What the KC Royals couldn’t quite do against Houston last week, they did in Chicago Sunday afternoon. Kansas City coasted to an easy 9-1 victory to secure a three-game sweep of the Cubs and a bit of solace for just missing a similar result against the Astros.
The win was the Royals’ sixth in their last seven games, with the only loss coming Thursday against the Astros when a win would have completed an impressive sweep of a four-game series with the American League West division leaders.
But there was no denying the Royals at Wrigley Field Sunday. Fueled by an impressive 16-hit attack, they scored a run in the second, then two in each of the next four innings, and walked away with an eight-run win that increased their narrow separation from the American League Central Division cellar-dwelling Twins to 1.5 games. The series finale was much like the first two games of the series—the starting pitching, bullpen, and offense were all present and accounted for.
What stood out over the three contests?
The KC Royals proved for three days that starting pitching sets the tone.
Winning starts with solid starting pitching, a baseball maxim Kansas City’s three weekend starters affirmed over the weekend.
Carlos Hernandez furnished the final element of proof Sunday by throwing perhaps his best game as a Royal. He completed seven innings for the first time in his short, 24-game big league career, established a career high with eight strikeouts, and allowed Chicago only a run and four hits. And he lowered his ERA to 3.97, the lowest it’s been all season.
Hernandez is now 4-1.
Kris Bubic positioned Kansas City for this sweep by dominating the Cubs Saturday. After walking the second batter he faced, Bubic retired 17 in a row and had a no-hitter going before a weather delay interrupted the game just before he took the mound in the seventh. He lost the no-hitter when play resumed a little over 30 minutes later, but still held Chicago to two runs on one hit, struck out nine, and improved his record to 4-6. The Royals won 4-2.
And it was Brad Keller who set a high bar in Friday’s opener by fanning eight and giving the Cubs only two runs (one earned) in six innings. He had good control and command, walking only one in his six innings. He’s 8-12 and tied with Mike Minor for the team lead in wins. KC won 6-2.
Shortstop Nicky Lopez has become an effective offensive force for the KC Royals.
Can the Royals and their fans finally stop fretting over Nicky Lopez’s soft bat?
Probably, and Lopez provided more evidence this weekend that he may be cured of the hitting woes that plagued him last season and in spring training this year. Although he was hitless in four at-bats Friday afternoon, he went a combined 5-for-8 Saturday and Sunday for a .416 series average.
Three of those five hits, including a double, came Saturday, when Lopez also drove in a run and stole two bases. He added two singles Sunday, walked twice, scored two runs, had an RBI, and swiped his 18th base of the year, good enough for a tie for fifth best in the AL behind teammate Whit Merrifield’s 37 steals.
Lopez is hitting a team-high .282, an almost unthinkable feat after the Royals determined he’d start the season in the minors to rehabilitate his bat. But Adalberto Mondesi’s first oblique injury forced Lopez onto the Opening Day roster; the rest is, for Lopez and the KC Royals, happy history.
Aside from his one home run, he’s been a more than adequate replacement for Mondesi. The average is there, the potential Gold Glove is there, and the inspiring confidence at the plate and in the field is there.
And if his .318 average since the All-Star Break (it was a respectable .265 before) and his weekend against the Cubs are sufficient indication, Lopez shows no signs of letting up.
Is it time for the KC Royals to give star catcher Salvador Perez more rest?
Salvador Perez is the Royals’ most valuable and cherished asset, its backbone, spirit and character all rolled into one All-Star package.
But he isn’t immune to the rigors and consequences of a life spent behind the plate, a point probably proven over the weekend.
Perez took a beating Friday, beginning with the blow his left index finger took from Ian Happ’s bat before the game was an inning old. A ball later caromed off his leg, and a foul tip to his catching helmet in the sixth precipitated his early exit in the eighth. He was scheduled to play Saturday but Matheny took him out of the starting lineup before the game started.
Nevertheless, Perez appeared as a pinch hitter in the ninth but grounded out, then suffered through an 0-for-5, three-strikeout performance Sunday.
Whether the rough day Friday affected his brief Saturday and longer Sunday remains to be seen, but it certainly couldn’t have helped. The Royals have played 123 games; Perez has appeared in all but one, which accounts in no small part for the career-high 32 homers he’s hit, and the commendable fact he’s only one RBI shy of setting a personal record with 81 runs driven in.
But he’s hitting only .228 over his last 10 games, which may signal he’s tiring a bit. Perhaps it’s time for Matheny to rest him more; a few more days off, or more games at DH, could help ease the strain and help Perez finish the season strong.
The KC Royals open a three-game road series with Houston tonight. Game time is set for 7:10 p.m. CDT, with Daniel Lynch (3-3, 5.12) facing Zack Greinke (11-3, 3.43).