Saturday loss makes Sunday even more crucial for the KC Royals

Kansas City has a must-win game on its hands.
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After piling 10 runs and 13 hits on Cleveland Friday night, the KC Royals watched quietly Saturday afternoon as the first-place Guardians scored seven times to squelch third-place Kansas City's once-promising attempt to win this important four-game series. Cleveland won 7-2 to render Sunday's final the most critical of the four contests.

But more on why Saturday's result makes Sunday's so crucial in a moment.

Some will do the wrong thing and pin the blame for this loss on the controversial home run call that marred the fourth inning and KC starter Cole Ragans' 18th start of the season. Jhonkensy Noel sent Ragans' 2-2 slider veering toward the left field foul pole; while it was close and appeared to sail foul, the umps called it fair, giving Noel a two-run homer and Cleveland a 3-2 lead.

Replays, however, suggested the ball struck the netting standard attached to the pole in foul territory, but the New York-based review crew let the home run call stand, presumably because there wasn't enough strong evidence to reverse it.

The resulting lead was one to which the Guardians added and the Royals couldn't overcome. The disputed home run did not, though, appear to demoralize or immediately derail Ragans, who took the loss and fell to 5-6, or to force a collapse on either his, or his teammates', parts. (And even if those things did happen, they're the kind of events serious contenders have to overcome and often do).

Instead, this defeat looked a lot like those too frequently visited upon the Royals of late, a disappointing loss having much to do with a weak offense. The early lead 2-1 lead Michael Massey gave them with a leadoff solo homer in the second was the last they had, and his run proved to be the last Cleveland would yield.

That doesn't mean, of course, that pitching didn't let the club down. It did — Ragans entered this one with a 3.03 ERA but was charged with five runs —three of which came in the inning after Noel's homer, and two of those came from runners Ángel Zerpa inherited and permitted to score when he took over for Ragans with two away in the fifth. Ragans clearly wasn't as sharp as he can be, But the game wasn't out of the Royals' reach when he handed it over to Zerpa.

The Royals' bats and Cleveland's pitching put it way, though. Kansas City managed just two singles the rest of the way (both in the seventh) and former KC closer Scott Barlow set them down in order in the ninth to seal the deal.

The Royals won't make the playoffs with that kind of offense ... and desperately need it to disappear Sunday.

Saturday's loss makes Sunday's game a crucial contest

The standings crystallize why losing Saturday puts the American League Central Sunday spotlight directly on Kansas City.

One of the best teams in baseball and owners of the Central for almost all of this season, Cleveland hit town for these four special days at Kauffman Stadium leading the Royals by nine games. (Second-place Minnesota trails the Guardians by 7.5 games heading into its game tonight with Seattle). Only by avoiding a disastrous series could the Royals escape seriously damaging their Central Division title hopes, and possibly even their overall playoff aspirations.

Fortunately, manager Matt Quatraro's crew preceded its convincing Friday evening win with a 2-1 win in Thursday's series opener; those two triumphs reduced the Guardian's lead to seven games and gave Kansas City a good shot at a series win and a realistic one at a sweep.

After Saturday, though, Cleveland's lead is eight. Should they beat Kansas City Sunday afternoon, they'll leave town with the same big lead whith which they arrived ... and the Royals' road to the postseason will be a little more rocky.

Quatraro will send his best to the mound — Seth Lugo, 10-2 with a 2.29 ERA, is scheduled to start against Logan Allen who, despite his 5.72 ERA, is 8-3. First pitch is set for 1:10 p.m. CDT; the first 15,000 fans entering The K will receive the Cole Ragans Superhero Bobblehead.

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