Royals Take Series From A’s

Ryan Landreth

Nursing a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning, Royals fans watched in horror as a glimpse of the “same old Royals” appeared right in front of them. The Tigers had just beaten the Pirates, meaning Kansas City needed a win to stay in first place. Jarrod Dyson lost a crucial battle with the sun, dropping a seemingly routine fly ball that allowed the tying run to score. In the next at bat, Dyson watched as Alberto Callapso singled home the go-ahead run.

If fans were truly watching those Royals, they would have rolled over and suffered a gut-wrenching loss with little fight.

Fortunately, it’s becoming more and more apparent that these Royals are much different.

Dyson made up for his error by driving home the game-tying run in a huge five-run seventh inning, leading the Royals to a 7-3 victory over the Oakland A’s on Thursday afternoon. Kansas City battled back to take the four-game series against the best team in baseball, earning their 18th win in their last 22 games.

In what’s been a three-week stretch with plenty of comfortable wins, Thursday’s tense game provided fans with a playoff-like feeling.

Both teams plated runs via sacrifice flies early on. In the fourth inning, Mike Moustakas came through with a two-out RBI single to give the Royals a 2-1 lead.

Starter James Shields, coming off of a four-hit shutout, overcame a high pitch count to settle into another solid start. He retired seven straight hitters before Stephen Vogt reached with a two-out single in the sixth inning. It was then when Shields got Josh Reddick to hit into what seemed like a routine fly ball out, until Dyson lost it in the sun. Vogt scored all the way from first on what was officially scored as an RBI triple. In the next at-bat, Callapso blooped a single into right field to give the A’s a 3-2 lead.

In the month of August, Shields has allowed five extra-base hits in 23 innings. Four of them are by Reddick, who broke up Shields’ perfect game with a home run in the sixth inning back on August 3.

It was a flashback into May of 2013, when Shields would put forth solid performance after solid performance, only to receive the loss due to poor run support or defensive collapses. In all, he allowed seven hits and three earned runs, though it’s quite possible the scoring on the Reddick triple will be changed to an error in the coming days. He struck out five A’s while walking one.

The Royals appeared to have a great opportunity to tie the game in the sixth inning when Alcides Escobar reached with a bunt single, and the throw sailed down the first base line. Escobar jogged to second base and appeared to be in scoring position with the heart of the Royals’ order coming up.

However, home plate umpire Hal Gibson called Escobar out, claiming that he was running outside of the baseline to first base. Replay showed that while Escobar was running on the fringe of the infield grass, he didn’t appear to impact the wild throw. Billy Butler would promptly single two at bats later, which likely would have tied the game had Escobar still been at second base. This ignited a shower of boos from the crowd of nearly 21,000.

In the seventh, Kansas City sparked another opportunity. A single and a double by Erik Kratz and Christian Colon put two runners in scoring position with one out. Ned Yost called on pinch hitter Lorenzo Cain to run for Kratz, who was immediately almost picked off third base by reliever Ryan Cook.

After an intense replay, Cain was called safe, and up to the plate trotted Dyson. He fouled off four straight pitches before lining a sharp single through the right side of the infield, plating Cain to tie the game at 3. Just like that, Shields was off the hook for a loss.

The Royals were just starting, though. Nori Aoki came through with a first-pitch ringing triple down the right field line, scoring both Colon and Dyson to give Kansas City a 5-3 lead. Later in the inning, Butler would plate two more runners with a two-out single.

“We laid it all on the line,” Dyson said after the game.

Francisley Bueno, Aaron Crow, and Wade Davis nailed down the seventh and eighth innings. With a four run lead, Yost turned to Jason Frasor for the ninth frame, who quickly worked into trouble by putting two on with only one out. Now an save situation, Yost called on Greg Holland to finish the job, and the All-Star closer got the final two outs to end the game.

Crow (6-1) earned the win. Holland earned his A.L.-leading 36th save of the season. Jeff Samardzija (5-9) took the loss for the A’s; he allowed four runs (three earned) in 6.1 innings.

On August 1, the Royals were entering a “gauntlet” of 13 games. 10 of them would be against winning teams, with seven being against the mighty Oakland A’s. Kansas City responded with a statement-making 11-2 record, vaulting them to first place in the A.L. Central in the process.

