There isn’t too much on the line this early in the season. Sure, the All-Star break is rapidly approaching, but, for the most part, it’s still too early to decide each team’s future. But the Royals weren’t going to take any chances against a divisional rival that’s making strides in the AL Central.
A four-run fifth inning at Target Field was the deciding factor in the Royals’ 6-3 victory over the Twins, a rally that provided just enough insurance for Kansas City to inch closer to .500. The offense ignited for 11 hits to carry the club to a seventh win in the past 10 games, despite right-hander Brad Keller working through a high pitch count to start the game.
“You try to look at them all, this is the most important one of the season. When you look back after a series after a road trip, you realize this is a really good opportunity,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Especially coming inside our division to come in here and take two out of three.”
The Royals put themselves to task to win the rubber match against a Twins squad that has improved significantly in its previous 10 games. As Minnesota gained ground in the division, Kansas City was slipping, as the team below the .500 mark. Even with four months in the regular season still left to play, there was no better time for the Royals to create distance between themselves and the Twins than now.
Kansas City carried its momentum from Saturday’s late-game rally to get on the board in the first inning with Andrew Benintendi continuing his resurgence at the plate with an RBI single to left field.
By the time the fifth inning rolled around, the Royals had been held scoreless for three innings and were down by one run after Minnesota took the lead in the second as Keller struggled with his command in the zone.
It wasn’t long before Edward Olivares, who was called up from Triple-A Omaha before the game, started the fifth-inning rally when he moved up from first to third on a softly hit ground ball that made its way to center field.
Arguably, the biggest play of the game came out of Hunter Dozier as his speed turned a potential double-play ball into a force groundout, plating Olivares to tie the game at two. Dozier averaged 29.1 feet per second, according to Statcast, to swiftly beat the throw at first as Jorge Polanco attempted to throw him out. It instead kept the line moving as the play went from a rally killer to a rally starter.
“Effort is something that I can control. I can’t really control results,” said Dozier, who over the last couple of weeks has tried to break out of a slump at the plate that saw him go 1-for-31 prior to Sunday’s game. “If I could, I would have hit a home run then, but I rolled over a ground ball and my job is to get down the line as fast as I can, to try to be beat out that double play.”
Dozier took a page out of Olivares’ baserunning book, kicking it into high gear when Whit Merrifield connected for a line drive to left field and scoring from second. His contributions to securing Kansas City’s win continued when he extended the lead with a solo homer in the ninth.
The Royals eventually ran Minnesota starter Matt Shoemaker out of the game after his pickoff attempt on Merrifield resulted in a throwing error and the speedster at second, and he walked Carlos Santana right after.
The Twins opened their bullpen to face Benintendi and Salvador Perez, whose history with Shoemaker involves a .588 batting average in 17 career at-bats — with the bases loaded, but there was no way to stop their bats from connecting in the zone, as they each drove in a run.
Kansas City’s bullpen was able to hold the lead the rest of the way home as Scott Barlow stunned in the seventh with the Twins putting the potential tying-run on base with Nelson Cruz at the plate. The clean inning left the Royals with three wins under their belt as the six-game road trip concluded.