Since it’s in the nature of fans to overreact to every little thing that happens in a baseball season—especially a very anticipated Opening Day—I’ve decided to participate in that tradition. I like overreacting; it’s cathartic. I like, at times, being the fan that sees the first loss of the season and then projects a record of 0-162. That is not only comical in its absurdity but also allows me to vent pent up frustration.
Unfortunately, I missed the boat on the first game, and the Royals won the second and third games. So, instead I decided to provide a look at the first series, noting some things I saw that trouble and please me. They may be things you’ve already noted; they may not be. You’ll have to read to find out (in the media-biz we call that a teaser).
First off, what is that thing growing on Jered Weaver’s face? He looks like he should be running the dunk tank for a traveling carnival. Other than that, he pitched great … damn him. But more than that, the Royals actually looked nervous for most of this game. They were swinging at bad pitches, check swinging, popping pitches up. It was ugly. Weaver was great AND Royals hitters were bad. It took that combination to produce a truly awful offensive performance.
That nervousness was a good thing though. It means they care enough to get nervous. In my mind, it means they understand their expectations and have expectations for themselves. It’s almost adorable in a way to see players get as psyched up for a single game as fans do. In baseball that’s a rarity since players usually know that game one is just as important as game 73. Their anxiousness and over-excitement is a sign of their youth, but in my mind it’s a good sign of their youth. I want players that get a little nervous for Opening Day.
On a very positive note, Bruce Chen pitched well—really well. That’s a great sign after a not-so-solid spring. He did exactly what good-Chen always does—pitched inside aggressively, changed speeds, stayed down, and mixed his pitches. It was so great to see. It makes me wonder how fans would have reacted if the team had won but Chen had given up five runs and the offense had outscored the Angels. What would the reaction be if the team so far was playing right into what people believed they would be—all offense and no starting pitching?
I’m firmly of the belief that this game turned when Jeff Francoeur was picked off at second base. Yunieski Betancourt singled next. So, if you believe as I do that Francoeur would have scored, you have to believe that game would have looked completely different. Here’s how I think it would have looked. Francoeur scores. The Royals have a one-run lead going into the seventh inning. Aaron Crow pitches his lights out seventh, but Ned Yost decides to bring in Greg Holland at the beginning of the eighth inning to protect that lead. Scoreless eighth. Scoreless ninth from Jonathan Broxton. We’re all clearing vacation time for the World Series. I believe Yost left Crow in because there was no lead to protect and he wanted to stretch Crow to save the other arms. If they had a lead in the eighth inning, Yost would have gone to Holland. If Francoeur hadn’t been picked off, they probably would have had a lead. Speculative? Yes. But still.
This is the game of good feelings. Luke Hochevar pitched very well. Despite the good numbers, he didn’t have his best stuff. He had trouble commanding that fastball at times and left it up a few times. He was hit hard some, but fortunately, those shots went right to Royals defenders. Still, Hochevar did a great job to grind out 6.1 innings of solid pitching without his greatest command. That’s what a number one starter does—event though he’s technically not the number one.
The lineup looked much more relaxed in game two. They were more patient, got themselves into more good hitters counts, and took advantage of them. I was pleasantly surprised by Humberto Quintero. Though I don’t expect that type of performance to persist, it was nice in the moment. Alex Gordon still struggled, but did manage a walk and collect his first outfield assist of the season. I wonder if the pressure of a new contract is weighing on him, but I think he’ll come around soon.
I loved to see the execution of moving the runner over and getting him in. Do you remember? Quintero doubled to lead off an inning; Escobar sacrificed him over to third, and Lorenzo Cain hit a sacrifice fly to get him in. I know that it’s bad to give away outs, but I can’t remember how many games last season in which getting that run in from third would have really helped, and the Royals failed to do so. In that situation, if the batter can get a hit, do it. But no matter what, get the run in. Cain got the run in, and that made me happy. That made a two-run lead a three-run lead, and they are very different—at least they feel very different.
This game was almost the mirror of game two. The Royals jumped on the scoreboard early. Jonathan Sanchez struggled at times, but gutted out five innings with only two runs given up. Hosmer did his thing and is on pace for like 100 home runs—which seems likely. With a total team effort, the Royals won the series, beating a team everyone thinks is much better than they are.
What really stood out to me was how well Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz played. Escobar hit second and showed a lot of patience at the plate. It’s looking like he’s taking the approach he had during his good stretches last season and making it work for him. He had a bunt single, which was great. He needs to do those little things to make himself productive on offense—walk, get bunt singles, take extra bases, hit the ball the other way.
Let me say that I am not a huge Getz fan. I think he’s way overvalued by Yost, but I also must admit that he hit the ball pretty well today—or at least as well as he can. He has to be the same type of hitter Escobar is trying to be. He has to utilize his speed, be patient, and drive the ball to all fields. He’s not going to hit it over anybody so he’s got to hit it where they aint and run. That said, I don’t think he’ll have the patience to continue to be productive. Escobar might.
Gordon continued to struggle. I’m not too worried, but I’m ready to see him grab a hit to build confidence. I think Gordon has issues with confidence. All the check swings and strikeouts indicate to me that he isn’t seeing the ball, committing to it, and letting his hands go. He seems indecisive, and that helps someone go 0-for-the-series. I think he’ll get on track; the question is when. The longer he goes without a hit, the harder on his confidence it will be.
All-in-all a very good series for the Royals. They took on a top team in the American League and took two of three. They played solid defense and hit the ball well. Their starting pitchers gave up only four runs in more than 17 innings. Their bullpen was a little shaky, but they should be fine. Now, they head to Oakland where they SHOULD win. Good teams win the series they should so this is a good test of the type of team the Royals are going to be. From the immediate, small sample, they might be pretty good.