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.

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