In a night where Justin Verlander continues his season-long slow burn back from whatever planet he occupied all by himself, catalyzing a 7-0 Detroit Tigers loss, the Kansas City Royals stepped ahead. Kansas City won 4-1 against the Texas Rangers, finishing a sweep that was so desperately needed after the Royals were themselves swept by the Cleveland Indians over a brutal weekend.
As always, the game was a journey.
"That’s a really good bunt by Aoki." — Rex Hudler, immediately after Aoki gets thrown out on a bunt attempt
The Royals were very bad offensively for most of the game. And why wouldn’t they be? A team that hacks and slashes, bereft of plate discipline or power, has averaged 2.6 runs per game in the 10 previous contests. Tonight, the Royals refused to walk. Sure, they struck out only once, which is good, but getting hits and getting on base is far more important. The Royals spent most of the game actively not doing so.
Just to recap, the Royals are both 30th out of 30 teams in walk rate (6.2%) and 30th out of 30 teams in isolated power (.117). Despite this, they are exactly in the middle of the pack, 15th place, in runs scored. They do this through batting average and sequencing—both of which are prone to streakiness. If the Royals aren’t hitting as a group, they just don’t score runs. It’s why they can be both a terrifying force of baseball and why they can lose three extra-inning games at home with the best top trio of bullpen arms in the entire league.
"No one player is carrying the team offensively." — Josh Vernier, one hour before game start on 610 Sports Radio
In the bottom of the fourth, the score was 0-0 when Omar Infante singled, a rare sight indeed. Alex Gordon stepped up to the plate. Alex Gordon punished a baseball and smashed it into the outfield, past the outfield, beyond the bleachers. Home run #19 for Gordon, leading the team. Lo, Danger Ox.
Gordon’s wRC+ this year is 129. The next best regular Royals hitter is Lorenzo Cain at 107. Even in a year where Gordon is absolutely carrying this team offensively, it doesn’t fit the ‘team offense’ narrative. This wrinkles my brain. He is head, shoulders, knees and toes above every other hitter in the Royals lineup. His clutchness is undeniable. He gets his uniform dirty. He makes amazing diving plays. Alex Gordon is The Man. He should be treated as such.
"Billy Butler’s due. He’s 0 for his last 15." — Ryan Lefebvre, immediately before Butler shot a line-hugging double to score Perez
When the Royals get going, they get going. Perez doubled. Butler doubled. Terrance Gore pinch ran. Stolen base, error. Just like that, the Royals had another couple of runs, making it 4-0.
Saying somebody is due sounds great when it happens, but generally shows a fundamental lack of understanding about regression. If I call tails 100 times, the probabilities of my next flip being tails is exactly the same as it is heads—50%. It merely makes the composite event improbable.
And that’s what makes Jason Vargas so fascinating. He’s merely a rich man’s Bruce Chen, with slow fastballs and an impeccable control over a variety of breaking pitches. Nobody thought he would be this good. Nobody. Even his fielding-independent pitching numbers don't think he’s this good. After tonight’s stellar outing, Vargas has a 3.14 ERA and a 3.65 FIP; this is a noticeable difference, but his xFIP is 4.07, a much larger chasm between them. But he keeps going. And the Royals continue to profit.
"Gore will trade a peanut butter&jelly sandwich in the minor leagues for a Gatorade shower in the majors any time." -- Ryan Lefebvre, immediately following Gore's interview
At the end of the day, your team must win. And the Royals did that again tonight. Louis Coleman kindly gave up a run, allowing Wade Davis to lower his ERA further and allow Greg Holland to tie for the MLB lead in saves at 42. Just before the last pitch, I knew what was going to happen. Holland would throw his slider. It would drop off the table. And a swing and a miss would bring the Royals to 77-61 and 1.5 games above Detroit for the AL Central lead.
Tomorrow is an off-day, where there will be no baseball--here at least. On Friday, the Royals begin an absolutely crucial sequence of games, three of which against the Yankees and three against the Tigers. Thankfully, KC is in the driver's seat, and losing 2 or 3 games in that set isn't a huge deal. However, with 6 remaining games against the Tigers, the Royals could pull away, placing the onus on a strained Detroit team to catch up.
This time, 'one good week' could mean September--or October.