The KC Royals lost again Tuesday night. But their disappointing offense finally stirred.
In case you haven’t heard, the KC Royals lost again Tuesday night. It was a tough 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs, their fifth straight loss and ninth in this short season’s first 12 games.
This defeat, however, was a bit different from most of the others. Kansas City’s long slumbering offense, the element of the Royals’ game most responsible for their dismal start, showed signs of waking up.
First came the promising second inning, one almost reminiscent of the old “Keep the line moving” days and a refreshing frame following an all-to-familiar three up, three down performance in the first. Salvador Perez led off with a double and moved to third on Ryan McBroom’s single. Adalberto Mondesi immediately singled to score Perez, giving the Royals a rare lead and another runner in scoring position with no outs. The line appeared about to move.
But like so many other times this season, that line stopped–Alex Gordon, stuck in his own early-season slump, flied out, Maikel Franco grounded out (allowing Mondesi to join McBroom in scoring position) and Bubba Starling was out on an infield pop.
Then, in the fourth, the Royals appeared on the verge of a vintage two-out rally when Mondesi and Gordon singled, but the Cubs got Mondesi at third on another Franco grounder, ending KC’s chances to score again.
Kansas City starter Brady Singer gave the Cubs their second two-run home run of the game and a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, but, undaunted, the Royals again seemed close to a “line moving” inning in the fifth when Starling led off with a single, Merrifield singled him to third, and Jorge Soler drove Starling home with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2. Ryan O’Hearn, though, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
But the best signs of a possible offensive awakening came after Kansas City’s worst stretch of the night, a hitless, runnerless three-inning drought from the sixth through the eighth.
Behind 5-2 in the ninth (Trevor Rosenthal gave up a run in the eighth, the only bullpen blemish on the night) and facing the once formidable and still occasionally effective Craig Kimbrel, the Royals finally flashed a never give up, grind ’em out grit at the plate. Perez collected his second leadoff hit of the night, a single to left; after Franchy Cordero, hitting for McBroom, struck out, Mondesi doubled, moving Perez to third and Kimbrel out of the game.
Rookie Chicago manager David Ross brought in southpaw Kyle Ryan to face lefty Alex Gordon, a traditional by-the-book move suddenly made more risky this season by baseball’s new rule requiring relievers, absent a preceding sudden injury or illness or inning-ending out, to face at least three batters. Righties Franco and Starling were waiting behind Gordon.
Gordon knocked Perez in with a grounder to second and Ryan, forced by the rules to face Franco, surrendered another run when Franco singled home Mondesi.
Rookie Nick Heath ran for Franco and, after a handful of Ryan throw-overs to keep him close, stole second and made it to third with the tying run when catcher Willson Contreras’ throw flew into center field.
That brought Starling up to face Ryan in a lefty-righty matchup that wouldn’t have been one without the new three-batter rule. Starling tormented Ryan by spoiling several pitches, but his good at-bat ended, and with it the game, when he rifled a hot shot to third that Kris Bryant managed to field. Starling was out at first.
That the KC Royals’ efforts ended in another loss is the result, but not the main takeaway from this game. Instead, the point is that Kansas City’s offense stirred repeatedly and gave the club a chance to win.
The Royals mounted legitimate threats in the second, fourth and fifth innings, and then again in the ninth after going down in order three straight times. Those threats produced all the club’s runs.
Mondesi, whose increasing willingness to go to the opposite field is paying off (two of his hits were to the left side), went 3-for-4 with a double and RBI and raised his average to .289; Perez’s pair of leadoff hits included a double; and only Soler, O’Hearn and pinch-hitter Franchy Cordero failed to get a hit. (Heath pinch ran but didn’t bat).
As a team, the KC Royals collected 10 hits, their third highest 2020 single game total, and raised the club’s average four points to .238. (You must walk before you can run). The five runners they left on base, and their 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position, were both improvements.
A few Tuesday night sparks won’t make a blazing offensive fire, but what the Royals did against the Cubs is encouraging. They threatened Chicago repeatedly, fought back from a deficit in the ninth, and almost tied the game. They got some hits when it counted. And they didn’t give up.
The question now becomes whether the Royals can improve on Tuesday’s plate performance when their four-game series with Chicago moves to Kauffman Stadium for the final two contests.
The KC Royals’ inconsistent offense may be waking up. We’ll soon know if that’s the case.