‘Some things clicking’ for rising Royals

KANSAS CITY — Manager Mike Matheny has emphasized throughout this season that the Royals look at every series they play the same, as a chance to win regardless of the opponent.

But when Kansas City takes three out of four against the American League Central-leading White Sox, there’s no doubt it’s a big deal.

The Royals finished this week’s four-game series with a 5-0 victory on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, clinching their first series victory over the White Sox since Sept. 10-12, 2019. Kansas City has three consecutive series wins, something it hasn’t accomplished since Aug. 30-Sept. 12, 2019, when it won four straight.

“All four games, we were right there in it and fighting,” Matheny said. “I believe this about this team. These guys need to realize how good we can be when we put things together. And we’ve talked about it since the opener. Let’s put all the pieces together, and let’s see what it looks like when things are clicking.

“And we have some things clicking.”

With Friday’s 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline less than 24 hours away, Kansas City is the hottest team in the Majors with a 9-3 record out of the All-Star break.

On a stretch like the Royals are on, while knowing it’s a very small sample in a full 162-game season, one can see why Kansas City believes it can contend in 2022. And why, ahead of Friday, general manager Dayton Moore said he would need to be “overwhelmed” with a deal to trade any of 2022’s key contributors — like Whit Merrifield — this year. The focus for the Royals leading up to the Deadline will be moving the upcoming free agents, as evidenced by Thursday’s deal to send lefty Danny Duffy to the Dodgers.

Duffy has been on the injured list since July 17 with a left flexor strain, but the Royals’ young rotation has stepped up in his absence. On Thursday, Carlos Hernández tossed six scoreless innings for Kansas City’s fifth consecutive quality start and eighth out of the All-Star break.

With four hits, one walk and four strikeouts, Hernández kept the Royals’ rotation rolling. After posting a combined 5.38 ERA in the first half of the season, the starters now own a 3.50 ERA. In the past five games, the rotation has recorded a 1.36 ERA.

“The entire staff, seeing what they’ve done, is really motivating,” Hernández said. “I want to be part of that.”

There’s no doubt that Kansas City’s first half of the season — one it finished 17 games under .500 — was disappointing. It’s why there are questions surrounding the message that 2022 is the year to circle with contention hopes. But out of the All-Star break, there have been positive developments with the young pitching, including Daniel LynchKris Bubic and Hernández. Brad Keller, this year’s Opening Day starter, has looked like a different pitcher in July, posting a 2.28 ERA over four quality starts.

All four — along with Brady Singer, who is on the injured list with right shoulder fatigue — are crucial to the Royals’ future.

“You’re watching Brady Singer go nuts right now not being able to be a part of that, going, ‘OK, I want my turn now,’” Matheny said. “They’re all doing a really nice job of challenging each other, encouraging each other and setting the tone for our club. And then giving our offense a chance.”

Backed by the starting pitching, the offense is also finding its groove. On Thursday, the offense erupted against White Sox starter Carlos Rodón, starting with Salvador Perez’s two-run homer in the first inning, just a few hours after he delivered the game-tying homer in the ninth inning Wednesday night that sent the Royals to a 3-2 walk-off win.

The walk-off hero of that game, Michael A. Taylor, also came through again Thursday with a solo homer to straightaway center field in the second inning. Rodón lasted four innings, matching his shortest outing of the season.

“It’s super encouraging knowing that they’re one of the best teams in baseball and knowing that when we put it all together and put out a good product, we can compete with anyone,” shortstop Nicky Lopez said. “Sometimes this year, we haven’t put it all together, obviously, and went through a tough stretch, but it’s very encouraging seeing us compete against the better teams.

“Just knowing that if we do put it all together, we can do some damage. Obviously, you don’t want to jump ahead to the future, but it makes you excited for what’s to come.”