That the last-place KC Royals swept a series and won three straight games for the first times this season made big baseball headlines in Kansas City this weekend. The Royals surprisingly, but convincingly, achieved both feats by beating first-place Minnesota 8-5 Friday, 10-7 Saturday, and 2-1 Sunday.
Not to be lost in the near-shock of the club dominating the Twins and trimming their American League Central lead to a razor-thin half-game over Cleveland was the weekend performance of Bobby Witt Jr., who walked the visitors off with ag rand-slam Friday and went a startling 9-for-14 with nine RBIs over the three-games.
And then there's starter Ryan Yarbrough. The Royals scored only twice Sunday afternoon, but Yarbrough made sure they had a chance to win from the very start. Pitching for only the fourth time since being horrifically battered by a line drive in early May, the lefty steadily took the Royals through seven innings, held the Twins to the only run they could manage, struck out five, and walked no one. The effort gave him his fourth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 4.24.
It might also have thrust Yarbrough squarely into the MLB trade deadline discussion.
KC Royals starter Ryan Yarbrough is emerging as a decent trade chip
Although we recently examined the logic of trying to deal him, little has been heard about Yarbrough in this year's trade deadline talk. He was, after all, 0-4 with a 7.40 ERA going into his May 7 stint against Oakland that ended when Ryan Noda's hot liner crashed into his temple, and the promise of his first two big league seasons—with Tampa Bay, he went 16-6 in 2018 and 11-6 in 2019—was diminishing.
But the southpaw the Royals signed in mid-December is showing no ill effects of the concussion and facial fractures he suffered that day. Instead, he's been mostly superb since returning July 9 and beating Cleveland with a one-run, six-inning performance: although Detroit touched him for three runs in 5.2 innings and a loss 10 days later, he gave up only a run in six innings to beat the Guardians again six days ago. Add to those outings his stellar Sunday victory over Minnesota, and it's clear Yarbrough has something quite good going.
And let's not forget that he was dominating the A's before Noda's line drive forced him from the game May 7: he'd allowed them only a run in 5.2 innings at the time, and actually got the win. Impressive, too, was his post-injury minor league rehab assignment—after pitching once in an Arizona Complex League game and surrendering three runs in as many innings, he struck out 18, walked only two, and yielded only a pair of runs in 14.2 innings at Triple-A Omaha.
All things considered, Yarbrough should now be a Kansas City trade chip. He's pitching well and, despite not duplicating his first two big league seasons, owns a respectable 44-36 six-season major league record.
And he has major league playoff experience, something some other pitchers on the trade market don't. And it's good experience—in eight postseason games, including three against the Dodgers during the 2020 World Series, he's 2-0 with a 3.06 ERA.
He's also quite affordable. Any club acquiring him would be responsible only for paying him what remains on the economical $3 million deal he signed with the Royals.
What will Kansas City do? As fine a job as he's doing for the pitching-poor Royals, perhaps they'll keep him and hope he'll help them finish the season on a higher note than they would without him.
Maybe, though, they'll take advantage of the one year of team control they still have after this season while they sort out which arms do, and don't, fit their long-term pitching strategy.
Or perhaps general manager J.J. Picollow will find a deal to his liking before the trade deadline expires at 5 p.m. CDT Tuesday.