After Week 6, the Royals are 20-18. That puts them one game behind Detroit—actually, the Royals have the same number of wins as the Tigers, but have two more losses. Minnesota is now three games back, Chicago is five back, and Cleveland is 7.5 games back. The Royals, despite their recent struggles, are still on pace to win 85 games this year.
Game 33: Tuesday, May 12
Oakland 12, KC 3
A disappointing 2009 debut for Luke Hochevar, who only lasted two innings before departing on the wrong end of an 8-0 score. The A’s came into this game with the second-fewest runs scored in the AL this season. There wasn’t much to say about this one—blowouts do happen to everyone in baseball. It is a little disconcerting that Hochevar had such a bad outing, since the Royals really need him to develop, even if all he ever becomes is a solid third starter. Starting pitching is so expensive to buy in free agency or acquire in trade, a small-market team like Kansas City must develop as many pitchers as possible. Hochevar has shown flashes of ability; the Royals must hope he can become an asset soon.
Game 34: Wednesday, May 13
Oakland 7, KC 2
The West Coast road trip came to a merciful end with the Royals’ fifth loss in a row. The Royals actually hung around in this one, but Brian Bannister left in the sixth inning with shoulder stiffness and the bullpen could not keep the A’s in check. Oakland scored two runs in the sixth and five more in the seventh to pull away. The Royals’ West Coast offense? Five games, nine runs, 33 hits, three homers (all solo), and only 12 walks. Not good.
Game 35: Thursday, May 14
Baltimore 9, KC 5
Six losses in a row. The Royals can add Gil Meche to their growing list of concerns. Meche only lasted 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on six hits and only striking out one hitter. In his last four starts, Meche has pitched a total of 19 2/3 innings, allowing 18 runs (16 earned) on 27 hits, with 13 strikeouts and 12 walks. Meanwhile, the bullpen struggled through this one too. After the Royals scored two runs in the fifth inning to pull within 5-4, Baltimore scored three more runs in the sixth off Robinson Tejeda and Ron Mahay to put the game away.
Game 36: Friday,May 15
KC 8, Baltimore 1
Finally! A win! A pretty easy one, too, behind another strong outing from Zack Greinke and a three-run homer from Miguel Olivo. Greinke pitched seven innings, holding Baltimore to one run on six hits. He did actually struggle a little, allowing seven baserunners in the first three innings. But after that, he was dominant. Mike Jacobs led off the fourth with a homer, then four hitters later, Olivo launched one into the left-field seats to break the game open. Kudos to the fans who stuck around through a rain delay of 2 hours, 30 minutes. With Greinke on the mound, a Buck Night promotion and fireworks scheduled after the game, the Royals had a sellout crowd. About 25,000 were there for the first pitch.
Game 37: Saturday, May 16
Baltimore 3, KC 2
The offense went back into hibernation, and a couple of soft Baltimore runs cost the Royals another game. I’d say starter Kyle Davies deserved better, but since he walked Brian Roberts leading off the game, then allowed him to steal second and third before throwing a wild pitch to let him score, and then put the eventual winning run in scoring position with another wild pitch, perhaps he didn’t deserve better.
Game 38: Sunday, May 17
KC 7, Baltimore 4
A weird game, but the Royals needed a win, so they’ll take it. Down 3-1 in the sixth inning, the Royals looked lethargic. They looked flat. They looked like they were on their way to another loss. They’d already committed three errors, thrown a wild pitch and only collected two hits. Their starting pitcher (Hochevar) had already been pulled from the game.
Then the offense had a mini-explosion, scoring three runs on four straight hits to take the lead. After giving it up in the eighth, the Royals pulled ahead for good, using a suicide squeeze (Coco Crisp bunting, John Buck running) for an insurance run.
I have to give Trey Hillman some credit for this win. First, pulling Hochevar in the fourth inning of a 3-1 game was gutsy. Hochevar had struggled, and there were two runners on, but I think most managers would leave him in. The fact that Hillman managed the game this way shows me he understood how badly the Royals needed a win. Teams that want to win division titles cannot lose three of four games at home to last-place teams. The bullpen rewarded Hillman with 5 2/3 innings of excellent pitching, only allowing one run, one hit, and one walk.
Second, Hillman picked an excellent time for the squeeze play, with Crisp batting. Crisp seems to be one of those players who just does everything well. He actually fouled off the first squeeze attempt, but did a great job on the next pitch to get it down.
Finally, although lineup construction doesn’t matter a lot in the grand scheme, Hillman did move Alberto Callaspo to the second spot and moved David DeJesus down to seventh in the order. Callaspo has been excellent so far this year (.341/.396/.524), while DeJesus has struggled some (.237/.288/.393). The move paid off, as Callaspo ignited the three-run fourth inning with a leadoff single, while DeJesus went 2-4 and scored two runs, including the eventual game-winner.
The Week Ahead
After an off-day Monday, the Royals will face the struggling Cleveland Indians for three home games, then start interleague play with a trip to St. Louis. The Royals need to make some hay against the Indians, and they have a chance to really bury Cleveland in the standings.