James: Tuesday night’s game was objectively amazing. The Royals were such an unrelenting, unkillable beast, there was no semblance of my weeks--nay, months--spent resenting their stumble into media darling status, I simply could not do anything but admire the complete triumph of their approach.
But, rather predictably, the Royals couldn’t do something compellingly cool in their decidedly small-ball way--which as Barry Petchetsky of Deadspin thankfully pointed out, is more of a necessity borne of cruddy hitting than anything else--without it being picked up by the familiar band of traditionalists as needed throwback, or superior to what not-desperate and cornered teams typically do.
Before I could even get home today, Chicago sports radio was already quoting Joe Sheehan to bemoan the Orioles, a low-contact, homer happy franchise as playing a slow and pause-filled style.
Life is not all about homers--unfortunately--but I’m always flummoxed by why of all the tools, thriving off power-hitting is regarded like being a smut peddler. Sure, it sells, but it’s cheap and crass.
Perhaps the most troubling part of it is how it might be applied to the White Sox, who play in a bandbox, flashed a batting order this past year with probably at least five guys with 60 or higher grade raw power (Abreu, Garcia, Viciedo, Dunn, Flowers) and only have an impetus going forward to make speed a feature of their game if undeniable talent, like Micah Johnson maybe, rolls into their laps.
Or, maybe it’s just the idea of longing for aesthetics at all. Longing for a speed element and putting some inherent positive value in “chaos” is how you wind up trading for the privilege giving 1400 plate appearances to Juan Pierre, who caused chaos on the basepaths, but didn't necessarily profit from it. Even the Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik trade, which is barred from criticism because 2005, was born of this unhealthy urge to change type more than increase production.
Nick: People often experience sports through narrative, and as such, they look for all of the things you might in a narrative - surprise, morality, underdogs triumphing, etc. etc. The whole “Home runs are evil” idea presents as a tempting counterintuitive plot line.
“Sure, a home run is the best thing you can do in a plate appearance. But what if it were bad?!”
There’s also the whole idea of, “Great pitching disproportionately limits home runs as opposed to small ball stuff,” but it never made logical sense to me. If instead of saying, “Great pitchers make smaller mistakes, therefore they may give up a hit here or there, but they won’t be extra bases, therefore you need small ball,” I think of it differently. Instead, it’s that great pitchers make FEWER mistakes, and so given that you have fewer opportunities to reach, when you do you should make it loud. If a pitcher throws 100 pitches and only one is hittable, you should probably hit it for a home run instead of praying you can string together a bunch of hits off a great pitcher.
Also there’s the fact that lots of very good pitchers are “fly ball” types who go up in the zone to get their Ks but are vulnerable to homers. Felix and Halladay in his prime and Kershaw who just induces all sorts of weak contact are obviously exceptions, but if you’re hoping to score off those dudes you’re basically just building your strategy around hope that they flukishly mess up more than anything anyway.
James: The Royals are obviously very unique-looking, and that’s intriguing in itself. Because their approach is so rare, they have an air of giving opponents something they’re not prepared for. Especially the White Sox, who have had trouble making three throws in a row without airmailing somebody at times.
Nick: My father’s theory was always that teams that rely on baserunning/grounders/bunts would do worse in the playoffs because they rely on your opponent making mistakes defensively. It’s even called “putting pressure on the defense” by announcers. Theoretically in the playoffs, though, your opponents will be better defensively than in the regular season and “putting pressure” on really good defenses can be suicidal.
The Royals went against an Oakland team where Lowrie and Fuld had uncharacteristically brutal days in the field, and the injury early to Soto wound up looming large (although Dyson and Gore are pretty hard to catch for anybody).
Obviously the problem in Game 1 for the Angels was not holding down the Royals’ offense as they didn’t allow a third run until the 11th inning.
The Royals’ defense is really good, though. It has to be.
James: You have to get value wherever you can find it. You have to find a way to be good based on the stockpiles of talent you have and what works best for where you play, and with that in mind, the Sox may be as different from the Royals as anyone in the league.