Thorn in the Paw: Royals Pounce on Tigers

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After a series sweep of the White Sox, the Royals welcomed the Detroit Tigers to Kauffman Stadium. Last week, Detroit took two of three games from the Royals and overall made Kansas City not look like the team with the biggest divisional lead in the major leagues. The Royals so far this year have been remarkable better at home than on the road(39-20 to 29-26) so the hope was this series would not be a repeat of the one in Detroit. In fact, it was not, as the Royals would take two of three from the Tigers and were it not for a lead blown by the bullpen on Wednesday night, this might have been a sweep for the Royals. It was a banner series, so let’s slide into this set and look at the preceedings.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

For the second straight series, Lorenzo Cain showed why he is an honest to goodness MVP candidate this year. Cain was 8 for 12 in these three games, getting 3 doubles, a home run that might still be in flight, and 3 RBI’s. His slugging percentage this series was a ridiculous 1. 167 and  almost raised his OPS this series 30 points. I talked about the numbers Cain has put up this season earlier this week and the numbers keep popping up for Cain:

We’ve heard the last few years from manager Ned Yost that Cain showed much more power in batting practice then he would during the game. This year, Cain’s pitch recognition has vastly improved, to where he understands which pitches he can drive and which ones he can’t. It has made a drastic difference in his offensive production and has kept him in the 3rd spot in the batting order this year. You add in his top shelf defense(which is in the top 15 of baseball in defensive runs saved) and you have the biggest driving force in the Royals lineup. Having a bat like Cain’s(and his consistency most of this year) has to make Royals management comfortable, knowing he can lead the team offensively come October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto

Amazingly, there are still some fans who don’t understand why the Royals needed Johnny Cueto. On Monday night, he showed why Kansas City was so adament about acquiring him for their postseason run. All Cueto did in his third start as a Royal is pitch a complete game shutout, giving up 4 hits, walking none and striking out 8 on 116 pitches. If this didn’t make him endear himself toward you, nothing will. His game score of 87 was his highest since July 7th against Washington and overall his second best this season:

Still not sold on Cueto? Well, consider this when compared to the rest of the Royals rotation so far in 2015:

Cueto was also introduced to a Royals favorite: the postgame ritual!

While Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been up and down, having Cueto makes two solid starters(with Edinson Volquez) that the Royals can count on in October. Cueto won’t do this every start, but the fact he is capable of doing it in a high stakes game late in the season, well that alone makes his acquisition more than worth it.

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Death By Defense  

On Tuesday night, the Royals put on a defensive clinic to remind the Tigers why they are on the top of the American League Central…and why the Tigers aren’t. First there was a great relay throw from Alcides Escobar to nail James McCann at the plate:

Not only a great assist from “Shortstop Jesus” but also not his first:

Trust me, it was beautiful(and I wish I could show it, but MLB has limitations. Come on, MLB!). It was so great that even Neddy approved:

Oh yeah, I approved as well:

Later in the game, Salvador Perez picked Anthony Gose off base:

There would also be a dazzling play by Alcides Escobar later in the game as well. The Tigers would also do something amazing on defense, although not in the good way. A fly ball would get hit to left fielder Tyler Collins later in the game and it would bounce off the palm of his glove and veer to the corner. It was the perfect description of the differences between these two teams. The Royals lead the American League in defensive rankings, while Detroit is in 4th place. But it’s not as close as 1st to 4th place, as the Royals have a 51, the Tigers 10.9. That is a rather huge gap. Within the division, Chicago is last in the league while Cleveland sits in 11th place and Minnesota 9th, all in the negative rankings. Sure, the Royals have had a good offensive season and the bullpen is about as good as they get. But the defense sets them apart from everyone else in the division and is why the Royals are at the top with everyone else looking up.

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Oh, but there is more! With that said here are the news and notes portion of this series:

  • One of the most asked questions this season has been “how long will the Royals go with Omar Infante at 2B?”. It’s easy to see why this question continues to get asked:

Yet, we have seen a llllloooooooooooootttt of Omar this season:

But Ned has confidence:

Oh, speaking of big hits:

I think it’s safe to say his defense is what is keeping him in the lineup. In fact, defensively he has having his best season since 2012(5 DRS and a UZR of 4.3). Sure, he doesn’t take walks and any punch he used to have seems to have gone by the wayside. But don’t fret; when(if?) Alex Gordon comes back in September, I have a feeling we will be seeing more of Ben Zobrist at second base. Oh, and Infante did get a day off this week; on Tuesday, Zobrist started in his place and made an error. I don’t think that proves Infante is the better option; that is more of a sign that the universe likes to mess with our heads.

  • Wade Davis did not see any action during these three games:

I’m sure some will point to not having Davis available on Wednesday cost the Royals the game(Yost went with Volquez into the 8th inning and the Royals would end up losing the lead and the game), but it is a good thing that Kansas City can be cautious with Wade. I made the comment last series and will say it again; I would rather have a healthy Davis in October than use him injured and lose him for longer than just a week.

  • What a weird start for Yordano Ventura on Tuesday. Ventura would go 6 innings, only giving up 2 hits and no runs. Looks good, right? But Ventura also walked 6 and struck out 8. Rare, huh?

Ventura was able to get out of a couple of dicey situations, which is improvement. He has had issues pitching with runners on base this season, but on Tuesday he kept a calm head and dealt his way out of it. Sure, the 6 walks is a scary number; but I will take the improvement and hope that continues over the next couple of starts.

  • Over the years the Royals have had issues dealing with Anibal Sanchez. Not anymore:

I don’t have answers for why the Royals seem to handle the best pitchers in the league better than the lesser known pitchers, but I will take it. It is a vast improvement over where the Royals were just a few years ago.

  • Salvador Perez had to leave Tuesday’s game in the 6th inning due to a wrist injury:

Perez hasn’t played since the injury and is still being evaluated. You lose a little bit offensively with Drew Butera behind the plate, but not a bunch on defense. There were some fans angry with Butera on Wednesday night but he is a solid defensive catcher, in fact he is a well above average fielder over his career. This injury might just be a good sign; all that rest that Perez has needed the last few years might be caught up on.

  • Eric Hosmer continues to dazzle. Hosmer had a slash line of .333/.333/.750 in this series and is hitting .366/.414/.545 since the beginning of July. I can’t tell you if Hosmer has finally figured it out or not(he has been a streaky hitter throughout his career), but I will say the power he has shown in this span has made me think that he actually could contend for an MVP award at some point in his career, and I haven’t thought that in a long time.

  • Finally, the Royals streak of 111 games won when leading after 7 innings is over:

The Royals were only 4 wins away from the record, held by the 1998-99 New York Yankees. Damn Yankees!

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, left, is hugged by catcher Salvador Perez, right, following a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. The Royals defeated the Tigers 4-0. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) ORG XMIT: OTKOW
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

So the Royals still have a double digit lead in the American League Central as they welcome the Los Angeles Angels to town for a four games series this weekend. Interesting note, out of the teams currently holding leads in either a division or the wild card, the Angels are the last one of those teams the Royals will face this season(outside of a make-up game late in September against the Cubs). A question was posed to me the other day, asking if there should be any worry that the Royals would get too complacent with this big a lead. I said there is always the chance, but these players seem to be pretty driven. The other good thing is that Kansas City can rest a guy like Wade Davis and let him heal better than if they were fighting for a playoff spot. There are pluses and minuses to having this big a lead, but as of right now I don’t see anyone slacking off on the field. That is a good thing, since we are only about six weeks away from the regular season wrapping and what appears to be another ‘Blue October’ for the Royals!

 

 

 

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