“We’re gonna have to figure it out quick, or we’re gonna be in trouble,” Royals manager Ned Yost said following a 3-game sweep at home by the LASTros, who came into the series as the worst team in baseball, dropping them to 24-28.
Nineteen games later, the Royals have a game and a half lead in the AL Central.
I think it’s safe to say that they’ve “figured it out.”
And thanks to 10 straight wins – the longest winning streak in 20 years (14), 8 in a row over the AL Central – the Royals (39-32) are in first place by a game and a half. Wow. What a difference three weeks make. The Royals also owe a little bit to the Tigers (36-32), who have went from the best team in baseball (15 games above .500 – 27-12 – in mid-May) to bad – with no in between, going 9-20 since with a 5.60 ERA and a -58 run differential.
How are the Royals, who are in first-place at the 71-game mark for the first time since 1980 and this late into the season since 2003, doing it? The bats got hot and the pitching continued. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- The Royals have outscored their opponents 69-30 – an average score of 6.9-3 – during the streak.
- Five players are hitting over .400 with RISP – 2 (Butler and Perez) are hitting over .600.
- The Royals have hit 13 homers (and 18 in the last 19 games).
- Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer are the only Royals regulars (including Dyson) that are not out-performing their season norms:
- Lorenzo Cain is hitting .333 (12-36) with 7 RBI in just 9 games.
- Nori Aoki (.261/.325/.319) is hitting .280 (7-25) in 7 games. He’s hitting .333 (5-15) on the road trip.
- Billy Butler, who has 14 hits and 10 RBI during the streak (also with his second HR of the season – his first since May 2 – increased his average 21 points to .271. He’s in the midst of an 8-game hitting streak. He’s hitting .433 during the streak and is batting .327 with a .374 on-base percentage and .810 OPS in his last 28 games. He leads the American League in sacrifice flies (7).
- Jarrod Dyson, although not playing regularly, has increased his average 29 points from .271 to .300 in six games, posting a .381 mark (8-21). He’s in the midst of a 5-game hitting streak. He’s even drove in three of his seven runs over this stretch. He has just one extra base hit in 90 AB’s so far in 2014. He’s hitting .316 in 2014 with RISP.
- Alcides Escobar (.291/.331/.402) is 14-37 (.378) with three doubles, two stolen bases and three RBI. He is second in the American League is SB’s (18), getting caught just once, and he’s ninth in doubles (20). He’s on pace for 41 SB’s and 46 2B’s. Yes, please.
- Rex Hudler claims the Royals have many bus drivers right now, but the main man has to be Alex Gordon. He is straight raking and has been for a month now. He’s consistent, but is performing below his season line (.288/.368/.458), at .282 (11-39), with 2 HR, 6 RBI during the streak and continues to lead the Royals in both (8 HR, 39 RBI). An 8-game walk streak ended on June 10 (the 3rd game of the winning streak) and he has struck out in all 10 games (13 K). He also has four doubles and has 21 on the season – good for 5th in the AL. Oh, and his defense. His glorious defense. He’s hit 7 of his HR in the last 30 days. He’s hit 4 HR in June, where he is hitting .315/.422/.648.
- On Sunday, Hosmer blasted a 429-foot HR in Chicago. It was his third this month – all during the win-streak – and 12 of his 35 RBI have come in June. Hosmer’s doubles – he also has 21 doubles, joining Gordon among the league leaders – are now carrying out of the park, as he has just one two-bagger over the last 10 games, where he is hitting just .256 (11-43), but has 10 RBI. Hosmer is batting an underwhelming .259/.300/.372 in 293 AB so far in 2014.
- Omar Infante (.255/.301/.370) is riding a nine-game hit streak, four of which have been of the multi-hit variety. He’s homered in two of his past three games (with 8 RBI) against his former team, which has more than made up for his .238 June batting average. He answered a post-DL slump by raising his average 27 points over the last 10 games, thanks to a .333 clip (14-42) – .378 (14-37) during his hitting streak. Infante is third on the team in RBI (34), despite a DL stint. He has 15 RBI since returning from the DL May 26.
- Moose is still toiling down well below the Mendoza line at .171, but is WELL above that (.250, 10-40) during this winning streak with 3 of his 7 HR and 7 RBI. He hit those 3 HR in a 7-game stretch. He hit his first 4 HR in an 8-game stretch back in April. Moose began the winning streak with a .148 AVG and it peaked at a season-high .179 during Monday’s 11-8 win. He is sporting a .231/.298/.462 with 3 HR, 9 RBI and 3 doubles in 52 at-bats since his recall June 1. The average American League third baseman hits .240, so at least in this small sample size, he is just below average instead of the WORST OFFENSIVE THIRD BASEMAN like he had been the previous two years, up to this point.
- Salvador Perez (.280/.333/.435) currently owns the Royals longest hitting streak of the season, hitting .370 (17-46) during with two homers and nine RBI during the 12-game streak. During the winning streak, he’s 15-39 (.385) with five multi-hit games, 2 homers and seven RBI.
Even in the few games when the bats cooled off, the pitching came though. As it has been all season, the starters are gettin’ it done. Thirty runs in 10 games is great, and 12 of those have come from the bullpen. The starters have won 9 of the games and Aaron Crow won the other – the first game of the streak (a 8-4 over the Yankees). Today’s starter, Danny Duffy, is the only pitcher in the rotation who does have two wins during the streak. All five starters have an ERA under 3.07 and a combined 2.49 ERA. And now, all five pitchers have a sub-4 ERA at the 71-game mark for only the second time in franchise history (1974).
