In 2011, during the peak-hype time of The Best Farm System in the History of Whatever, Royals fans imagined a world in which their own homegrown players powered their way to baseball relevancy. Most of Dayton Moore's prized prospects debuted that year. It was a bumpy ride, though--2011 and 2012 were losing campaigns, Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez sustained major injures, and Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Johnny Giavotella all underperformed to varying degrees.
It's now 2015, and perhaps in part due to a 2014 campaign that resulted in an American League Championship, the Royals' hometown players have taken their performance to a new level. Tonight, Danny Duffy was fantastic on the mound. Alex Gordon, Christian Colon, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Moustakas, and Hosmer were instrumental in the offense and defense. The Royals are far and away the best defensive team in baseball. They possess a bullpen that is incomprehensibly good to the human eye. And now their core players are destroying baseballs.
We are moving closer and closer to a place where the words 'small sample size' will have smaller meaning to this ball club. That's a good thing, as this Royals team looks like a legitimate title contender, especially after this 8-1 victory in the opener.
The Royals kickstarted their offense in the third inning. Alex Gordon, Danger Ox himself, led off with a solid line-drive single over the infield. Mike Moustakas, aka Dodecahedron: Turner of Corners, smoked a double to right field, scoring Gordon from first base. 1-0 Royals. Eric Hosmer, aka Crime Horse, stepped up to the plate. He saw one pitch. He swung at this pitch. That ball no longer exists on this plane of existence. Hosmer absolutely crushed a ball, sending its remains to straightaway center field which slammed into the back of the batter's eye. 3-0 Royals.
Alfredo Simon had previously been excellent but, as I noted in the game thread, had also been particularly lucky. In his career as a starter, Simon sported a 3.85 ERA, suggesting his true talent level was quite a bit worse than his 1.65 ERA entering today would attest. Regression was inevitable; it was merely a question of when it would happen for him.
That time was the fifth inning. Lorenzo Cain, on a bit of a colder streak lately, nevertheless rifled a low line drive past Simon through the middle for a single. Though Hosmer struck out, Cain stole second to remove a double-play possibility for the Tigers. Kendrys Morales, aka Dreamy Snorkels, cracked a double to right-center field that missed being a home run by a foot. Nevertheless, Cain scored easily. 4-0 Royals. Salvador Perez, The Iron Man and Savior of Wild Cards, dug a low pitch and sent it to left-center for a beautiful line drive in the gap, scoring Morales. 5-0 Royals. This would prompt Brad Ausmus to remove his wounded starter after a mere 4 1/3 innings.
The inning was not over. Alex Wilson induced an Omar Infante groundout to get to two outs. Still, the Royals kept on going. Dyson singled, bringing Perez to third base. Christian Colon, playing for the wounded Alcides Escobar, singled on a solid line drive to right. 6-0 Royals. Colon then stole second base because he could. As a cherry on top of this delightful inning, Gordon broke his bat (because of course) on a single that scored Dyson and Colon. 8-0 Royals. Wilson struck out Moustakas to end the 5-run inning.
Though the Royals offense will receive much of the credit for this fun game, Danny Duffy's performance should not be overlooked. Duffy was nothing short of brilliant for the first seven innings; the Bearded Wonder muffled the Tigers offense for zero runs, striking out six against two walks whilst scattering five singles. This performance was even more impressive as the Tigers, an offensively potent team already, brought a brutal lineup entirely of right-handers to face Duffy. Duffy eviscerated them all the same. In an ill-advised and bizarre move, Ned Yost let Duffy take the mound in the eighth inning for the fourth time through the order; consecutive hits allowed to Jose Iglesias and Rajai Davis brought an end to the shutout, but it did not matter in the end.
The rest of the game was an epilogue. Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan closed out the game for the Royals, while Infante's single meant that all 9 starters had a hit. Gordon and Dyson showed off their nifty defensive skills. All in all, it was a deeply satisfying game after how the Tigers bullied the Royals in 2014. Tomorrow, Kansas City sends Chris Young to the mound in the second game in a four-game set.
The Royals are in first place. Let's keep it that way.