Suddenly and improbably, the KC Royals are looking like the competent team they haven't been for so much of this sorry season. The club is hitting. The pitching is better. The defense is good.
Most importantly, though, these Royals are winning a lot of games. Their latest victory came over Houston Saturday night, a well-earned 3-2 win at Minute Maid Park that means the club has, even if it loses Sunday, won this three-game series, its second straight over the Astros, who lost two of the three contests the teams played last weekend in Kansas City. It also means the Royals have won the season series against Houston.
Not by any means should this latest series win be considered shocking — after all, it's the Royals' fourth straight series triumph, a significant accomplishment given the unfortunate fact that this team is dangerously close to becoming the losingest in franchise history.
But now, winners of five in a row and nine of their last 10, the Royals are playing like that mark is something they want no part of. Take Saturday's win for example.
The KC Royals did everything they needed to do to beat Houston
Just as they did in Friday night's series-opening 7-5 win, the Royals scored all the runs they'd require before the seventh inning — they plated four in the first and three in the sixth Friday, then scored once in the first and three times in the fifth Saturday.
The Saturday scoring wasn't loud, coming instead via MJ Melendez's first-inning sacrifice fly, and a Bobby Witt Jr. fielder's choice and wild pitch to Kyle Isbel in the fifth. But the ways Kansas City found the scoreboard isn't what's important; that they did it enough times to win is.
And like Friday, when Jackson Kowar coughed up a late three-run homer to Chas McCormick, the bullpen that's been such a sore spot so often this season bent but didn't break. After starter Jordan Lyles turned in one of the finest performances in his otherwise miserable season — he shut out and gave the Astros only two hits over five innings — Carlos Hernández, Collin Snider, Tucker Davidson, and Taylor Clarke collectively scattered four hits and yielded two runs to Houston down the stretch, with Hernández and Clarke giving up none, and Clarke earning his third save.
The bullpen coming through for him means Lyles won't break, or even tie. the club record for most losses — 19 — jointly held by Darrell May and Paul Splittorff, an unfortunate mark that entering September was certainly within Lyles' grasp. Now 5-17, and assuming manager Matt Quatraro doesn't give it to another pitcher, only one start remains for Lyles before the club ends the season Oct. 1 against the Yankees.
At the end of the evening, though, this Royal win is important for another reason.
The KC Royals now have a good chance to avoid a major embarrassment
After Saturday evening's game, avoiding 107 losses, which would break by one the 2005 club's record for single-season futility, seems quite manageable. The Royals, now 53-102, will finish with 107 losses only if they lose five of their last seven games. And by going 4-3, the club can sidestep tying the 2005 team's mark.