It was just another June baseball game. Merely one of 162 that count on the season. But let’s not pretend this one didn’t carry a little more heft than most. And unfortunately for KC Royals fans, this 3-2 defeat tastes a little more sour than usual.
The set-up: Intra-state MLB rivals, both clubs leading their respective leagues in winning. One team with a storied 140 year-odd history that includes twenty modern-era World Series appearances and eleven championships. The other a relative upstart at age forty-seven, with a formerly long-suffering fan base that has ignited a wild passion for a dynamic yet streaky group of players who burst on to the world stage last October and have played mostly brilliant baseball since.
After splitting the previous four contests, the two teams’ fifth match-up of the season took place on Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium in St. Louis (41-21) , and it was a good one. Seasoned veteran RP Jeremy Guthrie (4-3 / 5.79 ERA) started for the Kansas City Royals (34-25) against greenhorn LP Tyler Lyons (0-0 / 5.0 ERA for the Cardinals.
Royals LF Alex Gordon and Catcher Salvador Perez each banged solo home runs in the second and third innings, respectively. While St Louis scored two runs on four singles in the third, and another in the fifth on a solo shot by 1B Mark Reynolds, before a brief rain delay.
When play resumed with the score 3-2 St Louis, KC RF Alex Rios — an accomplished veteran who has struggled mightily since his recovery from an early-season hand injury — reached third base representing the tying run with one out in the top of the sixth, but failed to score on a weak ground ball from Perez when there appeared a high probability he would’ve scored easily if he’d made an attempt to score.
Guthrie was relieved in the bottom of the sixth by lefty Franklin Morales (3-0 / 2.81 ERA) in a double-switch move (Mike Moustakas entered the game at 3B replacing Christian Colon who got a rare start), after giving up three runs in five innings on ten hits and a walk with four strikeouts and a homer – a typical Guthrie-style outing.
In some ways this was a standard Royals contest of late, as they weather a terrible offensive slump. They were 0-7 with runners-in-scoring-position and could muster only five hits (CF Lorenzo Cain was also 2-4 with a double and a stolen base) and two walks on the day. Their bullpen was air-tight. But their normally superb defense came up short on errors by Rios and Colon.
The Royals lead-off man, SS Alcides Escobar, has a .285 OBP on the season, which sadly is substantially better than Alex Rios’ .232 OBP, and Omar Infante‘s horrific .213. That’s three every day players who are making far too many outs. Only one of them is indespensible due to defensive prowess.
The team is in first place, but there is ample reason for concern re. the offense and the starting rotation; concern that is now perhaps heightened by some injury news before the game.
LP Jason Vargas was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a flexor muscle strain in his left elbow. And Yordano Ventura, who was pulled from Friday’s start after only three innings, apparently has what is being characterized as ulnar nerve irritation due to a buildup of fluid in the elbow – “a freak thing” as described by Ned Yost in a KC Star article by Andy McCullough, but may not miss any starts as it isn’t deemed serious at this point.
The result is that RP Chris Young will start Sunday’s season finale with the Cardinals, and RP Joe Blanton (0-0 / 1.80 ERA) will take Vargas’ spot in the rotation, with Brandon Finnegan called up from the minors as Blanton’s replacement in the bullpen as a long reliever.
As problems go, having a flawed first place team isn’t all that bad, Royals fans. Especially one as talented and fun to follow as this one. Redemption can be be had tomorrow with victory. And I believe.