Dog Day (Baseball) Afternoon???.....Maybe Not

     When I laid out my work week, and decided to cover the final game of the Royals home stand, I thought of a working title for the blog you are reading right now. It was what you see above….before the ellipsis. Certainly, many elements are in place for a good look at baseball’s dog days. It’s a million degrees (actually heat index well over one hundred), the crowd is tiny, with only a brave smattering not up in the shade, and the two teams, the White Sox and Royals are both hopelessly out of contention.

     But lo and behold, the Royals did what you have to do to keep spirits up. They hit the reset button at the All-Star break, and have won five out of six, pounding the baseball to the tune of over seven runs a game, and getting strong pitching. As the steamy noontime game begins, they are seeking a feel-good four game sweep.

     Despite the recent good tidings the Royals start out like the team that is still on pace to lose over a hundred games, rather than the one that had raised optimism in the week since the break. Brad Keller is on the mound and he has been on a roll, and his fellow starters had followed suit. The previous trip through the rotation, excepting the spot start created when Homer Bailey was traded, produced a 1.20 E.R.A. But Keller gets pecked for a couple of greasy runs on an infield hit with sub shortstop Humberto Arteaga playing a bit too casually, a bunt hit victimizing third baseman Hunter Dozier, a Keller walk, and then an error by first baseman Cheslor Cuthbert’s. A double play scores a run, but in the end, Keller does well do get out with two runs, none earned.

     White Sox starter Ross Detweiler tries manfully to give the runs right back, and creates a chance for the home town boy Bubba Starling to be an early hero, but he leaves the bases loaded on a reasonably well hit ball to center. Starling’s story is well chronicled. The Gardner-Edgerton high school product spurned Nebraska football for the 7.5 million-dollar signing bonus being the fifth pick in the 2011 draft. You can add, 2011 is a long time ago, and in his eight years in the minor leagues, Starling relentlessly struggled with injuries, and to hit. His first extended stretch of good offense came this year at Triple-A Omaha, and he finally got the call to start the second half.

     If nothing else, Starling will be able to bank the memory of the standing ovation he got on a Friday night in Kauffman Stadium, a place he attended his first game at when he was two. He has looked neither good, nor awful, in his brief time in the bigs, and is certain to get a good, long look in the second half.

     Keller doesn’t seem to have his best stuff, and the White Sox tack on another on Yoan Moncada’s homer in the third. The ball was hit pretty well, but he was hitting a 2019 baseball, and the hot wind is blowing out to left field. Cheslor Cuthbert gets one back on a legit long ball in the bottom of the third, Detweiler serving up a center cut meatball. 3-1 White Sox.

     Hunter Dozier gets his second hit right after him. The last few games have been a good sign. Dozier was the most important success story of the first two months of the season. Another first round draft choice who had his struggles in the minors, often due to injury, he roared out of the blocks after a strong finish to 2018 with an OPS of almost a thousand through the end of May.

     But an oblique injury had him on the shelf for three weeks, and he left his bat there when he came back. He barely hit .200 with little power in the nineteen games leading up to the break, so his 10-24 burst seems to have him back on track.

     Dozier comes around to score as another of the bright spots in this miserable season record wise for the Royals, Jorge Soler, goes the other way for his 26th homer of the season. Soler is a tough player to read Pretty much his only skill is hitting the ball out of the park, which is nice, but hardly a novelty in 2019. He strikes out a bunch, hits into a lot of double plays, and is pretty much a butcher when he plays the field. If he were to consistently bag forty homers a year, he would be a nice DH, but the slightest drop off……..

     Slop-throwing lefties like Detweiler have bedeviled Royals teams good and bad through the years, but not on this day. The only out he gets in the third is a sacrifice, and he becomes one, as his day ends after seven outs. The Royals bag a five spot in the inning and lead it 5-3 after three.

     To say the Royals scratch out a run in the fifth to extend the lead would be the grandest of understatements. Bubba Starling has a little genie on his shoulder today. He had a dribbler for a hit in the five run third and now he leads the inning with the softest of bloopers that lands about three inches fair in right. Little ball afficianados rejoice, and sabermatricians groan, as Nicky Lopez drops down his second sacrifice of the day. Cam Gallagher makes the first group smile by dropping down a squeeze to make it 6-3.

     The White Sox do some scratching of their own in the sixth as two singles wrapped around a walk make it 6-4, and with Keller nearing 100 pitches on the sweltering day you figured his work might be done after he finishes the frame. But the big horse comes out for the seventh, and gets an out before Jose Abreu’s single chases him after six-and-a-third. It’s the kind of day that a good pitcher makes work. Keller allows eleven base runners, and a close first inning scoring decision saves him two earned runs, but he pitches his team into the seventh with a lead. Professional.

     Bubba’s excellent adventure continues in the seventh as he is walked, goes to second on a wild pitch, and the catcher drops the ball as he steals third. But, alas, it doesn’t lead to a run, but still it’s a lucky charms day for Bubba as his box score line will look a whole lot better than his day really has been.

      The White Sox cause some angst in the ninth when they score a run on three hits, but Ian Kennedy freezes A.J. Reed on a breaking ball to end the game, and the Royals complete a 6-1 homestand. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t seem to matter too much. The Royals are 36-62, and still on pace for 103 losses, but playing games in a winning atmosphere, at least for short stretches, is far better than in a drumbeat of losses.

     After the game, Ned Yost is realistic. He notes that the wins came against teams very similar to the Royals, and notes that “we will see” what goes on in the series coming up against Cleveland, Atlanta, and Cleveland. But at least for a week, after a respite for the All-Star break, playing ball for the Royals is fun.