3 key takes from Sunday's big KC Royals win

Kansas City's victory was important. So were some other things they did Sunday.
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Lest the holdouts remain unconvinced that Seth Lugo is the ace of the KC Royals, take what he did Sunday afternoon against Cleveland as proof that he is, indeed, the Royal rotation's best. Lugo gave his club just what it needed — he struck out 10, walked only one, racked up his 14th quality start in 18 tries, and held the Guardians scoreless for the six innings he worked.

Together with the half-dozen runs the Royals scored after managing only two in Saturday's 7-2 loss to Cleveland, that performance made KC's 6-2 Sunday victory look fairly easy, gave the Royals a 3-1 series win, and whittled another game off the nine-game lead over them Cleveland brought to town Thursday. Third-place Kansas City now trails the American League-leading Guardians by seven.

Lugo's effort made him the winningest pitcher in the majors — he's now 11-2 — and lowered his big league-leading ERA to 2.17. It also brought him to the brink of getting his WHIP below 1.00: it's now 1.03.

As outstanding as it was, however, Lugo's performance isn't the only good thing the Royals can take away from Sunday's series finale.

Here are two more.

Will Smith is definitely back in the groove

Smith, the veteran reliever the Royals hoped would help calm the rough waters their bullpen sailed throughout the 2023 season, struggled early this year, then began improving gradually when manager Matt Quatraro moved him into lower-leverage situations. Quatraro later eased him into more important deployments; now, it appears the skipper's strategy has worked.

Smith took Lugo's place to begin the seventh inning Sunday and quickly disposed of the Guardians in order. The three-up, three-down frame, his only work of the day, dropped his ERA to 4.73, a striking improvement over the 10.61 mark with which he opened May.

Smith has now been charged with runs in only two of his last 21 outings (he's appeared 28 times this season) and has allowed just one of the nine runners he's inherited in 2024 to score.

Now, Smith has two-pronged importance to the club — he's become a reliable piece of its bullpen and reaffirmed his value as a potential trade deadline piece. And that may make the dilemma he's been presenting a bit more difficult for general manager J.J. Picollo to resolve.

Salvador Perez is coaxing his bat back to life

Going 1-for-4, as he did Sunday afternoon, is and always has been routine for Perez, the kind of performance that's acceptable but offers little to get excited about.

That's not the case with today's 1-for-4, though. Perez's lone hit was the two-run homer he slammed off Pedro Avila in the seventh to give the Royals their final two runs and him his second and third RBI of the game.

But it also continued the encouraging run at the plate he's put together since Kansas City began its current homestand last Monday. Over three games against Miami and four with Cleveland, he's 8-for-27 (.296) with three home runs and seven RBI, a far collective cry from the .152 he was hitting, the one home run he'd hit, and the four runs he'd driven in for the month before those seven games kicked off.

And it suggests Perez, who's competing with Baltimore's Adley Rutschman for the starting catcher's spot on this year's AL All-Star team, is jarring his bats awake.

The Royals, now 47-39 and winners of just nine fewer games than they won all of last season, are off Monday before beginning a three-game series with Tampa Bay Tuesday evening at Kauffman Stadium.

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