The KC Royals have found it almost impossible to get good pitching and good hitting in the same game. That changed Thursday night.
The KC Royals did the one thing they could do to overshadow an excellent return to the mound by Brad Keller Thursday evening.
The Royals’ maddeningly inept offense found its way, so much so that the bats made more news than Keller’s superb five innings of work in his 2020 debut. Keller’s teammates, consistently unable to provide real run support this season, all but stole the show in KC’s 13-2 rout of the Cubs.
Other than the number of runs scored, just how good was Kansas City’s offense? Just consider these facts:
The Royals, who Tuesday showed signs of breaking out of their slump at the plate but managed only a run on five hits in Wednesday’s loss to the Cubs, shredded Chicago pitching for 18 hits, the most they’ve managed in any game this season and over twice their per game average of eight coming into the contest.
The 13 runs were actually the second most of the campaign; Kansas City scored 14 against Detroit 10 games ago. Thursday’s total exceeded by eight the second most the Royals had scored.
Before the game was even a third complete, every Royal in the starting lineup had a hit, an achievement accomplished when Nick Heath singled in the third inning for his first major league hit (which also produced his first big league RBI).
By the time that inning was over, the KC Royals sent 11 men to the plate, scored six times, and led 9-0. They’d scored one in the first and added two in the second on Whit Merrifield’s two-out, two run home run, the first of three homers the club collected. The blast was Merrifield’s fourth of the year; Maikel Franco and Jorge Soler later added their third homers of the season.
Collectively, the 11 Royals who made it to the plate in this game were 18-for-41 (.439), an uncharacteristic outburst for them this year that boosted the team average 17 points to .250. Salvador Perez and Soler led the way with three hits apiece, Ryan O’Hearn, Alex Gordon, Merrifield and Franco had two each, and Brett Phillips, Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez and Heath each added one.
Cam Gallagher, who took over behind the plate when manager Mike Matheny moved Perez to first base, was the only KC player not to manage a hit. But he did the next best thing by working a walk from struggling Cub reliever Craig Kimbrel in the eighth.
Besides their three home runs, the Royals collected seven doubles (two by Perez), and a leadoff triple by Phillips in the ninth, giving them more extra-base hits than singles.
The club was 7-for-17 (.411) with runners in scoring position; six Royals–Soler, Merrifield, O’Hearn, Perez, Gordon and Franco–had two RBIs. Kansas City failed to score only in the fourth and sixth innings.
And then there was Keller. The third-year right-hander, hoping to bounce back from a 7-14 2019 but making his first appearance of this season after confronting COVID-19, was superb. He pitched five scoreless innings, struck out seven and gave up only three hits and two walks. He retired the Cubs in order in the second and fifth innings, allowed only one runner in the first and third frames and worked out of a bases loaded fourth.
Kyle Zimmer followed Keller with two scoreless innings of his own, didn’t give up a hit, and struck out three Cubs. The performance lowered his ERA to 1.13 and he’s now fanned 10 in eight innings. This is, so far and to say the least, the season Zimmer has been waiting for.
Kevin McCarthy, appearing in his fifth game of the campaign, gave up Chicago’s only two runs with two out in the ninth. But, overall, the Royals’ pitching was excellent–Keller, Zimmer and McCarthy combined to strike out 11, walked only two, and scattered seven hits–all singles.
The win, the only victory the KC Royals managed in the four-game, away and home series, broke their six-game losing streak. They’ll now play the Twins and Reds exclusively until facing St. Louis August 24.
The KC Royals’ bats and pitching both showed up in big ways Thursday night. They need to keep doing so.