota ventures into Kansas City this upcoming Thursday for a 4 game series. Right now this Royals team is looking unstoppable, but we have all seen what happens once you assume it is easy sailing. Hopefully Hosmer, Cain and Escobar can all get healed up this week and the Royals can take two more series. The All-Star game is around the corner and should give this team a much needed break. At this point, the positives far outweigh the negatives as we approach the halfway point of the season. Revel in this, Royals fans; we are truly seeing one of the best teams in Kansas City in years. If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then you must be a Cardinals fan…