Will Sunday win be the immediate spark the KC Royals need?

Kansas City faced a must-win situation.
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Much was at stake as the KC Royals prepared to finish up their weekend series with San Diego Sunday. So good for so much of the season, the Royals came in losers of six of their last 10, including Friday and Saturday losses to the Padres that made another defeat, and a series sweep, the latter an indignity the club hadn't yet suffered this year, seem almost inevitable.

More importantly, though, was the impact another loss would have on the widening gap between Kansas City and Cleveland in the American League Central, which was only 1.5 games in the Guardians' favor just eight days ago but had bulged to five after San Diego won the first two contests of this three-game set. That the Royals begin their first head-to-head series with the Guardians Tuesday only magnified the importance of avoiding a fourth straight loss.

Fortunately, Kansas City had Cole Ragans on the mound, and he did exactly what he's expected to do, holding the Padres to a run and striking out a half-dozen in six excellent innings. Unfortunately, the increasingly shaky KC bullpen failed once again (more on that in a moment), and the 1-1 tie Ragans gave the relievers disappeared in the eighth when Ángel Zerpa uncharacteristically coughed up two runs to destroy the deadlock.

Enter Vinnie Pasquantino, Salvador Perez, Nelson Velázquez, and Nick Loftin.

Four ninth-inning batters took the game back for the KC Royals

After rookie Will Klein, recalled from the minors just Friday, rebounded by pitching a scoreless ninth after giving up two runs and four hits in his inning against San Diego that night, Kansas City kept intact its new reputation for scoring runs late. Pasquantino, 6-for-12 with a homer and four RBI in the series before he led off the bottom of the ninth, singled to right. Perez walked. Velázquez, known more for homers than triples— he'd been without a three-bagger since 2022 — then tripled off the base of the center field wall to score Pasquantino and Perez and tie the game.

That left things to Nick Loftin. Back in the majors a week after being called up to replace injured Michael Massey, Loftin drove in Velázquez with a sacrifice fly to right; Kansas City won 4-3, avoided a Padre sweep, and gained a game on the Guardians, who lost to Washington.

The victory, the Royals' 36th in 61 games, positions them to close within a games of the Guardians if they sweep their Tuesday-Thursday series in Cleveland; beating Cleveland twice will close the gap to three.

Can Sunday's win get Kansas City back on track?

Certainly. It could be the antidote the club needs to shake off the worst and most unsightly losing trend of the season, one marked by the disturbing struggles of a once-solid bullpen. Most recently, manager Matt Quatraro's pen blew a 3-3 tie against the Twins Thursday, collapsed catastrophically by giving up eight eighth-inning runs and the lead Saturday, and spoiled Ragans' excellent effort Sunday.

Good bats won't cure the relievers' troubles, though. Kansas City's relievers head for Cleveland with the American League's fourth-worst bullpen ERA, and too many of them are struggling.

But coming back to beat the Padres the way Kansas City did Sunday might ignite this entire club. It's the kind of win contenders have to get.

Will the exciting triumph do the trick? We'll find out in Cleveland this week.

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