Friday, February 5, 2016

Top Moments (#160 - #151) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

Among this group of ten are some plays you undoubtedly remember. All of them are worthy of your memory.

Moment #: 160
Date: October 25, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 4, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 4, San Francisco 3, Bottom of the 5th
Situation: One out, bases loaded
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Juan Perez vs. Danny Duffy
Result: Line out to center field, tying run scores
WPA: -1%

Summary: Jarrod Dyson makes a circus catch in center field with the bases loaded, but can’t prevent the tying run from scoring.

Link to video: Here.
The Giants had already begun their comeback in The Game That Got Away, having scored a run in the bottom of the 3rd to make it 4-2, and having chased Jason Vargas in the bottom of the 5th, had already scored one run and had the bases loaded with just one out. On the first pitch from Danny Duffy, the Royals’ third pitcher of the inning, Juan Perez hit a liner into shallow center field. Had there been two outs in the inning instead of one, or if the Royals had gone on to win the game, Jarrod Dyson’s diving catch would be remembered as one of the best defensive plays – maybe the best – of the last two years. His jump, his acceleration, his speed…look how shallow he is when he catches this ball. It’s an amazing catch. 

But, alas, it was a Pyrrhic one, as Hunter Pence tagged and easily scored the tying run after Dyson had to dive to make the play. Duffy would then strike out Brandon Crawford to end the inning, and Dyson would lead off the top of the 6th with a single. That would be the last time they were favored to win the game, however; Nori Aoki would ground into a double play, and the Giants would score three in the 6th and four in the 7th to put the game away.

Moment #: 159
Date: October 28, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 2, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 1, Kansas City 4, Top of the 8th
Situation: Two outs, bases empty
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Juan Lagares vs. Johnny Cueto
Result: Groundout, 6-3
WPA: 1%

Summary: Alcides Escobar makes a terrific play on a groundball to end the 8th inning and guide Johnny Cueto to a complete-game win in the World Series.

Link to video: Here.
This play isn’t quite as terrific as Jarrod Dyson’s, and there wasn’t nearly as much at stake, but it’s an excellent play, and history is written by the victors. Juan Lagares isn’t a speed demon, but he’s quick enough to be one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball over the last three years, and when this slow ground ball got past Johnny Cueto it should have been an infield single, end of story. But on this kind of play, Alcides Escobar is at his best: he can barehand a grounder, cock and release, and fire a bullet to first base as well as any shortstop in the game. Lagares was out by a quarter-step at first base to end the inning, making him the 13th consecutive batter Cueto retired. And after the Royals scored three insurance runs in the bottom of the inning – the last on a triple by Escobar – Ned Yost let Cueto take the mound to start the 9th, despite having thrown 107 pitches. (It helped that, because the way the rotation was set up, Cueto would have five days’ rest before a Game 6 start.) Cueto pitched a scoreless 9th, and the Royals took a 2-0 series lead to New York.

Moment #: 158
Date: October 20, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 4, @ Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Kansas City 2, Toronto 0, Top of the 1st
Situation: No outs, men on first and third
Count: 2-0
Matchup: Kendrys Morales vs. R.A. Dickey
Result: Passed Ball, one run scores
WPA: 2%

Summary: Lorenzo Cain is safe – barely – when R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball gets past Russell Martin, allowing the Game 4 beatdown to proceed.

Link to video: Here.
Nothing went right for R.A. Dickey and the Blue Jays to start Game 4 – Alcides Escobar bunted for a single, Ben Zobrist homered, Lorenzo Cain walked and stole second base, and Eric Hosmer singled to put men on the corners with no one out. Dickey finally threw a knuckleball with movement to Kendrys Morales – only it moved so much that it bounced off Russell Martin’s glove and ricocheted off the backstop. Martin made a great play to get to the ball and fire it to Dickey at the plate, but Cain was called safe to make it 3-0 Kansas City. The play was close enough that the Blue Jays challenged it, but replay ultimately upheld the call. 

An out would have been a gift to a Jays team that really needed it, and had the Royals come away with only a 2-0 lead the Blue Jays would have very much been in the game. But instead it was 3-0, and thanks to the passed ball, Morales’ groundout to second base would move Hosmer to third instead of being a double play. That allowed Mike Moustakas to hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0 before the Blue Jays even batted. The Royals would add a run on Alex Rios’ homer in the 2nd, but Toronto would score two runs in the 3rd and have the tying run on deck as late as the 6th inning. If Cain had been called out at the plate, the game would have been a one-run affair after six innings, and the Royals might not have been able to feast off the soft underbelly of the Blue Jays’ bullpen for nine runs in the last three innings.

Moment #: 157
Date: October 3, 2014
Game: 2014 ALDS Game 2, @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Score: Kansas City 0, Los Angeles 0, Top of the 2nd
Situation: One out, man on second
Count: 2-0
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Matt Shoemaker
Result: Single, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 10%

Summary: Alex Gordon drills a single to score Eric Hosmer with the first run of the game.