The Royals will now play 18 straight games against teams with losing records, beginning with a four-game series in Minnesota on Thursday night. Danny Duffy (7-10, 2.57 ERA) will take on Ricky Nolasco (5-7, 5.90).

Kansas City has shown that they can play with anyone after winning 5 of 7 against the A’s. They now must avoid a letdown against losing teams as we enter the homestretch of the season.

After the game, Yost told the media that Eric Hosmer won’t swing a bat until at least another week. Hosmer was placed on the DL after fracturing his hand on July 30, and was expected to miss between 3-6 weeks.

Vargas Shuts Out A’s 3-0

Ryan Landreth

The Royals’ pitching has been superb all season long. Recently, it’s been so good that only a paraphrase of a popular Oprah Winfrey meme can put it into context:

“You get a complete game! And you get a complete game! Everybody gets a complete game!”

Jason Vargas fired the Royals’ third complete-game effort by a starting pitcher in the last seven days. After Jeremy Guthrie retired the final 19 Diamondbacks last Thursday night and James Shields hurled his first shutout as a Royal on Saturday, Vargas came through with arguably the best pitching performance by a Royal starter this season on Wednesday night.

The Royals (65-54) are now 4-2 against the A’s this year, who have the best record in baseball at 73-47. Kansas City is now 10-2 in August, and has not lost back-to-back games since July 27-28.

Vargas (9-5) came in to Wednesday having allowed nine runs in just 9.1 innings since returning from his appendectomy last month. The Royals claimed that it would take about two starts for him to get back to form, and in his third start post-surgery, he was nearly perfect.

After allowing three of the first six Oakland A’s to hit safely, Vargas retired the final 23 hitters he faced en route to a 97-pitch shutout. Superb command of all of his pitches kept the A’s guessing all night, similar to the way that Bruce Chen has performed at times for the Royals. Oakland’s hitters were constantly ahead of Vargas’ off-speed pitches, resulting in a high number of popups and shallow fly balls. Vargas struck out four and walked none in the complete-game effort.

As far as the Royals offense goes, they once again did ‘just enough.’

Facing Scott Kazmir (13-5), Kansas City came through in the third inning when Omar Infante delivered a two-run home run into the Royals’ bullpen. Infante, hitting just .202 in his last 25 games, jumped on a 2-0 fastball for his sixth long ball of the year, and his first since June 27.

Though that provided Vargas with all of the support he needed, the Royals added one more run on a Salvador Perez sacrifice fly in the fifth. Following two infield singles by Christian Colon and Infante, Perez plated the former on the sac fly, driving in his 50th run of the season.

Wednesday night’s game was the shortest of the year for either team, taking place in just two hours and six minutes. The announced attendance at Kauffman Stadium was just over 21,000, making it the 26th straight home game with at least 20,000 fans in attendance. The last time the mark was not met was back on June 11.

When you lead your division by a half-game with over 40 games left, every matchup is important. Wednesday’s game, though it wouldn’t carry any additional weight in the standings, sure felt more important than “just another game.”

Back in June, the Royals followed up a 10-game winning streak by returning home and getting swept by the Mariners. After their eight-game streak was snapped last night, fans wondered if the “same old Royals” would return once again, and if the team would collapse for the second time in three months.

Making Wednesday night even more important, the Detroit Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Pittsburgh 8-4. Had the Royals lost, they would have fallen back to second place and another losing streak would have begun.

Not on Vargas’ watch.

It was the southpaw’s first shutout since firing a four-hitter last September 24 with the Angels, which coincidentally was also against Oakland. Because of his efficiency, the entire bullpen was given the night off. For Greg Holland and Wade Davis, it was the first time since July 27-28 that they received back-to-back off days.

The entire bullpen, including Davis and Holland, will be rested for the series finale tomorrow evening. James Shields (11-6, 3.25 ERA), coming off a shutout of his own, will get the ball for Kansas City. He will be opposed by right-hander Jeff Samardzija (5-8, 2.91). Shields, trying to win his third straight start, will try to bring home the Royals’ seventh-straight series victory.

Escobar Leads Royals to First

Ryan Landreth

The Kansas City Royals are in first place in the AL Central. By themselves. In August.

Seriously – I checked ESPN. It’s right here, in case you don’t believe me.

In a season full of ups and downs, the Royals’ eighth straight win on Monday night provided the highest ‘up’ yet.

