Fine Nine: Royals Clobber Tigers Again to Claim First Place

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From May 2-4, the Detroit Tigers obliterated the Kansas City Royals in a three-game set at Kauffman Stadium. The Tigers outscored the Royals 26-8 in that series. None of the contests were really close. The Royals offense looked lifeless. The pitching was regressing. At that point, there was little reason to believe that anybody in the AL Central, let alone the Royals, would be able to contend with the mighty Tigers.

Then on May 20, the Royals fell a season-worst seven games behind the Tigers.

Since then? Detroit is 9-17. The Royals? 16-9.

It’s ridiculous. What the Boys in Blue are doing right now is absolutely ridiculous.

Oh, and how does ‘First Place Kansas City Royals’ sound?

The white-hot Royals continued their offensive surge by pounding a second Cy Young winner in as many nights, taming the Detroit Tigers 11-4. Kansas City won their ninth straight game, passing Detroit in the division standings after being seven games back as recently as May 20.

For the first time since 2003, the Royals find themselves in first place this late in the season.

Max Scherzer (8-4) won the AL Cy Young Award in 2013. Detroit had won his last 13 home starts coming into Tuesday night. It didn’t matter. The Royals scored 11 runs. They hit two more home runs. The defense looked great – again. Heck, even David Glass was in attendance. Everything is working in the Royals favor right now – from bloop hits to assists from the padding behind home plate.

In their biggest inning of the season, the Royals tagged the Tigers ace for seven runs in the second frame. In an inning in which Scherzer threw 51 pitches, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas both hit two-run home runs as the first eight batters reached safely. Omar Infante drove in two with a bases-loaded single, and Eric Hosmer plated the seventh run of the frame with an RBI groundout.

Yordano Ventura (5-5) had all the run support he needed to win his third straight start. The Tigers scored two in the second and one more in the fifth, but in both circumstances, Ventura limited the damage. His stellar defense turned four double plays behind him, and Lorenzo Cain robbed a two-run home run from J.D. Martinez with a spectacular leaping catch at the wall.

Cain, who was supposed to have the night off, was inserted into the game after Nori Aoki tweaked a groin muscle while sliding home in the second inning. After the game, Aoki remained optimistic that it was just a minor pull, and that he would be able to play in tomorrow’s game.

The offensive fireworks continued in the fifth inning, when Billy Butler singled and Alex Gordon doubled to lead off the frame. Following a Salvador Perez bloop single to plate Butler, Scherzer was pulled after his shortest outing of the year. When the inning came to a close, the Royals had tagged the former Missouri alum with a career-worst 10 runs.

In the Tigers’ half of the fifth, they made one final push to make things closer. Ventura found himself in a bases loaded two-out jam. He walked Miguel Cabrera to bring home a run, making the score 10-3. Up came Victor Martinez, one of the most productive players in the game. Then, the Royals fire-throwing rookie gunned a fastball over Perez’ head. The ball took a very favorable bounce right off of the backstop and directly into Perez’ glove, who fired to third to catch Eugenio Suarez leaning too far off of the bag. Just like that, the threat was over.

In the last two games, the Royals have tagged Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer for 17 runs and 22 hits in 10 innings. Those two pitchers are usually very, very good. They’ve accounted for 66% of the AL Cy Young awards since 2011 ended. The Royals are playing so well that it just doesn’t matter. Nine wins in a row matches the team’s longest winning streak since 1994; the club has achieved nine straight victories twice since then, to open the season in 2003 and also from July 23-August 1 of last year.

The Royals have banged out a stunning 32 hits in the last two games while scoring 22 runs. The Dale Sveum-led offense continues to hit for power – since Sveum took over as hitting coach, the Royals have hit almost as many home runs (17 in 18 games) as they did in the nearly-three-times-as-long Pedro Grifol era (20 in 52 games). Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar are obliterating baseballs. As much as I keep pessimistically saying “I don’t see how they can keep this up”, I’m glad they continue to make me look foolish by continuing to win games.

On Wednesday, the Royals will look to take the series by winning their 10th straight game. Jeremy Guthrie (3-6, 4.04 ERA) will face a stiff test by going up against the power hitters of the Tigers. His opponent is Drew Smyly (3-5, 3.58) who stifled the Royals on May 3 by firing seven shutout innings and surrendering just two hits.

You know what? Screw it. Screw what the stats say. Screw what the ‘experts’ say. That’s the attitude the Royals clearly have, so why shouldn’t the fans?

If the Royals can keep on winning and stay in first place, who cares? Take the series, continue the streak, and keep delivering gutty punches to the face of your rival. It’s not every day you play for your longest winning streak in 20 years. I don’t know how this series, streak, or season will wind up for the Royals. I don’t want to know. Just take my advice and continue to enjoy the ride – it’d be a shame to miss out on this special and electric portion of the Royalcoaster.

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Author: Ryan Landreth

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