It’s never a good thing to be swept by the Kansas City Royals, especially given how well the Minnesota Twins typically play at Kauffman Stadium, but this Royals club is revamped and is aiming for a division title.
While few outside of Kansas City feel that this team is going to win the division, let alone make a playoff run, internally, the club has indicated it is all-in. The Royals traded one of their best prospects, Wil Myers, in a multi-player deal that sent Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields to K.C., and many of the team’s younger players, like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, are hitting their stride.
No matter how improved this Royals club is, Minnesota could have dodged the sweep by avoiding mental errors on the basepaths, pitching better with a lead and producing at the plate with runners in scoring position.
The Twins Need to Improve Their Baserunning
In the first inning of the first game, the Twins ambushed Royals starter Ervin Santana. The former Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher gave up a single to Trevor Plouffe with men on first and second and two outs. Ryan Doumit rounded second while Morneau held at third and was tagged out as he scampered back.
The designated hitter and backup catcher admitted his mistake, saying that he did not pick up third base coach Joe Vavra. “I was going to third all the way,” he told the media (h/t Dick Kaegel, MLB.com). “There’s no excuse for it.”
Instead of having the bases loaded for Chris Parmelee, who has hit well this season, the inning ended with only a one-run lead. Given how well Twins starter Kevin Correia pitched—he went seven innings and only gave up three runs on eight hits—it’s not hard to imagine that if the team had opened the floodgates in the first, it would have won the game.
Parmelee was also culpable in the loss as well. The 25-year-old led off the seventh with a single but created a baserunning error of his own when he had a late slide and went past the bag while trying to steal second. He also missed the cutoff throw in the bottom half of the inning and allowed the Royals' go-ahead run.
“I know we’re better than this,” he said after the gamem and he’s right, the Twins are as long as they avoid mistakes on the basepaths.
It’s early in the season, and things like this happen. The hope is that these mishaps aren’t repeated as the season goes on, as they were costly in the first game.
When the Team Establishes a Lead, It Has to Hold onto It
Liam Hendriks pitched well in the third game of this series after blowing a 4-1 lead against the Baltimore Orioles, but Mike Pelfrey struggled after pitching well against the Detroit Tigers in the opening series. He gave up six runs on eight hits against the Royals and was removed after two innings.
The trip was a bit of a homecoming for Pelfrey, an eight-year veteran from nearby Wichita, Kan., who had never pitched in Kauffman before. Not only was he pitching in front of family and friends, but the stadium was also virtually empty due to poor weather conditions. Perhaps the presence of loved ones in a sparsely populated ballpark put extra pressure on him.
Whatever it was, Pelfrey gave up five runs in the first inning despite having a 1-0 lead. The team was not able to overcome the deficit, despite having home runs from Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Eduardo Escobar.
“I’m sure that’s not what they wanted to see,” he said after the game (h/t Alan Eskew, Star Tribune), “and that’s not what I envisioned.”
Pelfrey is coming off of Tommy John surgery, but he insisted that he was healthy enough to start. Don’t chalk this up to injury; it was just looks like an unfortunate performance in a unique situation.
The Team Has to Capitalize with the Bases Loaded
Joe Mauer faced Greg Holland with the team down 7-4 in the top of the ninth with a chance to go ahead in the game. At this point, the rain was coming down hard, but Mauer had also homered in the first inning. It looked like the hometown hero might just salvage the game.
Holland fanned him, however, and left three runners stranded to end the game.
This wouldn’t be a huge deal, except that the Twins loaded the bases in the first and second innings and did not produce a single run.
Kansas City starter Wade Davis got Plouffe to pop out to end the first. Then, with no outs and the bases loaded in the second, he got the two men at the top of the lineup—Aaron Hicks and Mauer—to strike out and Willingham to pop one to short.
Again, the team could have opened up a big lead at the beginning of the game, but yet again, it failed to do so.
The positive here, obviously, is that if this team could improve its situational hitting, it would just need adequate pitching to win games. Unfortunately, poor at-bats in key situations have made life really hard on the team’s pitching.
After winning the first two series against the Tigers and Orioles, the sweep in Kansas City is a setback. It comes with some promises, though: By avoiding baserunning errors and hitting better with men in scoring position, this team easily could have been on the other side of the sweep.
The pitching is less of a concern for me. Correia just got gassed at the end of his outing, Pelfrey’s start looked uncharacteristic of him and Hendriks could have gone further in the ballgame but only gave up one hit. The bullpen looked poor in the third game, but it also got no run support whatsoever.
The formula for success hasn’t changed in Minnesota. The powerful bats have to hit the hell out of the ball, and the pitchers just have to go deep into games. If the team avoids mental errors, pitches more aggressively with a lead and hits better with men on base, this early-season sweep will become a distant memory.