Coupled with the Tigers’ disastrous performance in Pittsburgh, the Royals leapfrogged Detroit in the division standings after their 3-2 win against the Oakland A’s on Monday night. The Tigers, one day removed after using everyone in their bullpen in a 19-inning loss in Toronto, saw starter Justin Verlander depart after just one inning, giving up five runs in the process.

As a result, the 64-53 Royals, 11 games over .500 for the first time since 2003, find themselves atop the AL Central standings for the first time since June 20. The bleeding Tigers, now losers of six of their last eight, are falling apart as they enter the home stretch of the season.

Led by Alcides Escobar, Kansas City’s offense did just enough against A’s starter Sonny Gray. After Gray limited the Royals to just three hits back in a start on August 1, he dodged constant literal bullets for the first two innings. Jarrod Dyson and Omar Infante opened the game with consecutive singles, with Dyson advancing to third on an error on right fielder Josh Reddick. He would score on Salvador Perez’ double play. The Royals added a second run the next inning when Escobar singled home Alex Gordon, making the score 2-0.

Gray would limit the Royals hitless for the next 4 2/3 innings. To open the seventh frame, Lorenzo Cain reached with a walk, and swapped places with Raul Ibanez after a fielder’s choice. Ned Yost sent pinch runner Nori Aoki to run for Ibanez, and he advanced to second on Moustakas’ groundout. Needing a clutch hit against one of the best pitchers in the AL, Escobar came through again, lining a single into left-center field to plate the go-ahead run. After the run scored, Escobar pumped his fist at the Royals dugout. Behind the crowd and the circumstances, it was hard not for even the usually-calm Escobar to get fired up.

Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura once again lacked his best command, but still managed to hold Oakland to two runs over six innings. Logging yet another quality start, Ventura struck out five and walked four, allowing only two hits. He retired 9 of the final 10 hitters he faced following Brandon Moss’ third-inning single that plated two runs to tie the game.

As usual, the Royals’ bullpen was lights-out. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis worked flawless seventh and eighth innings, striking out four of the six hitters they combined to face.

When closer Greg Holland entered for the ninth inning, things got a lot more tense. Without a hit since the third inning, Oakland ignited a rally when Josh Donaldson led off the frame with a single. Holland, lacking his usual superb command as of late, then walked Brandon Moss to put two on with nobody out.

The Pirates had just beaten the Tigers. The Royals were three outs away from moving back into first place. As the crowd of over 21,000 stood on their feet, they couldn’t help but wonder if now would be when the “same old Royals” would show back up.

Not now. Not yet. Hopefully not ever.

Holland settled down, inducing Derek Norris to ground into a 5-3 double play. With a runner in scoring position and only needing one more out, every fan at Kauffman Stadium was standing in anticipation. Holland got the job done, getting Stephen Vogt to fly out to center to end the game, and lock down his AL-best 35th save of the year.

After catching the final out, Dyson performed a celebratory backflip. Korean sensation SungWoo Lee made his way out on top of the Royals Hall of Fame, dancing and jumping around before hanging the Royals’ trademark “W” on the building.

Eight wins in a row. 16 of 19. Just another step and day closer to ending the longest playoff drought in North America sports history.

The Royals and Tigers are once again locked into a battle for first place in the AL Central. Considering how many teams are competing for the Wild Card spots, the goal for both squads is clear – win the division.

It doesn’t get any easier for Detroit, who have already placed two pitchers on the DL in the last 48 hours. Verlander’s fastball velocity averaged an alarming 89 mph on Monday night, and he will be evaluated for right shoulder soreness on Tuesday. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they find themselves needing to escape their tailspin while facing the Pirates, who have posted the best record in the majors since May 22.

Meanwhile, the Royals continue their series with the A’s on Tuesday night when Jeremy Guthrie (8-9, 4.35 ERA) faces Royal killer Jon Lester (12-7, 2.44), proving how cruel baseball can be. Kansas City finally climbs into first place in August for the first time in 10 years, and its next opposing pitcher is a guy who has a 1.65 career ERA against them.

As they have all year, the Royals must persevere regardless of how unlikely success may appear. At this point, considering how well everything is going for this club, I’m not sure I’d advise betting against them.

