Fast-forward to Tuesday’s game against Noah Syndergaard and the Mets. Syndergaard threw a brilliant game, striking out nine and allowing just three hits in six innings of work.
He struck out five Royals the first time through the lineup and, at one point, retired 15 of 16 batters.
That’s what makes the first inning all the more important. Alcides Escobar did little with the first pitch but still tripled off Syndergaard to open the game. Even with a speedy runner on third and no outs, the Mets opted to shift against Moustakas. That left the door wide open for a bunt single to drive in the run.
Baseball insiders are funny about outs. In some camps, the out is a treasured commodity, not to be risked or sacrificed. But outs never win games. Imagine the opportunity to trade 27 runs for 27 outs. Who in their right mind would turn that down?
With the shift, a bunt-single and RBI was a legitimate possibility. Instead, with no call for a bunt from the dugout, Moustakas struck out. Then Lorenzo Cain went down on strikes. Then Hosmer struck out looking.
Escobar walked back to the dugout from third, inning over. The Royals, known for playing small ball, went for the big inning and whiffed.
Kansas City threatened a couple other times in the game, most notably in the sixth when the bases were loaded before Syndergaard picked up his final strikeout of the game, but it still comes down to that first inning: even with Syndergaard spitting fire on a windy day with shadows moving in around home plate, the Royals had a chance to strike first and gave it away.
It’s too early to worry about anything, even for Braves fans. The real season begins Friday as the Royals welcome in AL Central-foe Minnesota and begin a routine schedule without all the breaks and pregame ceremonies.
The AL Central figures to be a much more competitive division in 2016, with the Tigers adding premium free-agents Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, the White Sox landing slugger Todd Frazier, Cleveland adding exciting young shortstop Francisco Lindor, and Minnesota’s young talent having another year to mature. The Royals will need better tactical decisions from Yost than in the past.
Just two games into the season, it’s impossible to paint the full picture of a 162-game season, but bad decision making could turn things from Royal Blue to a different shade of blue.