The Detroit Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals on Friday night in a 6-3 game where the Kitties were led by Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson on offense. They also received a quality start from Justin Verlander which gave Verlander his first win in 6 tries this season against the BBQ Boys from KC.
What really gave the Tigers a boost from this view was Royals manager Ned Yost's docile approach in the 5th inning where he managed the game as though it were the middle of June and as though his starter Bruce Chen were a far more imposing southpaw Ace like Randy Johnson or Steve Carlton. Let's set the scene:
The Royals came into the game trailing in the Wildcard race, 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second berth but also trailing Baltimore, New York, and Cleveland in the standings. Clearly with 16-games remaining their shot was real but their work was cut out for them to leapfrog so many clubs. Each game is now pretty important from this point forward and needs to be treated as a precious commodity (yes...all games should be treated this like in many respects, even in April...but let's simply note that contending in September is a bit different in the minds of many and move on) Now was probably not the time to "show faith" in someone at the expense of trying to do the best thing possible to win a game.
The Tigers had taken the lead 3-1 in the 4th inning on a high-arcing shot to right field. After Verlander had posted a goose egg in the top of the 5th, Chen took the hill again in the bottom half of the inning and this is where Yost fell asleep. Let's remember that the Royals have, by far, the best performing bullpen in the American League this season. They have tremendous depth on their relief corps with an assortment of pitchers of differing skill sets to be called upon for several situations. The expanded rosters of September only add to the cadre of arms at Yost's disposal.
Alex Avila started off the inning by drawing a walk. This should have been the red alert to Yost. Perhaps its merely a walk and no reason to panic...but we aren't talking about "panic"...we're talking about preparedness. Yost should have gotten pitchers hot as soon as the pass was issued to Avila. Again, it's a pennant race and a million pitchers are in his bullpen, why wait? Getting top relievers ready makes sense. With Verlander looking fairly good but the game still close enough to care, it behooved Yost to be ready to quell any further scoring from Detroit immediately. Chen then retired Jose Iglesias on a routine fly to center field. Perhaps Chen was going to be okay? No. Austin Jackson followed with a ground rule double on a laser shot over Alex Gordon's head and hopping the wall to the bullpen in left field.
Runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Seems like a good spot to bring in a high-K relief option to escape the jam, agree? Torii Hunter has been a bit vulnerable of late and there is almost no chance Jim Leyland is pinch-hitting for Hunter. A move to bring in a righty from KC's bullpen like Luke Hochevar, Louis Coleman, or Kelvin Herrera may have produced the strikeout necessary to really dampen the Tigers hopes at a rally. Instead Sleepy Ned stuck with his guy, the slop-balling Chen. This is not to rip Bruce Chen. He makes the most of his skills with guile and deception but Comerica Park has not been kind to him this year and the situation was screaming for action from a KC perspective. Chen just isn't really a reliable strike-out guy. He had struck out Hunter to end the 3rd inning but Yost had more likely whiff-inducing options sitting in the bullpen to get another one. Chen served up a pitch that Hunter could handle. The single plated two runs with Hunter taking second-base on the wild throw from David Lough to the plate. 5-1 Tigers and the rally was steaming ahead.
Did Yost get Chen now? No. He allowed his starter to walk Miguel Cabrera intentionally and then face Fielder, who had just taken him deep. Tim Collins in the bullpen. Donnie Joseph (who would acquit himself well later) was in the bullpen. Lefty Francisley Bueno was looking ready in the bullpen! Instead Chen stayed out there. Fielder lashed a liner to Lough for another single to make it 6-1. Yost got his wake up call from the front desk at this point and went out to get Chen. But the damage was done. The Tigers had the runs they needed. The high performing Royals bullpen watched it happen.
The Royals made noise late and their bullpen held the Tigers completely at bay in the late innings but it wasn't enough. The Tigers won to lower their AL Central crown Magic Number to 10 and the Royals lost key ground in their wildcard quest.
On Monday in a loss at Cleveland Yost made an absolute mess out of a possible game winning rally in the 9th inning against the very vulnerable Chris Perez. Yost had runners on second and third with one out. A situation that cried out for a single. He then proceeded to pinch hit with two batters who produce some of the smallest rates of singles in the games, Carlos Pena and George Kottarus. Royals bloggers had a field day with that one.
A September run at a playoff berth is truly the place where a manager's tactical abilities are under the spot light. Each misstep is crucial now. The Royals have been the victims of Yost's poor calculations on pinch hitters on Monday and on Friday they watched him sit idly by as a game ballooned from a manageable deficit to a big mountain to climb.
Let's hit on some short topics by taking all the small ingredients at hand, grab a couple of eggs, and whip together:
The Olde English Omelette
- Taking back Jhonny Peralta. Put me down as in favor. Playing Peralta in left field sounds a bit nuts to me...but I can't wait to see how it plays out. Mostly I believe having Peralta's bat on the bench for a late role simply makes sense. With the rust-factor in mind, I believe it isn't about Peralta hitting as well he was hitting earlier this season...it's about him out-performing Matt Tuisasosopo's showing of the last two months. That is a shorter bar to clear. If the Tigers want every small advantage in the post-season, having Peralta on hand for a late-inning extra-base hit is an easy call from this vantage point.
- Chris Davis slammed homer #50 in Baltimore. The quest for back-to-back Triple Crowns is now likely just past dream for Miguel Cabrera. The injuries took their toll and it wasn't meant to be. That's okay. Just take a second to remember...Cabrera had a shot at defending the Triple Crown. A real shot. Take that in. Really process how unbelievable that is. That is simply amazing.
- Where has Bruce Rondon been lately? Did he have personal days to use up?
- The 30-inning disparity in their respective bodies of work is all that is keeping Anibal Sanchez from really challenging Max Scherzer for the Cy Young Award. If you go stat for stat, it's quite a match up. The sainted "eye ball test" certainly makes it hard to differentiate the two as well. But "innings pitched" is an underrated statistic. Scherzer has answered the bell all season providing value to his club. Sanchez had the DL stint. That's about the only difference but it's a sizable one.
- As noted in the main body of the piece, Alex Avila's walk kicked off the 5th inning rally. Another small bright spot for Avila during a second half surge that has brought him back from the depths of being a "black hole" in the lineup during the first half. Avila is now sporting a slash-line of: .312/.379/.495 in the second half with a batch of "clutch" hits mixed in. It won't save his overall line on the season from being rather unsightly...but it has helped the Tigers make up for missing Peralta's bat during the suspension.