Shields Shuts Out Giants 5-0


Five weeks ago, James Shields was the worst starter in the Royals rotation in terms of ERA. The Royals were treading water and struggling to stay above .500 with their laboring ace. The majority of fans wanted him traded, some because of his struggles. People claimed he was “washed up”, “old”, or “hurt.”

Oh what a difference a few weeks (and a few wins) can make.

Continuing his recent dominating trend, Shields fired his first shutout as a Royal, stifling the Giants while leading his team to their sixth consecutive win. Living true to his “Big Game” nickname, the man referred to as “Juego G” in the team clubhouse picked a good time for his best start as a Royal.

Shields (11-6), who dueled with San Francisco starter Tim Hudson for most of the evening, has seen his return to dominance fueled by exquisite command of his changeup. The pitch was once again lethal on Saturday evening, providing the punchout on all five of his strikeouts. In all, Shields surrendered just four hits in the complete game effort. He walked one batter. He pitched with excellent efficiently, needing just 109 pitches (72 for strikes) to work nine innings.

“Here we come,” the Royals’ ace spoke into the microphone to the crowd of over 35,000 following the game. “This is it – this is playoff baseball.” A huge roar erupted over Kauffman before Shields could even finish his sentence.

After posting an ugly 5.66 ERA in eight starts from May 24-July 1, Shields has responded by posting a stellar 1.61 mark in his last seven games. Those seven starts – 40.2 innings, 38 hits, nine earned runs, 40 strikeouts, eight walks. That’s the James Shields the fans have come to expect. His season ERA has dropped from 3.93 to 3.25 in the stretch.

Now winners of 14 of their last 17 games, the Royals are 9-1 in their last 10, and pulled to a mere 1.5 games behind first-place Detroit. Pending the result of the Seattle/Chicago game, the win pushed them to a full game cushion in the race for the second Wild Card spot.

That may not sound like a lot, but for a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason in 28 years, it’s more than enough to get everyone excited. Shields’ brilliant trend has erased little question over who the Royals would put on the mound in the event of a one-game playoff.

On “Nebraska Night” at Kauffman Stadium, former Cornhusker Alex Gordon lit up the building when he led off the fifth inning with a towering home run to right. The blast broke a scoreless tie and was the first hard-hit ball the team was able to manufacture against Hudson. After going 34 consecutive games without a homer, Gordon has not hit two dingers in his last three games.

The 39-year-old Hudson (8-9), making his first start at Kauffman Stadium since 2004, was sharp himself early on. He retired 11 of the first 12 Royals before Gordon’s homer, and then settled back down to make it through six innings while allowing only three hits. In the seventh, though, it all came unraveled for the veteran. Billy Butler led off the inning with another extra-base hit, just missing a homer by inches with a double off the left-center wall. Gordon followed with a single, but when Butler was held at third, Lorenzo Cain picked him up by grounding a single through the right side hole. The hit that plated Kansas City’s second run knocked Hudson from the game. His final line: 6+ innings, six hits, three runs, and one strikeout.

Kansas City didn’t stop there, though. After a double play, they feasted on former Royal reliever Jeremy Affeldt. Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Jarrod Dyson came through with three consecutive run-producing hits, stretching the lead out to 5-0. With Shields on the hill, that was four more runs than necessary, but the insurance runs ensured a bid at a complete game shutout.

The Royals are now 13-4 this season in interleague games, after going just 9-11 in those games a season ago. Their playoff chances have increased from 8% on July 21 to 51% today, according to

One more stat I can’t put anywhere else: the Royals, despite still being last in the majors with 69 home runs this year, have actually out-homered their opponents in their last 54 games, 43-41. They were out-homered 58-28 in their first 61 games of the year.

Oh, and in case this whole thing wasn’t exciting enough, Alex Gordon sang into Joel Goldberg’s microphone after the game. I’m sure the video is on the MLB website, but in case you didn’t see it, I’ll leave it at this – American Idol is not in Alex Gordon’s future. He should definitely stick to being an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals.

Up next: after clinching their sixth straight series win on Saturday night, the Royals will go for the sweep on Sunday behind Danny Duffy (6-10, 2.39 ERA). He will be opposed by Tim Lincecum (9-7, 4.22), in what is the best matchup for the Royals on paper in the series.

The Hunt for Blue October is officially on. The Royals have the attention of the entire league – especially the Detroit Tigers. With the league’s easiest schedule ahead of them, everything is eerily lining up for the best October Kansas City has had in the last three decades, and it’s not because of the Chiefs.

