Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Royals

Yesterday afternoon, I watched the Royals play the Tigers. I have followed baseball for long enough to know better than to draw conclusions from a small sample. I have also seen that often, the team of the future turns out to be the team of the present. Both SI and ESPN the Magazine lauded the Royals farm system and proclaimed them to be the team to beat a few years from now. The experts discredited this group and instead focused on the big-spending White Sox, Twins, and Tigers.

This current Royals group has nothing to lose, and in yesterday's game they played like it. In the early innings, the Royals had runners on first and second with one out. The batter hits a medium line drive into left field. The third base coach waves Billy Butler around to score. The leftfielder struggles to get the ball from his glove. Finally, he throws it home. Even after the bobble, the ball arrives just in time, but it was high and wide. Butler scores to take a 1-0 lead. If Detroit executes here, there is no chance Butler scores. I suspect the coaches know this and don't care. Instead, they want to force division rivals to prove that they can make the play.

Later, the Royals are clinging to a 2-0 lead. The Tigers have a runner on first. The batter rips a double down the left-field line and into the corner. Alex Gordon chases it down and fires a strike to the cut-off man. Then he fires a one-hop throw that hits the catcher directly in his mitt exactly as the runner arrives. The catcher had positioned himself perfectly to block to plate. The runner actually puts himself out by touching the catchers mitt in an attempt to dislodge the ball. Although it could be argued that the catcher did not have control of the ball, I think the umpire agrees with my "a tie goes to the runner except when the defense just made a perfect play" interpretation. A runner should score from first on a double to the corner. There was absolutely no margin for error. Gordon has to hustle and make a strong and accurate throw to the cutoff man. The cutoff man has to quickly and accurately relay the ball to the plate. The catcher has to block the plate, handle the throw, and apply the tag. They did all of these things.

Baseball is a game of execution. Both of these plays could easily have gone the other way, but they didn't. None of these factors show up in the box score. Perhaps some new-fangled stats account for them, but otherwise, they don't really show up on the league leader boards. But they win ballgames. Maybe yesterday was just KC's day and a bad day for Detroit. If Kansas City continues to execute like this and the other teams rely on the payroll and star status, then the Royals will win the division.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

First Week

Last Sunday, I missed the top of the first of the Marlins game because I was still cleaning up the kitchen after lunch. I discovered the Marlins trailing 3-0 and facing R.A. Dickey. Soon, it was 5, 6, or maybe even 7-0- not that it mattered. The whole game was startlingly familiar and by the fifth or so, I had switched to watching the Cubs and Pirates. On Thursday evening, I watched the entire game. It was a fairly "normal" game. The Marlins starter lasted into the 6th, several relievers pitched, and I think eventually the Nationals won in extra innings. On Friday, I picked up the game in the bottom of the 8th. In the top of the inning, the Marlins had rallied to take a 3-2 lead. The Astros leadoff man reached, they bunted him to second, and he stole third. At this point, I realized that the starter was still pitching. The next batter fouled off several pitches until finally chasing a 3-2 slider for strike three. Carlos Lee popped up on a few pitches to end the inning. It was pretty exciting. In other words, the starter:
1. Pitched effectively into the 8th inning
2. Pitched himself out of trouble
3. Pitched himself out of trouble in the 8th inning
4. Pitched effectively after his team had rallied to give him a lead
5. Struck out a tough batter who kept fouling off pitches

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Marlins?!?!?!?

After one game, I like these Marlins. I watched a game, and I didn't know quite what to expect. When they loaded the bases in the middle innings of a scoreless game for the veteran John Buck, I was actually a little nervous. He could strike out. He could GIDP. He could hit a sacrifice fly. He could hit an RBI single. In fact, he fought of several tough pitches before hitting an opposite field grand slam. I guess that stadium in Florida has a good batting eye or something. Some guy named Johnson took a no-hitter into the seventh. Apparently, he hit 3 HR's and drove in 19 runs last season.

On the flip side, the Mets are awful. I knew they were bad, but I didn't realize just how depressing it is. Perhaps comparing the Twins to the Mets was a bit of a stretch.

Now, I have the Angels/Royals game on. An Angels hitter just failed to lay down a sacrifice bunt because he tried to bunt for a base hit. Now, he's swinging away.

At any rate, I love baseball.