Once again, the KC Royals can’t solve Cleveland puzzle

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

The KC Royals played their fourth game of the season April 5, a cold Monday afternoon affair in Cleveland that kicked off their first road trip and started an unfortunate 2021 relationship with the Indians.

The Royals shut out the Tribe 3-0 that day. Whit Merrifield went 3-for-5, including a two-run homer in the second that proved all they’d need. Nicky Lopez provided a slight hint of how good he’d be this year with a 2-for-3 day. Danny Duffy worked six innings, struck out five, and allowed Cleveland only two hits.

Since then, the Indians have been a puzzle the Royals can’t solve, and Kansas City’s troubles continued Monday night. The Royals didn’t score until the ninth inning; it was far too late by then, and they dropped their ninth straight to Cleveland 7-2. That early April triumph remains KC’s only victory over the Indians this season, and Monday’s loss puts at least a slight dent in any chance the Royals have to finish as high as second in the American League Central.

Why Cleveland is dominating Kansas City isn’t much of a mystery. A fairly balanced attack explains it all—the Indians have averaged almost 6.5 runs, and allowed slightly more than three, in those nine straight wins.

And balance, supplied primarily by Amed Rosario and Zach Plesac, is what beat the Royals this night. Rosario, who’s proving someone other than Francisco Lindor really can play shortstop in Cleveland, destroyed KC with a perfect 5-for-5 night that included two homers (the first an inside-the-parker in the first inning) and resulted in five RBIs. (Bobby Bradley’s two-run homer off Wade Davis provided the winners’ other two runs).

Plesac started and shut out the Royals for seven innings, surrendering only two hits and striking out seven. Long a thorn in Kansas City’s side, Plesac improved his career record against the Royals to 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA.

Not many good things happened to the KC Royals in Monday night’s loss.

Kansas City didn’t have much to be happy about after this one. Unlike how they played most of the time in winning seven of their last 10 and 10 of their last 14 before Cleveland arrived in town, the Royals were quiet Monday. They couldn’t scrounge any runs until just one out remained in their last at-bat: with Plesac gone, Carlos Santana singled home Emmanuel Rivera and Andrew Benintendi doubled to score Salvador Perez.

Rivera, Hunter Dozier, and Edward Olivares went hitless. So did Salvador Perez, ending his home run streak at five games the day after he was named the American League’s Player of the Week for last week.

The bullpen wasn’t good. Joel Payamps relieved starter Jakob Junis with two on and two out in the fifth and promptly gave up a two-run single to Rosario, Kyle Zimmer surrendered a pair of runs in his two innings, and Wade Davis allowed another two in two frames.

On the other hand, Junis wasn’t bad in his return from the minors. He struck out six and walked only one in 4.2 innings and, save for the two runs Payamps allowed to score but were charged officially to Junis, he held Cleveland to a run. Junis looked much better than the struggling hurler who was 2-3 with a 5.19 ERA when the Royals sent him to Triple-A Omaha in early June.

Nicky Lopez doubled and has hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games.

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The KC Royals open the last full month of their 2021 season tonight when they host Cleveland in the second contest of the clubs’ three-game series. Game time is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CDT at Kauffman Stadium.