KC Royals: Unlike June, July provided new promise

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals closed out July the same way they ended June—with a loss. Thirty-one days after Boston beat them to conclude the third month of the season, another American League East team forced the Royals to contemplate starting a new month on the heels of a defeat.

Toronto, hosting Kansas City for only the second game contested in Canada since 2019, allowed the Royals just three singles Saturday and beat them 5-0. It was KC’s second straight loss, but the club begins August today much differently than it started June.

With some promise.

A month ago, the Royals opened July battered and bruised after a disastrous 7-20 June during which they did little right and a lot wrong. Playing exactly .500 ball when June began, they won three straight games, then lost 11 of 12, and finished the month by dropping eight in a row. July found them in last place in the AL Central, 13 games under .500 and 14 out of first place.

July wasn’t looking much better when the All-Star break mercifully arrived. Kansas City lost seven of 10 games before Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield headed for the All-Star Game and the rest of the club escaped from losing for a few days.

That, however, is where July’s similarity to June ended. Seemingly refreshed and reenergized, the KC Royals won eight of their first 10 games when they returned, including six in a row (their longest winning streak of the season), and finished July with a 12-12 record, their best full-season mark for the month since 2017’s 16-10.

And they’re out of the division cellar: a 45-58 record has Kansas City in fourth place, two games ahead of last place Minnesota and three behind the third-place Tigers.

Remarkably unlike June, July provided new promise for the Royals. Let’s look at some of the reasons.

The KC Royals’ starting pitching improved drastically in the month of July.

Although Kansas City’s offense remained questionable and largely unreliable entering July, the starting rotation was the club’s primary eyesore, a collection of otherwise talented hurlers who, save for Danny Duffy, just couldn’t seem to maintain any solid semblance of individual or collective consistency.

But while it’s premature to declare the rotation’s ills cured, and at times it’s still difficult to identify just who belongs to and in it, the Royals’ rota in July was probably the best it’s been all season.

For the month, KC starters produced 12 quality starts (games in which the starter pitches six innings and surrenders no more than three earned runs), a truly impressive effort considering the miseries of May and June.

All four of Brad Keller’s July starts were quality—Keller, who carried a disappointing 6-8, 6.67 ERA record into July, gave up only seven earned runs in 27.2 innings for a 2.28 July ERA. Kris Bubic, Mike Minor, and Daniel Lynch all had two quality starts, and Carlos Hernandez and Brady Singer added one apiece.

If the starters’ promising rediscovery of themselves continues, 75 Royal wins, a record requiring a 30-29 finish, isn’t a pipedream. Difficult, yes, but not impossible.

Nicky Lopez and Hunter Dozier had excellent months for the KC Royals.

Starting pitching wasn’t Kansas City’s only July highlight. Some of the Royals’ bats were hot.

Take Nicky Lopez, for example, the player who’s more than met the challenge of filling in for Adalberto Mondesi. Lopez, who most observers believed would probably return to the minor leagues for remedial hitting work when Mondesi returned from his first oblique injury, has made a bulletproof case to stay. He’s hitting .283 with a big league .361 OBP, numbers achieved in no small part via his .338/.397/.465 July line. He’s hitting .385 since the All-Star Break.

Hunter Dozier broke out in July after hitting just .160 through June. He started with a 2-for-4 night against Boston July 1, is hitting .333 with a torrid .429 OBP since the All-Star Break, and goes into this afternoon’s game against Toronto with a .197 average. That may not sound like much, but it’s 37 points higher than he was batting when the month began.

Lopez and Mondesi can’t carry this club themselves, but their stellar July could be a sign that Kansas City’s offense might, just might, be coming around.

A seemingly broken KC Royals reliever returned from the IL and pitched well.

The hours following Kansas City’s 8-0 loss to Texas June 26 seemed the right time for the Royals to say goodbye to Wade Davis. He gave up only two of the Rangers’ runs that day, but didn’t look good doing so, and the subpar performance was the latest of his many poor 2021 outings. His 8.06 ERA provided good evidence that he wouldn’t improve.

The Royals didn’t cut Davis loose—he landed instead on the Injured List three days later with a right forearm strain, perhaps an underlying cause of his woes.

Davis returned from the IL July 17, and Manager Mike Matheny wasted little time getting him back into action, giving his veteran righthander the ninth inning the very next day. It was a low-leverage situation (the Royals trailed Baltimore 5-0), but Davis retired the Orioles in order.

It was some time (six days to be precise) before Matheny called on Davis again, but the stakes were much higher when he did—Davis found himself relieving Greg Holland in a save situation, a direct reversal of the roles the two hurlers owned in the “H-D-H” days of 2014 and 2015.

Holland started the inning with a four-run lead, but gave up a home run and a pair of two-out walks to open the door for Davis. Just like he had in former times, Davis saved the game with a strikeout.

Five days later, Davis finished Kansas City’s 5-0 shutout of the White Sox with a three-up, three-down, two-strikeout ninth. And Friday against Toronto, only the leadoff walk he issued to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the eighth prevented Davis from another perfect inning. He retired the next three Blue Jays.

Is Davis all the way back? Has he recaptured his old, dominating form? Only time will tell, but a completely rejuvenated Davis is probably too much to ask.

But his performance since coming off the IL is promising.

Just like Kansas City’s July.

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The KC Royals launch August today with a 12:07 p.m. CDT game against Toronto. Brad Keller (7-9. 5.55) starts for Kansas City; as of late Saturday night, the Blue Jays hadn’t announced their starter.