Royals Dethrone King Felix

On paper, this one’s not even close.  Sean O’Sullivan, all of 23 years old and coming in with a 5.81 career ERA facing off against Felix Hernandez, reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.

Backed up by some great defense and working out of a couple of jams, O’Sullivan went five innings, shutting out a feeble Mariners offense.  The bullpen combo of Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Crow came in for the final four innings, striking out six and maintaining the shutout.

The Royals have now won four in a row and are 10-4.

Today, there were a lot of heroes:

First, O’Sullivan stepped up in his turn in the rotation.  With the idea that Vin Mazzaro would be up at this point, O’Sullivan wasn’t stretched out as much going into the season opener, so he left after 83 pitches.  He wasn’t perfect – he gave up five hits and two walks – but when it mattered, he got the job done.  He retired the first batter of every inning until the fifth, which helped him later in innings when the Mariners reached base.  He stranded three runners with just one out in the fourth inning by inducing a weak fly out by Michael Saunders and striking out Chris Giminez to get out of the inning.  His pitches had decent movement and he hit 95 mph according to the Kauffman Stadium gun.

Alex Gordon went 3-4, doubled (again – he leads the AL in doubles now) and scored three times (he leads the AL in that category as well as of right now, too).  His double in the fifth inning came with two outs on a good pitch by Hernandez that he drilled deep to center field.

Mike Aviles went 2-4 and drove in three runs, including two on a double that carried over Ichiro Suzuki‘s head in the eighth.  His struggles have been discussed already, but since sitting out for the whole Tigers series, Aviles has gone 5-14 and driven in eight runs.

The bullpen rebounded from a rough night last night, including a redeeming outing by Tim Collins.  Last night, Collins walked the only two batters he faced on 11 pitches.  Today, he walked Justin Smoak after a strikeout of Jack Cust and gave up a double to Luis Rodriguez (who’s been the next best hitter to Ichiro on the Mariners this series), but stranded them by striking out the next two batters.  Jeremy Jeffress wasn’t at his best, walking two, but his control wasn’t that bad.  He got a pop out from Ichiro and made a snag of a hard linedrive back up the middle.  In the eighth inning, Jeffress returned to the mound and showed some fight after allowing Cust and Smoak to reach.  He struck out the next two batters, first Rodriguez on a sharp curve that followed a 100 mph heater.  Michael Saunders struck out  swinging on a triple digit fastball of his own.  Aaron Crow worked the ninth getting two groundouts and striking out Ichiro looking.

Last but not least, Alcides Escobar made two excellent plays in the field, first making a diving stop up the middle in the third on an Ichiro grounder.  With Brendan Ryan on second, the ball looked to be destined for center field, but Escobar got to it on the edge of the grass, hopped up and threw Ichiro out by a step, keeping Ryan at third.  The inning before, he made a sweeping tag on a stolen base attempt by Rodriguez for an out.  The play was difficult considering that Matt Treanor‘s throw short-hopped him at the bag and he  made the adjustment and tag in one motion.

This is the fifth series that the Royals have either tied or won.  They go for a four game sweep tomorrow.

This is a fun team to watch.  The mix of young players and “wash ups” trying to prove themselves adds a lot of energy and if nothing else, you know that nobody’s giving less than 100% effort.  It’s not the first time or the last time, perhaps, that this comparison is made, but they aren’t that different from the motley crew we’ve all seen from Major League.

Right now, the breaks are going the Royals way, but they deserve credit for coming up with good situational hitting this week.  With runners in scoring position, Kansas City is 42-140 for the year, but 21-43 over the last five games.

Combining that with solid pitching from Bruce Chen, Jeff Francis and Luke Hochevar plus the bullpen AND strong defense and the Royals are looking pretty good.

The caveat exists, though, that it’s still early.  We’re not even 10% into the season and the league hasn’t seen the rookies enough yet.  Some predicted the Royals as a guaranteed 100 loss team, and that’s still possible, though they’d have to go 52-96 from here on out to do that.  This team might turn out to be bad, but they won’t be that bad, and they aren’t that bad now.

The most striking shift has been defensively, where trading Yuniesky Betancourt for Alcides Escobar has had a night and day effect on how I feel watching this team.  I don’t know about you, but anything hit to the left made me hold my breath, waiting for the inevitable boot or overthrow.  Since day one, Escobar has been solid, getting to everything, and with the exception of a couple throws, he’s been dead-on.  At this point, he might only put up a .650 OPS, but I can live with that if he prevents a run or two every night out.  The outs he gets to that Yuni would never reach finish innings faster, help his starters get through faster which keeps the bullpen fresh and it keeps runners off the bases the whole time.

So yeah, I’m excited about this team right now.

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Tags: Aaron Crow AL Central Alcides Escobar Alex Gordon Baseball Billy Butler Felix Hernandez Ichiro Ichiro Suzuki Jeremy Jeffress Kansas City Royals KC Mike Aviles MLB Royals Sean O'Sullivan Tim Collins

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