It’s been quite a while since the Royals looked like a team that could contend for the American League Central division crown. Saturday’s 5-1 win over the White Sox was a relieving callback to better days from April.
On May 1, Kansas City sat in first place in the AL Central with the best record in baseball, but the team immediately hit a wall. The Royals lost each of the next 11 games and 12 of 13, falling to third place in the division ahead of only the Tigers and the Twins, who had the two worst records in the Majors.
Things didn’t look great for Kansas City going into Saturday, facing the team that usurped them for the best record in baseball with one of the AL’s top starting pitchers in Carlos Rodón on the mound. It has been an uphill battle lately for the Royals, whose May struggles dropped them to four games under .500.
Instead of mailing things in, however, Kansas City feasted on Rodón.
Whit Merrifield nearly started the game with a home run, instead settling for a leadoff double that bounced off the top of the wall in left. Carlos Santana followed up with a walk, and after Rodón got Salvador Perez to strike out on a foul tip, Jorge Soler singled Merrifield home to give the Royals the early 1-0 lead.
The third inning mirrored the first, with Merrifield doubling and Santana drawing a walk to start it off. But instead of striking out this time, Perez got ahold of a Rodón fastball and snuck it over the right field wall for a home run. The three-run blast — Perez’s second in as many days and the 161st of his career — came on a pitch so high and outside that all Rodón could do was throw his hands up in disbelief.
The early runs ballooned Rodón’s MLB-best 0.58 ERA to 1.64 before he recorded an out in the third, and they were enough to earn Kansas City at least a split of the four-game set in Chicago. After two weeks of frustration, perhaps a win like Saturday’s could be enough to get the Royals back on track.