Link to video: Here.
The Royals had already stolen Game 1 of the ALDS against the Angels, but it was probably a fluke – Jason Vargas had matched up with Jered Weaver pitch-for-pitch, Nori Aoki had made two ridiculous and game-saving catches in right field, and the bullpen had held strong long enough for Mike Moustakas to muscle a pitch just over the right field fence in the 11th inning. But having stolen Game 1, the Royals had a chance to take a commanding lead in the series behind Yordano Ventura in Game 2, and in the 2nd inning, they struck first. Eric Hosmer singled and advanced to second on an error by right fielder Kole Calhoun, and with one out, Alex Gordon worked a 2-0 count against Matt Shoemaker, who then threw a fastball right down the middle. Gordon didn’t miss, rifling a ball up the middle to bring Hosmer home with the game’s first run.

Moment #: 156
Date: October 2, 2014
Game: 2014 ALDS Game 1, @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Score: Kansas City 1, Los Angeles 1, Top of the 5th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Jered Weaver
Result: Double
WPA: 9%

Summary: Alex Gordon stretches a single into a double when Mike Trout loses the ball in the lights, and comes around to score a crucial run.

Link to video: Here.

Speaking of Game 1: after using everyone on the roster short of Buddy Biancalana in the Wild Card Game, and being forced to start Jason Vargas in the opening game of the ALDS, it was a victory for the Royals that they had just managed to keep the game tied through four innings. But leading off the top of the 5th, Alex Gordon drilled a ball to left-center field, and when Mike Trout hesitated for a moment to find the ball in the lights, Gordon didn’t hesitate to make the turn at first base and head for second, where he was safe without a throw. 

This bit of aggressiveness may very well have won the game for Kansas City. Salvador Perez followed with a drive to deep left field that Josh Hamilton caught as he crashed into the fence, but Gordon cruised into third base when Hamilton fell down, and then Gordon scored easily when Omar Infante hit a line drive that Mike Trout caught up to in right-center field. That’s a go-ahead run scored on a single, some opportunistic baserunning, and two productive outs. The Angels would tie the game in the bottom of the inning on David Freese’s leadoff home run, but the game would remain deadlocked until extra innings – extra innings which never would have happened had Gordon not seized the opportunity when he had the chance.

Moment #: 155
Date: October 31, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 4, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 0, New York 2, Top of the 5th
Situation: One out, bases empty
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Salvador Perez vs. Steven Matz
Result: Double
WPA: 5%

Summary: Salvador Perez stretches a single into a double when Yoenis Cespedes misplays the ball, putting him in scoring position…

Link to video: Here.
The Royals trailed the Mets 2-0 in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series when Yoenis Cespedes decided it had been far too long since he had misplayed a fly ball into a potential inside-the-park home run by kicking it to left field. (The punchline: the Mets re-signed Cespedes to be their everyday centerfielder. Good luck with that, guys.) This time, the batter could only get to second base, because Salvador Perez is no Alcides Escobar on the basepaths. The end result was the same, though, as…

Moment #: 154
Date: October 31, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 4, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 0, New York 2, Top of the 5th
Situation: One out, man on second
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Steven Matz
Result: Single, one run scores
WPA: 10%

Summary: …and Alex Gordon bangs a single to bring him home.

Link to video: Here.

Alex Gordon followed by dropping a line drive down the right field line, with enough hang time that even Salvador Perez had no trouble scoring from second base. Steven Matz had Gordon down in the count, but couldn’t put him away and hung a slider, which might have been a clue to Terry Collins that Matz was starting to lose it a little bit. Collins, fortunately, was no more attune to Matz’s decline than he was to Matt Harvey’s the following night, and let Matz start the 6th inning even though the Royals were turning their lineup over for the dreaded third time. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Aided by some shoddy defense, the Royals got a much-needed run to keep the game close after some uninspired defense of their own – Alex Rios inexcusably forgetting how many outs there were – earlier in the game.

(And I'm planning to enjoy Alex Gordon for another four years, thank you very much.)

Moment #: 153
Date: October 24, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 3, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 1, San Francisco 0, Top of the 6th
Situation: One out, man on first
Count: 1-0
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Tim Hudson
Result: Double, one run scores
WPA: 14%

Summary: Alex Gordon doubles home a key run in Game 3 of the World Series.

Link to video: Here.

The Royals had manufactured a run in the top of the 1st inning, and Jeremy Guthrie had gutted out five scoreless innings, but you had a feeling that wouldn’t be enough. So it was a huge relief when Alex Gordon batted in the 6th with Alcides Escobar on first base and one out, and drove a ball over Gregor Blanco’s head. The Royals were fortunate that the ball didn’t bounce over the wall for a ground-rule double, and Escobar – as he always seems to – read the ball perfectly and was almost at third base by the time Blanco threw the ball in. The Royals led 2-0 and would finish the inning up 3-0, and they would need all three of those runs when Jeremy Guthrie - who had been allowed to bat leading off the 6th - allowed the first two Giants he faced to reach base in the bottom of the inning before he was pulled with no one out, and both of them scored.

Interesting side plot: Brandon Crawford takes the throw in shallow centerfield and then throws home. It looks to me like Escobar is at least halfway between third and home when Crawford releases the ball, and while he’s safe easily, he was halfway home already. In case you’re still wondering Should Gordon Have Been Sent Home, this is a pretty strong piece of evidence to me that Gordon probably would have been out by 20 feet.

