I have to say, I don’t recall a recent season like this as a Royals fan. Usually by this point, the Royals would be fading fast. After an awful May, it seemed like they’d follow the same script, but now, after a 7-2 win over Tampa Bay, the Royals are a game below .500 and winners of nine of their last ten games.
You can break the season into three segments right now (Dave Lesky at Pine Tar Press dubbed it the “RoyalCoaster”):
- April 1 to May 5: The Royals were 17-10 after an extra innings win against Chicago.
- May 6 to May 29: Kansas City lost the James Shields game after blowing a 1-0 lead (the last time Greg Holland gave up a run) and proceeded to go 4-19.
- May 30 to now: The Royals went to St. Louis, replaced Jack Maloof with George Brett, and braved the elements to pull off a win and break an eight game losing streak. They’re 11-4 during this stretch.
Over the last two nights, though, they’ve only started to get some combination of excellent pitching (the Royals lead the American League in ERA and rank near the top in many other categories) and timely hitting to put up runs while keeping them off the board. The Royals have held opponents to three runs or less in thirteen – THIRTEEN – straight games.
How unprecedented is that? Since 1985, it’s pretty rare:
Four teams have held opponents under 4 runs for 14+ since 1985: 2010 Giants (18), 1986 Yankees (16), 1991 Blue Jays (15), 1993 Braves (14)
— Brandon H. (@BHIndepMO) June 15, 2013
Tonight, it looked like things would turn out differently, though. Luis Mendoza opened the game by allowing a homer on the second pitch of the game to Matt Joyce, then walked Ben Zobrist. He scored on a one out double by Evan Longoria. James Loney hit it hard after Longoria, but it was off the end of the bat and hung up for Jeff Francoeur and a strike out by Desmond Jennings allowed Mendoza to escape.
He didn’t give up another run, though. Mendoza went to more breaking pitches, a nice adjustment, and didn’t run into any more trouble until the seventh, when he gave way to Aaron Crow with two on. Mendoza got timely ground balls to work a double play, then later picked off Joyce on second after he’d doubled. He got by on guile and his ERA is now 4.08. I’ve been tough on Mendoza but he’s looking more and more trustworthy with every start.
He had a cushion to work with after a Royals four run fifth inning which opened up with a single by Francoeur, a triple by Rays-killer Elliot Johnson, and a hard hit shot to second that was ruled a hit by Alcides Escobar. After Alex Gordon flew out, Eric Hosmer drove a ball to right and into the corner for a double.
It’s no secret that Hosmer has struggled to turn on the inside pitch over the last two years. Most of his hits have come on grounders to right or flares to left. He hit just his second homer of the year on Thursday night. But against lefty Matt Moore, Hosmer turned on a fastball in on his hands, whipped the bat around and shot it down the line. It looked like what we’ve been expected from him all along and is an encouraging sign. Salvador Perez hit a soft liner into left with a smooth, controlled swing on an 0-2 pitch (which made up for a bad decision in the first inning where he chased a pitch and popped it to center with two on) and scored Escobar. Then, Billy Butler shot a ball deep into center to score Hosmer from third.
They tacked on two more in the ninth, but they didn’t need them.
I’d still like to see more power, and obviously the pitching will stop being dominant every night out, but the Royals are riding some momentum and they’re executing in key spots. They have to make up some ground after their tumble in May, but most Royals fans should be pleasantly surprised to see this response from the team. What’s the source? Many will credit George Brett’s presence and perhaps that’s part of it. They started to wake up after arriving in St. Louis, a trip they had to make as a team on a bus rather than a plane. Then there’s the Rally Sauce, one of those silly things that the team can use to get behind and stay loose. I don’t know what it is or how long it will last, but it’s a lot more fun to watch than it was for most of last month.