When Kendrys Morales signed his name on a two-year contract this offseason, he had to have been aware that he was (literally) filling some big shoes. Billy Butler was Kansas City's everyday DH for nearly a decade, becoming a fan favorite and ultimately ranking in the top 10 of nearly every hitting category in team history. Replacing Butler would be no easy task, but it was essential if the Royals hoped to stay among the elite teams in the American League.
The easiest way to fill those shoes? Play hero in a game by beating the hell out of those dirty Redbirds.
Morales hammered two home runs to do all the work for the Royals, who plowed through St. Louis for a 5-0 series-opening victory. At 27-14, Kansas City now owns baseball's best record, and after plating five runs on Friday night, Morales reclaimed the American League lead with 37 RBI's.
Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (3-4) came into the game having thrown 118 and 119 pitches in his last two starts, and it showed in the first inning against the Royals. Six of his first seven pitches were balls, prompting St. Louis' training staff to check on the ailing starter. He managed to stay in the game, but after putting two on with two outs, he needed to be careful with Morales. The first five pitches of the at bat were all either outside or low; Lynn delivered fastball after fastball, and the intention was clear - keep it on the outer half of the plate. Then Lynn fired a fastball right into Morales' wheelhouse, and he jumped on it. The ball landed in the right-field bullpen. 3-0, Royals.
Two innings later, Lorenzo Cain singled to set up Morales again, and Lynn once more tried to sneak an inside fastball by the slugger. It worked exactly as well as the first attempt, only this time, the ball went over the bullpen. The stadium was as loud as it was during the World Series, and the Royals were blowing out the Cardinals, 5-0. The two homers were Morales' fifth and sixth bombs of the year, leaping him into second place on the team after Eric Hosmer's seven.
Royals hitters either had a great read on Lynn's pitches or were left guessing, as four of the five hitters who slugged a base hit off of him managed multiple knocks. Morales was 3-for-3, while Cain, Salvador Perez, and Paulo Orlando all managed two hits. Lynn finished the game by getting through six innings and allowing 10 hits and five runs. He struck out just four, a season low.
On the other side, Royals' starter Chris Young (4-0) continued to do exactly what he's done since joining the Royals rotation on May 1 - put up zeroes. Young weaved in and out of trouble all night, working just one clean inning but never allowing a run. Young worked six innings of shutout baseball, surrendering six hits and two walks. He fanned two hitters. He threw 106 pitches, his most since July 26, 2014.
Young's numbers as a starter continue to dazzle. In 22 2/3 innings, he has allowed exactly one earned run. That's good for a Wade Davis-like ERA of 0.40. He doesn't strike many out, and he hasn't thrown a single pitch that has touched 90 mph this season. His perfect "mix and match" style of play continues to shut down some of the best offenses in baseball, and his $675,000 contract signed last winter stands as the best bargain of the MLB offseason.
The Royals starting rotation hasn't allowed a run in nearly a week. They've put together 25 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to last Saturday when Danny Duffy faced the Yankees. In all, opponents have managed one run since Saturday off the Royals, spanning 36 innings. That'll win you games all right. Incredibly, the Cardinals had 14 baserunners tonight, and none of them managed to score.
It's pretty incredible that opponents have had better opportunities to score off the Royals bullpen than starters, but it's not like that's led to any runs either. Franklin Morales worked a hitless seventh inning. Ryan Madson worked into trouble by loading the bases in the eighth, but a sterling sliding play by Omar Infante kept the Cardinals off the board. Jason Frasor closed out the game by working the ninth, despite having to throw 30 pitches.
Speaking of defensive gems, the Royals were at it again on Friday night. Alcides Escobar ran 50 feet into foul territory before going into a sliding basket-style catch - on the second pitch of the game. Later on, he made a remarkable blind flip to get the lead runner on a fielder's choice. In all, it was a formula remarkably similar to the one that got Kansas City to the World Series a season ago - great defense, great pitching, and clutch hitting.
The Royals have their second four-game win streak of the season. The win lifted them to a season-best 13 games over .500, keeping their two game lead over the Detroit Tigers, who beat Houston earlier in the evening. After failing to shut out their opponents in any of the first 36 games of the season, the Royals have now achieved three shutouts in the last four contests.
One more random note: Ned Yost won his 400th game as Royals manager on Friday night. He now sits just four wins behind Whitey Herzog as winningest manager in team history.
The I-70 series will continue tomorrow when Edinson Volquez (3-3, 2.74 ERA), who started the starting pitchers' run of scoreless innings, opposes John Lackey (2-2, 2.96). The two pitchers have similar statistics, and in front of a national TV audience, the Royals will go for their fifth straight three-game series victory.
Sleep tight, Royals fans. Kansas City has the best record in baseball. They're the best team in Missouri. They may even be the classiest team in Missouri. And the best part is that they play the game the right way. Truly something to behold.