KANSAS CITY — With an offense that found production throughout the lineup and a lockdown bullpen that covered six innings, the Royals looked a little like the team they had back at the beginning of the season — and the result, too.
A 7-4 win over the Twins on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium shook a nine-game losing streak off the Royals’ backs and officially marked the club’s halfway point of the season with 81 games played and a 34-47 record. The series-opening victory was a sigh of relief and perhaps a spark in a season so far that has been defined by losing streaks, ranging from five to nine to 11.
After a dismal 1-9 road trip and in the midst of a 20-game stretch without an off-day before the All-Star break, the Royals hit the reset button in front of the largest home crowd of the season, with 31,824 in paid attendance packed in The K.
“There’s nothing like coming home when you’ve been on a bad run, and to be able to give them something to get on their feet about, you just feed off of it,” manager Mike Matheny said. “You go through a bad streak like we did, and any win’s a good win. But especially like that, where we’re down, find a way to fight back in and then hold onto it.”
Friday’s win looked like the team the Royals had at the beginning of the season, with a high-powered offense and a bullpen that shut things down. General manager Dayton Moore spoke before the game about how he’s seen his team go from the best team in baseball to one of the worst at the halfway point. He expressed his belief in the coaching staff and roster in place, but he went much deeper into the issues hurting the team so far.
“When we put this team together, we knew we would have to score runs,” Moore said.
The Royals believed they had the lineup to do that. Jorge Soler hit 48 home runs in 2019, and Hunter Dozier had a career season that year, too. Both have been mired in the worst slumps of their careers in 2021. The club also believed Adalberto Mondesi was on the brink of a breakout, and Andrew Benintendi was added in an offseason trade that signaled the desire to win soon. Both players are currently on the injured list.
The offense looked more like what the Royals showed early this season. Salvador Perez, who announced his participation in the Home Run Derby on Friday, launched his 20th home run of the season in the second inning. He singled in the third ahead of Hanser Alberto’s first homer of the year — and first in 172 at-bats — and Kansas City strung hits together in multiple innings.
As Moore went through his assessment of the club, he mentioned the offseason evaluation of the pitching, with an unproven yet promising bullpen. That ‘pen shone on Friday: Unproven yet promising pieces in Richard Lovelady, who earned his first Major League win, Jake Brentz and Kyle Zimmer kept the Twins at bay. Greg Holland and Scott Barlow shut them down in the final two innings.
With the rotation, the Royals believed Brady Singer could improve in the Majors while developing a third pitch and Brad Keller would continue his recent success. And that they had a group of young starters — Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar — that could provide productive pitching.
Singer allowed three runs in three innings against the Twins, with one changeup in 72 pitches, although his strikeout to end the third with the bases loaded and no runs scored is a reason the Royals believe he belongs in the Majors. Keller has a 6.67 ERA in 17 starts, and the debuts from Lynch and Kowar did not last more than three appearances each.
Before the season started, the Royals envisioned a team that could win in different ways, from power to speed on the bases, built on a solid rotation, a versatile bullpen and a defense that could help win close games. But that team would have to rely on production and health.
“It’s really simple,” Moore said. “We started off really, really good. The rotation wasn’t great, but the bullpen was. And we were scoring runs. … But the rotation struggled, and the bullpen got kind of worn out a little bit. We had to use it a lot. We played Cleveland [in early May], we got the lead, the bullpen gives it up, and we haven’t been the same since.”
Moore spoke to reporters at length before the Royals did find some rhythm against the Twins, at least for one game. The key now is to gain momentum.
“I’m just trying to explain things,” Moore said. “I’m not making excuses for anybody. When you’re a Major League player, a Major League general manager, a Major League manager, you have to find solutions. You have to get better and you can’t make excuses. Because everybody deals with the same stuff every single year.”
The Royals, Moore said, expect to get better. And they need to. As they begin their next 81 games, they’re looking for a spark. Perhaps Friday could be one.
“Everybody contributed that whole game,” Singer said. “After that road trip and the losing streak that we were on, to come back and win, it sets the tone for tomorrow and the rest of the homestand.”