Guthrie Leads Royals into Playoff Position


If the season ended today, the Kansas City Royals would be in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the season doesn’t end today, but the excitement the Royals have created in Kansas City is very real. Behind Jeremy Guthrie’s eighth career complete game, the Royals swept the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night with a 6-2 win.

The victory, coupled with the Blue Jays’ 2-1 loss to Baltimore earlier in the afternoon, vaulted the Royals into the second wild card spot. Meanwhile, Detroit lost at Yankee Stadium, closing their AL Central lead to just 2.5 games.

Guthrie (8-9) won his third straight start in style, firing the team’s first complete game of the season. He was tagged for two early runs, which wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been considering he allowed seven hits in the first three innings.

After that, though, he was literally lights-out. He retired the final 19 hitters of the game, never letting Arizona get a glimmer of hope. Wade Davis and Greg Holland both warmed up just in case, but Guthrie made sure both relievers would be rested for the upcoming homestand. He allowed the aforementioned seven hits, all of which were singles, while striking out four and walking none.

It was Guthrie’s fourth complete game as a Royal, all of which have come in last two seasons. His last was an eight-inning complete game in Detroit last September 15th.

The offense provided more than enough support for their starter, continuing their recent showing of maturity. Both times Arizona struck for a run, Kansas City immediately responded by matching the Diamondbacks. After a Mark Trumbo sacrifice fly gave Arizona a 1-0 first-inning lead, Alex Gordon one-upped the opponent the next inning by clobbering a two-run homer off of starter Vidal Nuno (2-8). Gordon’s 10th dinger of the season cruised over the right field wall; his first since June 21.

In the third inning, the Royals executed “small ball” to perfection. Nori Aoki and Omar Infante hit consecutive singles, and followed that with a double steal. Immediately afterwards, Salvador Perez singled them both home with a perfectly placed soft liner just past third baseman Jake Lamb, giving Kansas City a 4-1 lead.

Arizona got one of the runs back in the bottom half of the third on an RBI single by Lamb, his first major league hit. However, the Royals once again responded in the next inning, as Alcides Escobar singled home Lorenzo Cain to push the lead back to a three-run margin. An insurance run was added in the ninth inning when Aoki drove in Escobar with his second hit of the game.

All nine Royals starters reached base. Each starter besides Guthrie reached with a base hit, while the Royals starter got on base in the ninth inning after being hit by a pitch. He went first-to-third on Aoki’s RBI single, narrowly avoiding injury after doing an unorthodox slide into third base. For those of you who haven’t seen it, go watch it here. It’s worth it, I assure you. Somebody needs to stop taking base running lessons from Eric Hosmer.

The win gave the Royals their first sweep since taking three straight from the White Sox back on June 13-15. It ran the club’s team-record road interleague winning streak to eight straight games, and clinched the team’s first road sweep in interleague play since June of 2008.

After the game, manager Ned Yost was clear what the team’s goals are. “We’re not even looking at the second wild card right now. Our focus is on winning the division.”

Winners of 12 of their last 15 games, the Royals will return home this weekend for what’s sure to be a sellout series. Facing the San Francisco Giants, Jason Vargas (8-5, 3.69 ERA) will oppose Madison Bumgarner (13-5, 3.21). Six of the next seven starters that will face Kansas City have playoff experience. It won’t be an easy homestand, but once Kansas City gets past the Giants and the A’s, they will play six consecutive series against teams currently under .500.

I angrily said a month ago that I wouldn’t be going to any more Royals games until they showed me progress. They’ve shown it. I don’t know if they can maintain it, but … I’m sorry, hold on one moment.

I just checked ESPN. Yup, the Royals are in the second wild card position right now. See? This town is fired up. The Chiefs had a preseason game tonight, and they scored 41 points. The talk of the town is still the baseball team. Tomorrow’s Kauffman crowd will be very close if not more than 40,000. 49 games remain, and if the Royals can post the same record as the other teams in the wild card race, they will be in the playoffs. That’s pretty awesome.

Be Royal, Kansas City. For the first time in decades, being “Royal” hasn’t involved screwing everything up, at least as of recent. Let’s see how long it lasts. We’ve seen this movie before, right? We know how it ends, right? Maybe this time we’ll get an alternate ending.