The Royals were mocked in the off-season for their moves, but out to an impressive start, it’s clear that teams could learn a thing or two from Kansas City’s free-agency pickups.
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.
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 ESPN.com.
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.
Greg Holland got his 100th career save tonight in a 4-2 win, so that’s a huge accomplishment for him.
Jason Vargas was very solid over five innings of work, and only allowed two earned runs while striking out five San Francisco batters. Both Giants runs were scored in the third inning when Joaquin Arias doubled in Pablo Sandoval to put San Fran on the board. Matt Duffy singled in Joaquin Arias, and that would be it as far as scoring for the Giants.
Two outfield assists from Nori Aoki really saved the game for the Royals. Aoki’s first assist was to third to gun down Hunter Pence (Hunter Pence can’t parallel park.) His second assist was to home plate to throw out Joaquin Arias.
Kansas City’s scoring got started in the first inning on a two-run home run from Billy Butler. In the sixth inning, Butler added his third RBI of the night when he singled in Omar Infante. Alex Gordon chipped in tonight with an RBI single to score Salvador Perez.
It was a big night for the bullpen. Four innings of shutout baseball with six strikeouts. The quiet acquisition of Jason Frasor was one of the few good ones that Dayton Moore made before the trade deadline. Frasor has now pitched 5.2 innings, and has given up no earned runs, and struck out eight batters. Wade Davis made me feel like I was back in 2012 watching Jonathan Broxton, who always seemed to flirt with disaster every night, but would somehow get out of it.
After the All-Star break, Ned Yost and Dayton Moore said that if there were going to be improvements, it would have to be internally. Billy Butler has provided exactly that. For whatever reason, people still find a reason to complain about it. Yes, there was a base running error tonight, but it didn’t effect the game. Let’s have fun with stats, shall we? As a first baseman this year here are Billy’s stats: .349/.391/.605 with two home runs in 43 at-bats. In 357 at-bats as the team’s DH, Billy is .261/.310/.336 with three home runs. It will be…or should be a tough decision to move Billy Butler back to DH when Eric Hosmer comes back from the DL. If I were the Royals, and I’m not, I would trade Hosmer for an outfield bat, or try to find a James Shields replacement when he leaves.
Shields will be on the hill tomorrow for the Royals. Shields has had two very good starts his last couple trips to the mound, and hopes to continue his success. The Royals will have the tall task of facing Tim Hudson. Hudson this year has a 2.74 ERA, and has a 2.24 ERA in away games this year.
The Royals have won five straight, and tomorrow will go for their sixth series win in a row. I think the Royals are a legitimate playoff contending team, and I hope they can keep on rolling.
Back-to-back games when the Royals scored one run in very important games. The difference? Yesterday’s game was a shutout, and a shutout is a win 100% of the time.
The A’s scored eight runs today, so you can’t tell me that they missed Cespedes…. For today at least. Today, they had no trouble scoring runs against a troubled Royals defense.
At the beginning of the fifth inning, it looked like Kansas City was well on their way to another 1-0 defeat against the newly revamped Oakland Athletics. Jason Vargas cruised through four innings even throwing a perfect game in his first game back after suffering a ruptured appendix three weeks ago.
In the third inning, Kansas City managed a run against Jon Lester on an Alcides Escobar single, a Nori Aoki walk, and two sacrifices by Erik Kratz and Lorenzo Cain. That would be all that the Royals could muster up until the seventh inning when they put two meaningless runs on the board to bring them within five runs.
The fifth inning is what wreaked havoc for Vargas and the Royals, and would eventually boot Vargas from the game. On paper, it says that Vargas surrendered seven earned runs, but Vargy was actually really….good. After a defensive miscue by Billy Butler on an infield pop-up, and two other defensive disasters by Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon, the A’s put eight runs on the board in the fifth inning. Only Gordon’s was ruled an error, which leads to seven earned runs being charged to Vargas.
Aaron Crow gave up the other run. In the last 11 innings pitched, Crow has given up six earned runs, and is the proud owner of almost a five ERA. What started out as a zero ERA all the way up until May18th is now 3.13 ERA.
I could sit here and tell you all the ‘should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve’ plays that were supposed to happen, but at the end of the day, it’s a loss, and a very inexcusable fifth inning from Royals players.
The Boys in Blue will wrap up the series in Oakland tomorrow starting at 3:05 central time. They will send out ace (or whatever else you would prefer to call him) James Shields to battle against Scott Kazmir. Kazmir is a lefty, so I would expect to see Christian Colon, who came off of the bench today to get the start for Mike Moustakas tomorrow.
The best we can hope for today is the Tigers, Indians, Blue Jays, and Angels all lose. The likely event of all four of those teams losing is not likely.
Legend has it that if you score more runs that the other team, you’ll win the game. The Royals must have missed that.
It was a horrible quality start for James Shields, if that makes sense. Shields threw an average of 20.67 pitches per inning. While Shields went six complete innings, and only allowed two runs, he wiggled out of jam after jam, and was a bit out of control with his location.
The umpires certainly didn’t do the Royals any favors. In the top of the fifth, interference was called on second baseman Omar Infante, and Sam Fuld was awarded third base. Nothing would come out of it as Shields would wiggle out of that jam too.
Shields couldn’t get out of the third inning without a run when Josh Willingham sacrificed in Danny Santana (Ugh. Another Santana.) Danny Santana scored the other run in the fifth inning, and that would do it for the Twins.
Kyle Gibson has dominated the Royals all season. Gibson continued his success tonight when he pitched seven scoreless innings, and only allowed two hits.
Kansas City didn’t score their loan run until the ninth inning. With no outs, Omar Infante doubled off of the left field wall. Eric Hosmer dumped one into left field to give him his 46th RBI of the year. That would be as far as the Royals rally would come as the next three batters went down in order against All-Star closer, Glenn Perkins.
The Royals did not lose any ground in the AL Central race after Detroit lost to Chicago, but they now sit 3.5 games back of the second wildcard spot.
Phil Hughes and Danny Duffy will square off tomorrow at 7:10 for the second game of the series. Let’s hope that, for once, we can provide some run support for Mr. Duffy.