- In 65 IP (6.5 IP/per start), the rotation has allowed 18 ER (2.49 ERA), 63 H (just under a hit per inning), 58 K (8 K/9), 16 BB (2.21 BB/9), 3.625 strikeouts per walk with a 1.138 WHIP.
- James Shields (2-0, 2.25 ERA): Shields (8-3) allowed only three earned runs in 12 innings, although he labored through Sunday’s win in Chicago, still posted a quality start. He owns a 3.50 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP through 15 starts (97 2/3 innings). He is third in the AL in wins and 7th in win percentage (.727). Unlike last year, where he had the seventh-worst run support in the league, he has been a beneficiary of great run support (fourth-best in baseball).
- Jason Vargas (2-0, 3.07 ERA): Vargas now has the best record in the rotation after winning three of his last four starts and is 7-2 on the season overall. He had nine wins all of last season and has a chance to surpass his career high of 14 wins that he set in 2012. He is 5th in AL in IP (99 2/3) and 4th in the AL in W% (.778). He owns a 3.25 ERA and a 71:25 K:BB.
- Yordano Ventura (2-0, 2.57 ERA): Ventura, like Vargas, went seven innings in both starts, allowing just four runs, a hit per inning and walking just two. He struck just seven as his strikeouts have been down significantly in his last five starts since skipping a start with a sore elbow, notching just 14 punch outs in 28.2 innings over that stretch. But, he’s still induced double-digit ground balls in each of his last three outings, including three key double plays Tuesday, so he has proven he can still be effective without the high strikeout totals. Ventura has won three straight games to improve his record to 5-5 through 13 starts. He carries a 3.26 ERA.
- Jeremy Guthrie (2-0, 2.19 ERA): Guthrie has only registered one quality start, but he has been great, striking out a season-high nine (just one off his career-high) in back-to-back starts, while walking five and allowing just three earned runs on 10 hits. After going winless since April 9 (where he was 2-0), he has now won consecutive starts. The 18 strikeouts over his last two starts match the total from his previous six stats. He has allowed 14 long balls in 2014, but just two in the last six starts. Guts is 10th in the American League in innings (98) and 18th in MLB in pace.
- Duffy (1-0, 2.13 ERA): Duffy started the first game of the win-streak and took a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning, when he fell apart and suffered a no-decision. His next start in front of his father, Dan “Hulk” Duffy, was brilliant, as the left-hander lowered his ERA by more than 40 points and matched his career highs in both innings (7) and strikeouts (9). Duffy now has a 2.83 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 14 appearances (eight starts) this season, and he’s given up a total of three runs and 11 hits in his last three outings after battling through a dead-arm phase toward the end of May.
- The Royals back end of the bullpen of Wade Davis and Greg Holland have dominated, and it’s no wonder the Royals are amazingly 32-1 when leading after 7 innings. The bullpen allowed 40% of the runs during the winning streak in nearly one-third of the amount of innings. One of the 12 runs is unearned and collectively, they own a 4.01 ERA – not very good for a team that has won 10 in a row. They have struck out 9.12 over nine innings, have a 25/9 K/BB ratio, 9 holds and five saves. But, most of the damage in the bullpen has come from the mop-up guys. Donnie Joseph allowed six runs in 2/3’s of an inning meltdown on Monday (he, he did record both outs via strikeout). Take that away, and the ERA is down to 1.85. Louis Coleman (1 ER in 1 IP) and Michael Mariot (2 ER in 2 1/3 IP in three outings) combined for an 8.10 ERA. Take them away, as well, and you’re down to the four main guys in the bullpen – Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Davis, Holland – and the two lefties – Collins, who unbelievable did not allow a run over the last 10 (2 IP) and Frank Good (1 2/3 IP) and a 0.87 ERA. Both runs came from Crow, who still posted a 2.84 ERA over 6 1/3 innings in five outings – leading the bullpen in both areas over the last 10.
- Davis is second in the AL in holds (13). He recorded four during the streak. He now has 18 consecutive scoreless outings dating back to April 23. He has not allowed an extra-base hit all season, has an American League best 14.9 K/9 (52 strikeouts in 31 1/3 IP), 1.15 ERA and 0.8298 WHIP. STUD.
- Aaron Crow recorded the Royals first non-Greg Holland save of the season last Tuesday. In the four-out save, Crow got the last out of the eighth inning in what was a 6-3 lead. He entered the ninth with a 6-run cushion and allowed two runs. With Holland warming up behind him, Crow got out of it and registered the save.
- Holland saved four of the games during the hot streak and now has 21 for the season, the best in the American League. He has six saves in June. Like Davis, he has a lengthy scoreless streak, dating back to May 5. His ERA is down to 1.30.
Final Thoughts: In all, the Royals have went 15-4 since May 29 – the day that Dale Sveum took over as the team’s hitting instructor. Since that date, the Royals have hit 18 HR’s (21 in 52 prior) and have scored the most runs (106) in baseball. When asked about the play that turned around the Royals season, it wasn’t something that the Royals did, but something they benefited from – “the Reyes Rally.” Two outs, top of the ninth inning, Royals trailing 6-5 in Toronto, Perez hits a grounder to shortstop Jose Reyes. He throws wild and the brutal glove of Edwin Encarnacion could not dig the throw and the Royals tie the game on the error. The Royals went on to win in 10, 8-6, and again the next day. But, who knows what happens if the Royals lose this game right after getting swept at home by the LASTros. Then lose Saturday and Sunday and who knows if they even win on Saturday.