Moment #: 152
Date: October 23, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 6, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 1, Kansas City 2, Top of the 5th
Situation: Two outs, men on first and second
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Josh Donaldson vs. Yordano Ventura
Result: Lineout to third base
WPA: 6%

Summary: Mike Moustakas makes a terrific reflexive catch to turn back Josh Donaldson and keep the Blue Jays from tying Game 6.

Link to video: Here.

Other playoff games may have had more drama than Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS, but few, if any, had as much going on. Game 6 had a little of everything – big home runs on both sides, umpire controversy, bad tactical decisions, a looming rain delay which triggered the bad tactical decisions, incredible baserunning, and one of the most clutch pitching performances you’ll ever see. And we’ll add to that some excellent defense, notably this play, in which a potential game-tying rally by the Blue Jays was defused by Mike Moustakas, who reacted instantly to Josh Donaldson’s line drive and snared it out of the air to end the inning. Two feet to Moustakas’ left and the game is tied. Donaldson didn’t learn from this at-bat, and tried to hit another ball past Moustakas later in the game. That Moment ranks a little higher on our list.

(A question to ponder: who do you think has more nightmares about playing the Royals: Josh Donaldson, or Luke Gregerson? There is no wrong answer, at least not if you’re a Royals fan.)

Moment #: 151
Date: October 17, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 2, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 0, Kansas City 0, Top of the 2nd
Situation: One out, men on first and second
Count: 3-2
Matchup: Russell Martin vs. Yordano Ventura
Result: Lineout to shortstop – double play
WPA: 9%

Summary: Alcides Escobar snares Russell Martin’s line drive and doubles up Edwin Encarnacion, ending a Blue Jays rally in the ALCS.

Link to video: Here.
Yordano Ventura had started Game 2 of the ALCS strong, retiring the Blue Jays in order in the 1st inning, but Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Colabello led off the 2nd inning with singles. Ventura came back to strike out Troy Tulowitzki, but after working the count full, Russell Martin hit an absolute bullet that had a Blue Jays lead written all over it. Alcides Escobar reacted right off the bat and plucked the line drive out of the air while falling to the ground, then flipped to Ben Zobrist for the inning-ending double play, a play made easy by the fact that Encarnacion’s first step was to third base.

The impact of this play would become even greater when the first two Blue Jay hitters in the 3rd inning, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins, both doubled to give Toronto a 1-0 lead. Ventura would keep the score at 1-0 until Ned Yost allowed him to fall apart in the 6th, but without Escobar’s glovework, the Royals would have found themselves so far behind that even their rally magic might not have worked.


Michael said...

I hope there is a summary at the end of all this with the number of plays for each player, perhaps stratified by each 50 plays or something. Escobar is EVERYWHERE!! Love this "Top Moments" series.

BMJ said...

Current Standings as we reach the Top 150 (will these still be 10 at a time or will the suspense build as we get closer?)

By Category:

2014 Regular Season (5)
Wild Card Game (2)
ALDS Game 1 Angels (2)
ALDS Game 2 Angels (3)
ALDS Game 3 Angels (1)
ALCS Game 1 Orioles (0)
ALCS Game 2 Orioles (3)
ALCS Game 3 Orioles (2)
ALCS Game 4 Orioles (1)
World Series Game 1 Giants (0)
World Series Game 2 Giants (2)
World Series Game 3 Giants (5)
World Series Game 4 Giants (4)
World Series Game 5 Giants (1)
World Series Game 6 Giants (3)
World Series Game 7 Giants (1)

2015 Regular Season (1)
ALDS Game 1 Astros (1)
ALDS Game 2 Astros (1)
ALDS Game 3 Astros (1)
ALDS Game 4 Astros (1)
ALDS Game 5 Astros (1)
ALCS Game 1 Blue Jays (5)
ALCS Game 2 Blue Jays (2)
ALCS Game 3 Blue Jays (2)
ALCS Game 4 Blue Jays (4)
ALCS Game 5 Blue Jays (0)
ALCS Game 6 Blue Jays (2)
World Series Game 1 Mets (3)
World Series Game 2 Mets (2)
World Series Game 3 Mets (3)
World Series Game 4 Mets (2)
World Series Game 5 Mets (2)

By Player

Hosmer (3)
Cain (5)
Gordon (7)
Perez (9)
Moustakas (6)
Escobar (10)
Dyson (2)
Zobrist (1)
K. Morales (2)
Butler (3)
Gore (1)
Colon (0)
Infante (2)
Rios (1)
Aoki (2)
Orlando (0)
Willingham (0)
Butera (0)

W. Davis (0)
Holland (4)
Herrera (0)
Ventura (2)
Young (1)
Cueto (1)
Finnegan (1)
Volquez (0)
Guthrie (0)
Shields (0)
Vargas (1)
Hochevar (1)
Madson (1)
Duffy (0)
Medlen (0)
Frasor (0)
Collins (0)
F. Morales (0)
Yost (0)