'Baseball's cruel': No luck with RISP vs. KC

April 26th, 2021

DETROIT -- The sight of Jarrod Dyson dashing home from third with Monday’s go-ahead run on Whit Merrifield’s sacrifice fly was a familiar one. The Royals’ speedster haunted the Tigers for years during his previous stint in Kansas City, and he has plenty of energy left at age 36.

Likewise, the sight of the Royals manufacturing offense ended up haunting the Tigers for four days. And as Detroit surveyed the damage from Monday’s 3-2 loss and its first four-game series sweep to the Royals since 1984, the struggles to produce runs proved crucial.

The Royals, by contrast, produced the kind of pressure-packed offense that manager A.J. Hinch is trying to put in place for his own team, with the kind of hitting that translates well in spacious Comerica Park. The Tigers can’t compare to the Royals’ speed, but they can do more with better contact.

Kansas City turned Dyson’s leadoff double into a fifth-inning run with a Nicky Lopez sacrifice bunt and Merrifield’s sac fly, supplementing Carlos Santana’s two-run homer from a couple innings earlier. They then thwarted the Tigers’ scoring threats in the seventh and eighth, both times stranding the tying run in scoring position with nobody out with strikeouts.

The Tigers have lost 10 of their last 11 games, scoring 20 runs in that stretch. They went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position Monday, a struggle that became more pronounced once Dyson’s run restored the lead for the Royals’ bullpen.

“We had a lot more opportunities today than we've had in previous games, so that's encouraging,” Hinch said. “But it's tough not to score a guy from third and less than two outs. But even the seventh and the eighth inning, having a couple opportunities, albeit not all at third base, that was a tough turnaround for us.”

Santana’s fifth home run of the season came after starter Spencer Turnbull couldn’t coax a strike from plate umpire Tim Welke on a slider that seemed to catch the plate. His ensuing 1-1 slider ended up over the right-field fence, the only ball Santana put in play in three at-bats against Turnbull.

The tougher run for him was Dyson’s tally. Once Lopez sacrificed him to third, Turnbull was faced with trying for a strikeout or soft contact from Merrifield, who did not strike out all series and has fanned just eight times this season.

“I had Merrifield in a pretty good count, and I threw a good pitch, a down-in sinker,” Turnbull said of his 1-1 pitch. “But he gets to those balls down pretty well. I didn’t quite get it in enough, and he still got a really good piece of it. Hindsight’s 20-20, so I could’ve thrown any of my other pitches and maybe it would’ve worked out, maybe not. But I was just frustrated.”

The Tigers produced a couple of runs off Royals’ starter Brad Keller, but they missed chances for more. Miguel Cabrera’s RBI single in the third ended a 15-inning scoreless stretch with Detroit’s first non-home run RBI since last Thursday against the Pirates. Cabrera then went first to third on Jeimer Candelario’s single, but he was thrown out trying to score on Willi Castro’s grounder to short. Niko Goodrum’s triple and Grayson Greiner’s single tied the game two pitches into the fourth.

Robbie Grossman and Harold Castro drew back-to-back walks to begin the seventh, but Scott Barlow struck out the middle of Detroit’s lineup in order, mixing curveballs and sliders to fan Cabrera, Candelario and Willi Castro.

Rookie sensation Akil Baddoo nearly tied the game an inning later, but his drive off of veteran reliever Greg Holland bounced off the top of the left-field fence and back into play. Baddoo sped into third with his AL-leading third triple of the season, but the difference loomed large soon enough. Holland struck out Goodrum, induced a check-swing squibber in front of home plate from pinch-hitter Wilson Ramos, then fanned Victor Reyes.

“Baseball’s cruel, and when you’re in these situations and these ruts, it feels like all these weird things happen,” Hinch said. “Akil misses the homer by two inches. Wilson’s check swing doesn’t go foul; it goes right out in front of the catcher. And we missed out on extending this game a little bit or even going ahead.”

The Tigers’ 10 strikeouts Monday raised their total to 48 for the series.

While the Royals improved to 6-0 in one-run games, a key component of their 14-7 start, the Tigers have lost their last five one-run contests since winning two on their opening homestand. They’ve lost four one-run games in the last nine days.