The KC Royals, losers of almost 80% of their games and winners of only two at home entering Sunday, don't deserve much credit this season.
Despite their miserable record, though, credit is due when earned, so give the Royals plenty for what they did with a Sunday matinee against Oakland at Kauffman Stadium. Facing the humiliation of becoming the major leagues' worst team—they were tied with Oakland for that dishonor when the game began—the Royals scored first, never trailed, and remained a game better than the A's by beating them 5-1.
How they won this one and sidestepped another embarrassing series sweep is as impressive as the victory itself, if not more.
The KC Royals avoided a stage set for big disappointment Sunday afternoon
The odds for a loss seemed better than those for a win even before struggling Ryan Yarbrough threw the day's first pitch. Yarbrough, pressed into a starting role by circumstances (injuries and others' poor performances) rather than merit, came into this one 0-4 with a 7.40 ERA after giving Baltimore five runs in less than four innings Tuesday. And the KC lineup included Michael Massey (.191), recently recalled Nate Eaton (.040), and good-glove, weak-bat Jackie Bradley Jr. (.154).
And the A's, who arrived in Kansas City for this weekend's three-game series with the worst record in the game, beat the Royals, losers of three in a row and 17 of their last 21 coming into Sunday, Friday and Saturday.
All that had to make the Athletics at least prohibitive favorites.
A solid start-to-finish effort gave the KC Royals an important win Sunday
Everything went right for Kansas City in the first inning: Yarbrough retired the A's in order and Salvador Perez hammered a Mason Miller fastball out for his team-leading seventh homer of the season, a rocket to left-center that staked the Royals to a 1-0 lead. And with Yarbrough still in relative control of the A's despite yielding a fourth-inning game-tying single to Ramón Laureano—just Oakland's second hit at that point—Kansas City took the lead for good when Maikel Garcia singled home Perez in the bottom half of the frame.
Yarbrough's easy time came to a scary end with two out in the sixth. Ryan Noda lined Yarbrough's pitch back at him and off his face, forcing the righthander out of the game and Carlos Hernández out of the bullpen to finish the inning, which he quickly did by striking out former Royal Brent Rooker.
Hernández then pitched a scoreless seventh, Aroldis Chapman contributed a three-up, three-down eighth, and Scott Barlow surrendered only a two-out single and struck out two in the ninth to preserve the win, one made more probable when Nick Pratto, hitting .375 since being recalled from the minors last week, doubled in a pair of runs and Michael Massey drove in another with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. The work secured Yarbrough's first victory as a Royal.
So it was that the Royals, who need 11 wins in May's remaining 21 games to reach the 20-victory mark before June, put together one of their best wire-to-wire efforts of the year.
And avoided the bottom of the big league heap. But for how long?
Unfortunately, Kansas City's season won't make a turn for the better on the basis of one win against a poor team. The Royals, after all, have just one series win to their credit and have won back-to-back games only once. Their starting pitching is, to put it nicely, inconsistent and their offense, although showing strong signs of life recently, is more than capable of going silent without warning.
Kansas City, then, has much work to do to protect, and expand, its razor-thin one-game margin over Oakland. That work starts Monday evening when the White Sox hit town for a four-game series; if the Royals aren't careful and don't play well, they could soon displace the A's at the bottom of the big league world.