Royals Miss Out On Sweep in Pitching Duel

Jeff Francis will probably say all the right things, but he has every right to be a bit frustrated so far in 2011.  In four starts covering 27 innings, he’s walked just four, carried an ERA of 3.00 and has received a robust 14 runs of support in the games he’s pitched.

He’s left games with scores of 1-1, 5-0, 3-3 and 1-1.  The Royals are 1-3 when he starts, and from the bench he’s seen Joakim Soria blow a save and Robinson Tejeda get rocked by the Twins.

He pitched well enough for the win, but was matched by Seattle rookie Michael Pineda who did enough to keep the Royals off the board for most of the game.

The game wasn’t without its curious decisions, though.

Francis left in the seventh after Justin Smoak and Miguel Olivo singled and Ryan Langerhans bunted them over.  With one out in a 1-1 game, the Royals had Blake Wood and Aaron Crow warming up.

Crow, who’s struck out ten batters in 8.2 innings, seems the logical choice in that situation.  Wood hasn’t been a strikeout pitcher since coming up last year and Crow’s stuff is more suited to the situation.  Wood, however, was the choice.

He gave up a two run single to give Seattle a 3-1 lead.  Maybe Crow would have done the same, but he was more likely to get a strikeout and get to two outs.  Instead, Yost went with a pitcher who’s got worse stuff and has a history of being a contact pitcher.  And sure, Francis let the runners get on in the first place, so he’s not innocent in the inning either.

Fitting with the theme of April, the Royals didn’t quit.

In the bottom of the ninth, Kila Ka’aihue singled and moved to second on a groundout.  After a Wilson Betemit single drove him in, Yost made a double whammy of an odd decision.  He pinch ran for Betemit, which isn’t a bad idea since he represented the tying run.

Here are the four players on the bench at the time:

Of those four, I’d have to say it’s a toss up between Maier and Cabrera for best speed, with Aviles easily in third.

He also could have – perhaps should have – pinch hit for Pena, who hasn’t hit very well this year and considering that Cabrera and Aviles (despite his early struggles) have been producing better, it’s not a bad idea to toss in another batter.

So which batter should you choose?  Going by lifetime OPS, they rank as follows:

Pena’s lifetime OPS is .658.

It seems simple, right?  If you’re taking Betemit out, you need someone to play third (Aviles) but Aviles is the best hitter on the bench, so you can send him to the plate and pinch run Maier for Betemit, then if you tie the game, you end up with Aviles staying in at third and Treanor coming in to catch.  Or, if you want to keep the platoon advantage, pinch hit Cabrera for Pena and still put Maier in as a pinch runner.  You still have Aviles available to pinch hit in the inning and/or come in defensively, and you give yourself a better shot at winning.

Instead, Aviles pinch ran for Betemit.  So Yost took his best bench bat out AND left his two fastest runners on the bench.

I just don’t know.

The Royals ended up winning three of the four games, and looked fine in the process.  Even though the Mariners are the worst offense around, the defense also made the plays to win the series.  On Sunday, Alex Gordon made a fantastic diving catch on the left field line to take away a Miguel Olivo hit.

Also on the bright side, the Royals worked six walks today.  Despite today’s disappointing loss, that’s a trend that should bode well in the long-term, if it holds up.

The Royals take on the Indians in Kansas City for a four game series starting tomorrow night with Kyle Davies (1-1, 9.00) takes on Carlos Carrasco (1-1. 5.03).

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Blake Wood Jeff Francis Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals

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