The KC Royals won’t finish in the cellar this season

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

The KC Royals, playing solid baseball early, occupied first place in the American League Central for the first few days of this major league season, then spent almost a week in second and third before reclaiming the top spot for three weeks.

An ugly 11-game May losing streak ended the tease and dashed fans’ emerging, but unrealistic, dreams of playoff baseball. The Royals found themselves in last place 19 times; the potential of finishing in the cellar hovered over the club most of the season, and moved to the forefront Friday when Kansas City began its season-ending series with Minnesota just two games ahead of the last-place Twins.

Friday night, however, the Royals irrevocably condemned Minnesota to the dreaded cellar by beating the Twins 11-6. Kansas City now leads the Twins by three games with two to play, meaning Minnesota will finish last; the fourth-place Royals can tie Detroit for third if they beat Minnesota twice and the Tigers lose their two remaining games to the White Sox.

Avoiding the cellar is a good thing for a Kansas City team that hasn’t done anything since winning the World Series in 2015 and embarrassed itself by losing 104 games in 2018 and 103 in 2019. And the Royals didn’t waste time Friday night making sure last place belonged to someone else this season.

They scored two runs in four of the first five innings to lead 8-1 after five. And even when the Twins scored three in the sixth, the Royals came right back with three of their own in the bottom half of the frame. Kansas City’s 11 runs represent the second-most they’ve scored this year (the club also had 11 two other times, and scored 14 twice).

Almost every hitter contributed to a potent KC Royals’ offensive attack.

With the notable exception of Salvador Perez, whose 0-for-4 night rendered him the only hitless Royal and leaves him with two final chances to break the club’s individual season home run record, Kansas City enjoyed a good evening at the plate.

Whit Merrifield, who joined one of baseball’s “40-40” clubs earlier this week, and Hunter Dozier had three hits apiece; Dozier hit his 16th homer and drove in two runs, while Merrifield had three singles, an RBI, a walk and scored twice. Adalberto Mondesi added a pair of doubles and Andrew Benintendi raised his September average to .343 with a double and a single, and added two RBIs. Cam Gallagher, catching while Perez DH’s after spraining an ankle earlier in the week, had two hits and two RBIs.

And a rookie Kansas City pitcher made a mark of his own.

Jon Heasley was good in his third major league start for the KC Royals.

Rookie Jon Heasley, another member of Kansas City’s vaunted 2018 draft class that included pitchers Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Jonathan Bowlan, Austin Cox and Zach Haake, gave up four runs in four innings in his Sept. 17 big league debut, then pitched 5.1 shutout innings against Detroit eight days later but didn’t get a decision.

Heasley, however, took home his first big league win Friday night. Although he wasn’t overpowering—he struck out just one—he scattered four hits and walked only one Twin in another 5.1 inning performance, and took full advantage of all the runs the Royals were giving him.

He faced the minimum through the first three innings, retiring Minnesota in order in the first and second before Brent Rooker led off the third with a single. But after Nick Gordon lined out, Heasley picked off Rooker at first, then got Ryan Jeffers on a grounder.

The rookie righthander surrendered a run in the fourth and pitched a scoreless fifth before Jeffers homered to lead off the sixth. Minnesota then loaded the bases with one out, forcing Heasley to give way to Gabe Speier, and Speier gave the Twins two runs. Both were charged to Heasley.

Heasley, obviously appearing for the last time this season, will finish 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA.

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The KC Royals and Twins play the middle game of their series tonight with Kris Bubic (6-6, 4.52) facing Griffin Jax (3-5, 6.78). First pitch is set for 6:10 p.m. CDT.